Posted in Short Stories

The Half Way Point

As I’ve been doing over the last few years, here are my top ten favorite short stories that I’ve read so far during 2020 – based on my personal likes and dislikes:

10. Deferment – Dwight Allen

9. Winter Facts – Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

8. Bypass – Lisa Koger

7. Lady Eleanore’s Mantle – Nathaniel Hawthorne

6. At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners – Lauren Groff

5. The Ledge – Lawrence Sargent Hall

4. Birthmates – Gish Jen

3. The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin – Tennessee Williams

2. The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro – Ernest Hemingway

 

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Lady Eleanore’s Mantle

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 26

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle” has a simplicity of plot that makes it fairy tale-like not to mention the titular item that seems to have magical powers. But it also has a resonance to modern times as the hooded cape is blamed for a smallpox epidemic:

There is no other fear so horrible and unhumanizing as that which makes man dread to breathe heaven’s vital air lest it be poison, or to grasp the hand of a brother or  friend lest the gripe of the pestilence should clutch him. Such was the dismay that now followed in the track of the disease, or ran before it throughout the town.

As with many of Hawthorne’s more “fantastical” stories, they maintain a depth that keeps the reader thinking – even after the story is over. And the fact that it can still ring so true after almost two centuries makes it that much more powerful.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the King of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 25

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…

Immediatley, Edgar Allan Poe pulls his reader in to sympathize with his protagonist narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The narrator wants to kill an old man and why wouldn’t he want to kill him? He has a weird eye.

Death and dismemberment ensue in the kind of gruesomeness for which Poe is known.

Even though I was rooting for him, the narrator doesn’t get away with everything due to a different body part of the old man . I wanted to tell the narrator just to be quiet that the noise is all in his head and that the police don’t hear it.

Too bad, though, it didn’t work.

After reading this, I wonder why I haven’t posted about more of Poe’s work on my blog. I have quite a few of his works on my shelf. This one is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Incidentally, in her introduction to this story, Oates, who has a knack for gruesomeness herself, calls Poe a genius. I couldn’t agree more.

I read this when I selected the Seven of Spades for Week 25 of my Deal Me In short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Posted in Short Stories

Deborah Eisenberg: What It Was Like, Seeing Chris

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 24

I was thinking that now he had finally called me “honey.” It made me so happy, so happy, even though “honey” was what he called everyone, and I had been the only Laurel.

The title of Deborah Eisenberg’s 1985 short story “What It Was Like, Seeing Chris” has a little play on words in that Laurel, the teenage narrator, has an unnamed eye disease and in a sense dates an older man named Chris. Interestingly, the word “seeing” has more than one meaning.

Laurel is a sophomore in high school and one Thursday a month goes into the city to see her eye doctor. Afterwards, she heads to a restaurant across the street where she meets Chris. He’s apparently there all the time.

At approximately age sixteen, Laurel becomes infatuated with 27 year-old Chris. On the one hand, Laurel seems to have the typical maturity of a sixteen year-old girl. On the other hand, Chris has the maturity of maybe a sixteen year-old boy (but he’s 27).

The story in some ways reminds me of Jean Stafford’s writing in that the narrator is a little quirky and a little insecure but younger than Stafford’s narrators. And as enjoyable as “What It Was Like, Seeing Chris” might be and while nothing “illegal” every happens between the two, the age difference between the characters is uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s the point.

On a minor note at one point, Laurel spends the night at her friend Maureen’s and they stay up all night playing the board game Clue. I couldn’t get past the fact that they were playing Clue with only two people – not exactly challenging.

This story is included in the collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David RemnickI read it when I selected the Six of Hearts for Week 24 of my Deal Me In short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Posted in Short Stories

Dwight Allen: Deferment

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 23

It’s the summer of 1970 and Peter has a student deferment from Vietnam. He’s trying to get Lizzie to sleep with him but she is “deferring ” that. I guess the title of Dwight Allen’s short story “Deferment” has something of a double entendre.

With Vietnam looming large in the background and Thelonious Monk as the soundtrack, Peter and Lizzie grapple with and search for the meaning and purpose in their lives. Whether they succeed in this search isn’t really the point of the story. It’s more about the attempt and its difficulty and the disappointment they may not even realize they are feeling when world circumstances beyond their control seem to make choices for them. In an image that I won’t soon forget, they both climb to the top of a no-longer-used bridge that crosses the Ohio River from Louisville to Indiana:

All but the last glow of day had been sucked from the sky. The lights of downtown Louisville were on, and there was a sprinkling of lights along the Indiana shore. In the growing dark, the bridge seemed to lose its firmness, to become tracery in the sky.

“Deferment” snuck up on me but it’s now definitely a favorite from this anthology and of the stories I’ve read so far this year.

Dwight Allen’s website can be found here.

This story is included in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I selected the Seven of Clubs for Week 23 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Posted in Fiction

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

It’s remarkable and odd and completely real how determined the Bundren family is to get Addie, their dead wife and mother, buried in Jefferson, Mississippi – a journey of at least a few days depending on what types of hell or high water they might encounter.

They come to a turn in the road with a sign pointing to New Hope. The Bundrens, in their mule-driven wagon and coffin in tow; however, role right on by – literally and probably metaphorically. They will “endure” all the way to Jefferson.

The Bundrens tend to not see (or smell) themselves the way others see (or smell) them. In spite of each member of the family having their own wishes and desires and interests and in spite of various secrets and dysfunctions, they all have the same determination in regards to getting Addie buried. There’s not a lot of love – or at least what would traditionally be considered love – between them. This determination is probably the closest they will come. Cash has his tools, Jewel has his horse, Dewey Dell – the daughter – has a heart-breaking secret, Vardaman has his fish. I’m not sure what Darl has but he eventually ends up in “Jackson” which is where Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury ends up.

And Anse, the father, has his additional motives for the journey, that leads to the novel’s shockingly funny ending.

As I’m finding out in reading Faulkner, he uses numerous points of view. Each of the family members take turns telling the story including Addie. It’s also interesting that in the middle of one character’s narration, another character will interrupt via italics. A film version was made by James Franco in 2013 that utilizes (and also clarifies) this technique very well.

And then there’s the actual writing itself – the way words are put together:

The breeze was setting up from the barn, so we put her under the apple tree, where the moonlight can dapple the apple tree upon the long slumbering flanks within which now and then she talks in little trickling bursts of secret and murmurous bubbling. I took Vardaman to listen. When we came up the cat leaped down from it and flicked away with silver claw and silver eye into the shadow.

This novel is ranking up there as a favorite and Faulkner continues to intrigue me. But I feel like there’s so much more to learn.