Posted in Short Stories

Zora Neale Hurston: John Redding Goes to Sea

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 9

But these twigs, which John called ships, did not always sail away. Sometimes they would be swept in among the weeds growing in the shallow water, and be held there. One day his father came upon him scolding the weeds for stopping his sea-going vessels.

“John Redding Goes to Sea” is another great story by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s written in a fable-type format where John, as a boy, has dreams and desires to sail off into the horizon that he can sea from his Florida coast home. As with many dreams and desires, they don’t go away as John gets older.

In many stories with this type of theme, the father is the one that tries to squash the dreams for what he considers good reasons. In the case of this story, though, John’s father has the sympathy for his son that John’s mother and later John’s wife can’t seem to muster.

How John is torn between the women in his life and what he truly wants to do comes off as an extremely palpable conflict. It’s John’s father who gives him his bittersweet farewell.

I’m looking forward more and more to each new Zora story that pops up from my Deal Me In 2021 list. This is included in her collection Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick. I read it when I selected the Seven of Hearts for Week 9. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Death Drag

The airplane appeared over town with almost the abruptness of an apparition.

I have to say that the best thing about William Faulkner’s short story “Death Drag” is the alliteration in the first sentence quoted above.

After that, the story might have a sort of Americana appeal with a slightly darker bent. Some tension builds I suppose regarding the daredevil pilots that show up in Jefferson asking to put on a show – for money of course.

The plot is fairly straight forward and Faulkner’s words can be wonderful but the story itself kind of (no pun intended) drags.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Dry Sepember

Through the bloody September twilight, aftermath of sixty-two rainless days, it had gone like a fire in dry grass – the rumor, the story, whatever it was.

The accusation by Minnie Cooper of sexual assault by the black man, Will Mayes, is the spark that sets the fire for William Faulkner’s “Dry September” which, along with “A Rose for Emily”, is my favorite story so far of his Collected Stories.

Hawkshaw, from “Hair”, makes another appearance as the men in his barber shop begin talking and planning of taking the law into their own hands. Hawkshaw makes the appeal that the rumor may be just that and suggests waiting. But McLendon is ready to deal out his own justice as are most of the other men.

In addition to Hawkshaw and McLendon, Faulkner lets us in on Minnie Cooper’s story, too. We never know whether her accusation is true of false but we do know that it’s not uncommon for her to enjoy drawing attention to herself in whatever way she can. Not knowing whether the incident actually happened only emphasizes the fact that it doesn’t matter to the vigilantes.

The other scene that isn’t seen is what happens to Will Mayes once the townspeople get hold of him. We see the events that swirl around what happens and those events give us a very good idea what happens but it doesn’t get actual page time.

Finally, we have the last section that revolves around McLendon returning home to be abusive to his wife. Faulkner removes the facade of Southern Belle protection as the reason for the horror carried out by McLellan and his men.

Posted in Short Stories

James Baldwin: The Outing

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 8

Something about James Baldwin’s short story “The Outing” reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile only it would be more like “Salvation on the Hudson”. There’s no murder and not really any mystery but there are numerous characters with numerous back stories all riding up the Hudson River on a tour boat for a church outing.

The adults all seem to have this church thing down while the teenage boys aren’t so sure they want to be like their supposed role-models.

Yet their bodies continued to change and grow, preparing them, mysteriously and with ferocious speed, for manhood. No matter how careful their movements, these movements suggested, with a distinctness dreadful for the redeemed to see, the pagan lusting beneath the blood-washed robes. In them was perpetually and perfectly poised the power of revelation against the power of nature; and the saints, considering them with a baleful kind of love, struggled to bring their souls to safety in order, as it were, to steal a march on the flesh while the flesh still slept. A kind of storm, infernal, blew over the congregation as they passed; someone cried, ‘Bless them, Lord!’ and immediately, honey-colored Sister Russell, while they knelt in prayer, rose to her feet to testify.

It’s interesting that Baldwin’s sympathies are mostly with the teenagers but he doesn’t completely right off the adults even if he doesn’t hesitate to emphasize their periodic hypocrisies. Baldwin at least appears to understand that the church had a cultural impact that had some benefits even if he “outgrew” some of the specifics in the same manner in which the teenage boys in the story might be.

This story is included in Baldwin’s collection Going To Meet The Man. I read it when I selected the Ace of Hearts for Week 8 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Books

Some Old Books On My Shelf, Part 1

I typically don’t keep tons of books on my shelves but that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally find some that I’d forgotten I had – that have been there for a while. I thought I’d post about a few of them over the next few weeks just for the fun of it. The chances of me remembering specifics about plots are slim but I’ll see what happens.

The first group are Hardy Boys books. At some point I had in excess of 40 of them. Most of them I had bought myself or received as Christmas and Birthday gifts from grandparents. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I got and read my first one when I was 9 and then continued collecting and reading them until I was around 14. Yes, at some point I outgrew them but even if they are not considered “high” literature I remember them with a fondness even now.

I kept my collection until I gave them to my younger cousins to read. I don’t know it they ever read them but eventually I got them back about the time my own kids would be old enough to read them. I think one of my kids might have read one of them. Hardy Boys, or any books I read as a kid, just couldn’t complete with Harry Potter. The collection eventually made it to some of my nephews. I have no idea whether they read any of them but once again they came back to me.

So I decided to keep one just for old times sake (While the Clock Ticked) and sold the rest to Half Price Books. Recently, my son moved out to his own place and I discovered that he had used 5 of my Hardy Boys books to stack as a little shelf for his computer speakers. Those are the other five that I have pictured. They are on a regular book shelf now.

The majority of these books were purchased at B. Dalton Booksellers and Walden Books at the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio. Way back then, malls didn’t just have A bookstore, they might have had two! Some of them were bought at the Little Professor’s Bookshop at the Promenade Mall near Punta Gorda Isles, Florida (where my grandparents lived). I remember browsing through the shelves in these stores for a long time trying to figure out which book I would buy next – much to the dismay of whoever might have been waiting on me.

It’s hard to believe that these books are more than 40 years old and that I only paid between $1.50 and 2.00 for each one (funny the things I remember).

In spite of my fondness for these books, I don’t plan on re-reading any of them. So who knows what I might remember about the actual stories in these books. Tune in next week after I’ve scanned my childhood memory.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Centaur in Brass

In our town Flem Snopes now has a monument to himself, a monument of brass, none the less enduring for the fact that…only four people…know that it is his monument, or that it is a monument at all.

As is common so far in William Faulkner’s stories, we don’t know who the narrator is in “Centaur in Brass” but they introduce us to Flem Snopes, a man skillful at wheeling and dealing and stealing to get himself money and recognition.

In this story, though, the tables get turned on Snopes. One gets the feeling that in the future, he gets back to his usual schemes but for one moment, two firemen get the better of him.

At his wordiest best, Faulkner makes this story come alive with a convoluted plan of Snopes to steal brass from the municipal power plant. Outside of the opening sentence quoted above, the purpose of the brass isn’t mentioned.

The Snopes family become prominent characters in Faulkner’s works including a trilogy of novels starting with The Hamlet. I imagine they dig deeper into Flem’s character.

Posted in Short Stories

Langston Hughes: Thank You M’am

A Birthday Short Story Extra

When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington

I think the above quotation is the key to Langston Hughes’ short story “Thank You M’am”. After Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones finally lets go of Roger, the teenage boy who tries to steal her purse, Hughes indicates that he never sees her again. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember her.

As the reader, its nice to think that Roger wouldn’t forget Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and the way she treated him.

The story has a sense of being a children’s story and its certainly a good one for children to read but at least this one year older adult thought it’s just as appropriate for us, too.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Hair

If there had been love once, a man would have said that Hawkshaw had forgotten her. Meaning love, of course.

Hawkshaw, in William Faulkner’s “Hair”, could be considered similar to Emily in “A Rose for Emily” in that he was somewhat of a stranger to the town in spite of his being a barber. He doesn’t talk much while much of the town does – about him.

I didn’t find “Hair” anywhere near as intriguing as “A Rose for Emily” but there is something to Faulkner’s ability to tell a story well in a way that other authors would simply make boring. Hawkshaw has a back story that the narrator – again unnamed – lets the reader know about and he tells it as diligent and determined as Hawkshaw himself is about paying a mortgage each year on a house that isn’t his.

In “Hair”, the reader also can guess how the story will end but Faulkner, making all his words count, takes un on a nice little journey to get there.

Posted in Short Stories

W. E. B. DuBois: On Being Crazy

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 7

W. E. B. DuBois’ short story “On Being Crazy” is very short – about two pages. It’s written somewhat like a fable in that the same situation occurs over and over to the protagonist in varying settings – the same situation occurring to the protagonist with varying characters.

DuBois also reminds me of Mark Twain. An underlying humor exists with the protagonist being a fictional version of the author with varying conversations like this one set at a restaurant:

‘Sir,’ said he, ‘do you wish to force your company on those who do not want you?’

No, said I, I wish to eat.

At the same time, DuBois forces certain social issues that Twain seemed to just touch on.

“On Being Crazy” is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected Four of Diamonds for Week 7 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: A Rose For Emily (a re-read)

“A Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner’s more well-known and highly acclaimed stories. I read it a number of years ago and posted about it here. I almost skipped it in his Collected Stories but decided to go ahead and read it again. It was well worth it.

While in my previous post, I wrote about the ending – which has to be one of the greatest and goriest endings in any Southern Gothic tale. If you are in to horror stories and haven’t read this – go read it!

What struck me during this reading is the narrator. In reading Faulkner’s work, it no longer comes as a surprise that his narrators and narrations have an unusual quality and they tend to jump around from character to character. In “A Rose for Emily”, we don’t necessarily know who the narrator is but they are speaking collectively for the entire town. This first person plural story-telling emphasizes Emily’s isolation and loneliness. And it brings these details to greater heights and moves the story ominously along:

Now and then we would see her at a window for a moment, as the men did that night when they sprinkled the lime, but for almost six months she did not appear on the streets. Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman’s life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die.