Posted in Short Stories

It’s Anniversary #9!

It’s the ninth anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and I celebrate by posting by ten favorite short stories that I’ve read this year simply according to my own enjoyment of them.

And here they are!

10. The Persistence of Desire – John Updike

9. Birthmates – Gish Jen

8. The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe

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

6. “That in Allepo Once…” – Vladimir Nabokov

5. Paladin of the Lost Hour – Harlan Ellison

4. The Paper Menagerie – Ken Liu

3. Babylon Revisited – F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. The Swimmers – F. Scott Fitzgerald

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro – Ernest Hemingway

Posted in Short Stories

My Favorite Reading Challenge

As 2020 winds to a close its time for me to think about my favorite reading challenge “Deal Me In”. I’ll be honest, it’s pretty much my only reading challenge but this will be the ninth year I’ve participated. I’ve completed every year except for 2019 when I took a break or sabbatical or whatever you want to call it.

What is this challenge you might be asking? Well let me tell you.

I’ve selected short stories for every week of 2021 (52 to be exact) and matched them up with each card in a regular deck of playing cards (again 52). Each week, I select a card and that’s the story I read that week. Technically, I’ve only selected 48 stories because I keep the Two’s wild – to pick any story I want like one that I might have seen someone else read out in the book blogosphere. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. Check out his website and join in the fun!

Coming up with the list is as much fun as reading the stories. You can see my list of stories for 2021 over here at my Deal Me In page. This year my stories come from some new collections/anthologies I’ve obtained over the course of last year:

Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke

-Zora Neale Hurston’s Hitting A Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick

-Crystal Wilkinson’s Blackberries, Blackberries

-James Baldwin’s Going To Meet The Man

I’m looking forward to reading these stories and I’m looking forward to which stories you might choose!

Posted in Short Stories

Langston Hughes: One Christmas Eve

A Christmas Short Story Extra

‘Huh! That wasn’t no Santa Claus…’

In “One Christmas Eve”, Langston Hughes gets the city sidewalks and the busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style – as the song goes. He gets that in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas. He puts this wide-eyed innocence into five year-old Joe.

Joe takes all this with him as he enters a White-only theater to see Santa Claus. He leaves knowing racism exists. Joe’s slightly frustrated mother attempts to help him deal with the hate he experiences without diminishing the joy with which he entered the building.

That parents wouldn’t have these dilemmas to figure out – there’s a Christmas wish for the new year.

Merry Christmas!

This story is included in the anthology A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas.

Posted in Short Stories

Gurney Norman: Maxine

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 52

“What I want to see is the Grand Canyon,” said Wilgus.

“Lord, honey, don’t take me to no canyons,” said Maxine. “If I’s at a canyon I’d dive off head first into the damn thing and be done with it.”

Gurney Norman’s short story “Maxine” might be a good one with which to finish Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. It’s another “snippet” of life in which Maxine gets picked up by her cousin Wilgus after visiting her daughter in Detroit. She didn’t have a good time and she unloads it all on Wilgus who willingly listens and willingly buys her a bottle of wine.

The story is nice and short and portrays the frustration Maxine has with her life and her home and her family. But it seems her ability and opportunity to tell it all to Wilgus lets her get everything off her mind and as she goes to bed that night, the reader gets the impression that maybe tomorrow will be a new day.

And the bottle of wine might have helped, too.

I read this story when I selected the Five of Diamonds for Week 52 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. My favorite story in this anthology is “Yours” by Joe Ashby Porter. Others include “Blackberry Winter” by Robert Penn Warren, “The Gift” by Janice Holt Giles and “Humming Back Yesterday” by Crystal Wilkinson.

Posted in Short Stories

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Babylon Revisited

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 51

He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.

But it hadn’t been given for nothing.

It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember…

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited”, Charlie Wales and his wife spent most of their marriage living it up in Paris in the 1920’s – not a huge surprise for a Fitzgerald story. As the title implies, though, Fitzgerald sets this story after the 1920’s, after the crash.

Wales still has some money (he managed to make a lot prior to the crash) but due to his alcoholism, he lost his wife to death and his young daughter to his wife’s family. Returning to Paris, Wales has his alcohol under control and genuinely wants his daughter back in his life.

Wales spends the balk of the story in thoughts of regret and asking for forgiveness which, from the beginning, Fitzgerald makes so palpable that the reader could easily resort to tears. The significant conflict in the story is between Wales and his sister-in-law, Marion, over the custody of his daughter. While the narration is in third person from Wales’ point of view and the reader feels legitimate empathy for him, Fitzgerald also manages to show the same empathy for Marion. This ability to see and feel both sides in the conflict makes the story less about an individual and more about the human condition itself.

“Babylon Revisited” is another of those “we had Paris” stories. It seems Paris becomes the symbol of loss or regret for so many of these early twentieth century American authors. The story was turned into the 1954 film “The Last Time I Saw Paris” with Elizabeth Taylor. As I recall seeing the move quite a while ago, I think it took considerable liberties with the plot.

This story is included in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. I read it when I selected the Seven of Hearts for Week 51 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 Short Stories

Ken Liu’s The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” is Ken Liu’s final story in his collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and it could be considered the antithesis of his story “All The Flavors”. It’s not uplifting, but it’s quite powerful.

A husband and wife team of scientists figure out how to travel back in time and use this new concept to go back and “prove” some of the atrocities that the Japanese committed on Chinese prisoners during World War II. It’s still difficult to prove history even if time travel is available. It’s interesting that the husband of this team is Chinese and the wife is Japanese.

Also interesting is that the story is formatted like a documentary. At first, I thought this would become tiresome but ultimately it works – especially in light of how documentaries can have their own biases even when billed as “proof”.

In the story, time travel becomes a controversial topic among the current governments and eventually a moratorium is put on the practice – too much potential for war or so the governments of the world say.

In the end, the wife of the scientist team has a voice over while the camera shows the viewers (readers) a starry sky. In a powerful conclusion, she states:

Look up at the stars, and we are bombarded by light generated on the day the last victim at Pingfang died, the day the last train arrived at Auschwitz, the day the last Cherokee walked out of Georgia.

Every moment, as we walk on this earth, we are watched and judged by the eyes of the universe.

Posted in Short Stories

H. P. Lovecraft: The Rats in the Walls

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 50

It should be mentioned that before leaving the sub-cellar we had vainly tried to move the central altar which we now recognised as the gate to a new pit of nameless fear. What secret would open the gate, wiser men that we would have to find.

I’ve finally read a work by H. P. Lovecraft and “The Rats in the Walls” certainly lives up to what I have imagined his writing to be. I think I can say that this is the scariest story I’ve ever read. There are at least a few aspects of this story that one might say are typical for a horror story or at least the ones I’ve read. Lovecraft, though, apparently can take these situations, up the ante and make them even scarier.

An old estate is refurbished for our narrator and along with it come numerous legends of ancient rites and rituals, strange stories of strange characters, odd symbols, cats and, of course, rats – in the walls.

The narrator is an American gentlemen descended from British nobility. As strange things happen in his house, his mental state begins to spiral out of control as the physical story spirals down underneath his house. The discovery of ancient activities taboo in his current world take hold of him and contrast nicely – well, maybe not nicely, more like terrifyingly – with his gentlemanly status asking that question many horror stories ask. What kind of evil might lurk inside us? Like I’ve said, Lovecraft just asks the question with a little more gusto than usual. And actually gives an answer nobody wants to acknowledge.

The narrator’s cat has a racial slur as its name. It’s kind of a clue early on – intentional or unintentional – that, yes, all kinds of evil can lurk inside people.

This is the final story for me in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 50 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. Other favorites from this anthology include: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, “My Son the Murderer” by Bernard Malamud, “The School” by Donald Barthelme.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Litigation Master and the Monkey King

You can’t ask for more than that, said the Monkey King. And he bowed before Tian Haoli, not the way you kowtowed to an Emperor, but the way you would bow to a great hero.

In a sense, Ken Liu’s short story “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” is a fun story. Tian Haoli is well-known in his town for his litigation skills and manages to get his clients off the hook when they are accused of wrong-doing by the government. He runs into trouble, though, as he attempts to free a client over a banned book.

In spite of the trouble Tian gets himself into, Liu manages to put humor into the story with Tian’s relationship to a demon of sorts known as the Monkey King. This demon is both irritating and loveable and encourages Tian to do the right thing in the end in spite of what that might cost Tian. The quotation above indicates that Tian earned the respect of the Monkey King and the respect of the Monkey King is better than the respect of the government.

Posted in Short Stories

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 49

I think the only problem with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is that I waited too long to read it – and of course that’s not really a problem with the story. I’ve read so much about it and have seen it included in so many anthologies that nothing seemed a surprise when I finally read it. At the same time, I understand why it’s included in so many anthologies and why so much has been written about it.

If I had to pick out something about it that stood out it would be that I didn’t realize how “central” the yellow wallpaper would be and how brilliant the descriptions were. I know – that’s the title of the story so what should I have expected? But take this description for example:

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough constantly to irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

Yikes! That’s the wallpaper she’s talking about.

This is the penultimate story for me in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Six of Spades for Week 49 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. I’ll be reading the story that finishes this anthology next week. It will be my first H. P. Lovecraft story and I can’t wait!

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel

These are the links that bound two continents and three great cities together, and these are the shackles that bound men whose voices were forever silenced, whose names were forgotten. There is beauty and wonder here, and also horror and death.

In Ken Liu’s short story “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”, a tunnel has been built underneath the floor of the Pacific Ocean. People and cargo shoot through this tunnel in order to get from California to Japan (and back) just like the tubular things that shoot under the ground at bank drive-thru’s.

Narrated by one of the workers who built the tunnel, the story is looking back at history and reworks the history we know. The tunnel is built to provide jobs during the Great Depression and it works. Japan and China’s role in the world is now different as is Germany’s. Is this world better than the one we know? It’s hard to say. There are bad things that didn’t happen, but other bad things took their place.

The story is as well-written as any of the stories in this collection as well as thought-provoking. History buffs may enjoy it especially.