Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Victory

Ricky Scaggs has a song called “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin'” about not getting too high and mighty. William Faulkner’s short story “Victory” uses this same concept as Alec Gray, a young Scottish boy, goes off to fight in England during World War I. He manages to gain success and respect among his military comrades and one might think this would please his ship building father but his father sees this as Alec rejecting his roots.

This story doesn’t involve anyone (that I’m aware of) from Jefferson, Mississippi but the conflict isn’t uncommon to Faulkner’s southern community.

Also, the story contains some vintage Faulkner wording:

In the fall, he returned to London. Perhaps he could not have said why himself. Perhaps it was beyond any saying, instinct perhaps bringing him back to be present at the instant out of all time of the manifestation, apotheosis, of his life which had died again.

I’ll just leave it at that.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Ad Astra

‘What is your destiny except to be dead? It is unfortunate that your generation had to be the one. It is unfortunate that for the better part of your days you will walk the earth a spirit.’

“Ad Astra” seems to be Faulkner’s nod to Hemingway although I’m sure there’s enough to differentiate the two authors. This is the first short story I’ve read of Faulkner’s that is not set in or around Jefferson, Mississippi. It’s set in France at the end of World War I. Bayard Sartoris is one of the various pilots hanging out in a French bar (there’s the nod to Hemingway) and is the tie to Jefferson. The story itself is narrated by – you guessed it – someone that isn’t named but we know is American.

Interestingly, the main talkers during the bar conversation are strangers to Jefferson. Sartoris doesn’t talk much – he just drinks. The rest of the pilots are of varying nationalities and when an Irish American decides to befriend a German prisoner things get messy. With the war ending, the pilots don’t know what to do with themselves. At least based on this one story, their struggle to find meaning with their future lives doesn’t seem promising.

Posted in Short Stories

Crystal Wilkinson: Mr

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 13

Tainted goodbye whispers as the sun crept in bringing brand new.

Oh my goodness! What a story and what a short story! Again, Crystal Wilkinson packs in so much sadness and beauty and poetry into two pages. And not only that, she packs so much characterization into three characters within these two pages.

There’s the Mr of the title and then there’s Fannie and Jake. The relationship between the three runs deep and intertwined. They move back and forth between resistance and acceptance, gains and losses. And I’ll say it again – it’s only two pages.

This story is included in Wilkinson’s collection Blackberries, Blackberries. I read it when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for Week 13 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Lo!

The President stood motionless at the door of the Dressing Room, fully dressed save for his boots. It was half-past six in the morning and it was snowing; already he had stood for an hour at the window, watching the snow.

Poking around the internet, I’ve learned a little about William Faulkner. Things such as he didn’t always bother with historical accuracy. In his short story “Lo!”, the United States president complains about his Native American servants not wearing pants in the White House. At first, I stressed out a little about which president Faulkner was using in this story – trying to see if he included any clues because he never mentions a name.

As the story progresses and in spite of Native American stereotypes, Faulkner seems mostly annoyed with the president and his secretary – and by this time, it doesn’t really matter which president Faulkner includes.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: A Courtship

In another humorous turn, William Faulkner’s “A Courtship” centers on a competition for a woman between Ikkemotubbe (who sometime after this story is renamed Doom), considered quite the great Choktaw man, and David Hogganbeck, a steam boat pilot who plays the fiddle. The title might seem odd given that these two compete for a woman as opposed to what one usually considers to be a courtship.

Both men are interested in Herman Basket’s sister who doesn’t play a huge role in the story outside of the object or prize resulting from this competition. Neither men want this contest to be a duel because neither of them want to – you know – die. So they have dancing contests and eating contests and other contests of this nature, though, eventually none of these work so they resort to something more dangerous.

SPOILER ALERT: We also occasionally get a glimpse of another person, Log in the Creek, who seems to just be in the way (as his name might imply). He lays around playing the harmonica – at least that’s what the rivals see. But then comes the story’s punchline. While the two protagonists objectify Herman Basket’s sister and spend their time trying to beat each other, Log in the Creek has actually been courting the woman and they end up getting married in the middle of the final more dangerous but not deadly competition. Now the title comes across funnier than it had might have without this ending.

I think it might be going a little bit too far to say this is a story with a feminist theme but looking at a woman as an object doesn’t really work out here:

‘Don’t think about her,’ David Hogganbeck said.

‘I don’t. I have already stopped. See?’ Ikkemotubbe said while the sunset ran down his face as if it had already been rain instead of light when it entered the window.

Posted in Short Stories

Alice Walker: Everyday Use

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 12

It’s probably been over thirty years since I read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Color Purple. As much as I enjoyed it, it’s a shame that I’ve waited this long to read any of her other work. But better late than never and her short story “Everyday Use” is just as mesmerizing as her novel – just in shorter form.

The female narrator, living in an impoverished rural environment, has a daughter that was able to go to college and become successful at least by most of the world’s standards. A story of someone making something of themselves or pulling themselves up by their bootstraps is a common plot and can be inspiring; however, the story of those they left behind isn’t as common and is the focus of Walker’s story.

The mother doesn’t appear to regret sending her daughter to college but it does appear that she didn’t count on her daughter feeling ashamed of her background. When the daughter comes to visit, both struggle to find where the other one fits into their lives.

What sets this story apart from others like it, is that its the mother’s story and not the daughter’s:

In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In winter I wear flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My fat keeps me hot in zero weather. I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing; I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog.

Who’s more successful? Who has worked harder? Those are good questions.

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 12 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: A Justice

The Chickasaw characters of “Red Leaves” return in the next story “A Justice”. Interesting enough, though, the story begins with the Compson children from “That Evening Sun” (and The Sound and the Fury) visiting their Grandfather. This section I am assuming is narrated by Quentin Compson although he is never named. And then the actual story is told to Quentin (at his request) by Sam Fathers, an old member of Yoknapatawpha County who is of mixed race (Native American Chickasaw and African American). And Sam is recounting the story that Herman Basket (another Chickasaw) told to him about Sam’s Chickasaw father.

The “justice” in the story’s title revolves around the Native American chief’s ability to determine who is to blame for Sam’s birth and to whom does Sam and his mother belong. Do they belong to Sam’s father or to the slave husband of Sam’s slave mother? The ways in which the chief, interestingly named Doom, tries to resolve this conflict can be considered humorous or on a deeper level, can be considered useless in that no resolution really exists.

As Quentin Compson becomes a central figure in Faulkner’s literature, I find it interesting that the racism Quentin observes strikes a nerve in him. How far is Quentin willing to go to renounce the beliefs of his family and culture? That’s the question. Faulkner paints Quentin’s wonderings and reactions to what he observes and hears as a continuous potential need to turn away from his upbringing – a need he might never completely obtain:

We went on, in that strange, faintly sinister suspension of twilight in which I believed that I could still see Sam Fathers back there, sitting on his wooden block, definite, immobile, and complete, like something looked upon after a long time in a preservative bath in a museum. That was it. I was just twelve then, and I would have to wait until I had passed on and through and beyond the suspension of twilight. Then I knew that I would know. But then Sam Fathers would be dead.

Posted in Books

Some Old Books On My Shelf, Part 3

Next in line on my shelf of old books is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As you can see in the photos, they’ve had some wear and tear. I bought them when I was roughly twelve and I’m not sure if I bought all of them at the same place or not. I know that I didn’t buy all of them at the same time. One I know (although I don’t know which) was bought at Main News on the square in Urbana, Ohio. That little shop is long gone now but it was basically a newspaper store that also sold magazines, greeting cards, convenience store types of snacks…and paperbacks.

I read all four of them when I was in seventh grade and loved them even if I didn’t fully understand everything that was going on. Whenever the topic of the Elves’ history came up, it kind of threw me. At that point in time, though, I loved fantasy stories and these seemed to be the epitome.

This is one set of books that most of my kids have read and they have read the exact same copies I read when I was twelve. These got read right along with Harry Potter. It helped that Peter Jackson’s film versions came out right about the same time the Harry Potter films started coming out – which is hard to believe was almost twenty years ago. When I heard about the LOTR’s movies, I re-read the series and understood significantly more than I did when I was in Junior High.

I’ve only read these twice but I think I’m planning on re-reading them again soon (I consider sometime in 2022 to be soon). My favorite characters have always been Merry and Pippin both when I was twelve and when I was an adult. I didn’t appreciate the loyalty of Sam Gamgee until I was an adult but he became one of my favorite sidekicks.

Oh, and when I bought these they were only $2.50. At some point, I probably need to replace them. I might have grandchildren some day and maybe they’ll want to read them.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Red Leaves

Then he said it again-‘It’s that I do not wish to die’ – in a quiet tone, of slow and low amaze, as though it were something that, until the words had said themselves, he found that he had not known, or had not known the depth and extent of his desire.

William Faulkner’s “Red Leaves” clashes Native American culture with that of African American slaves. The story, itself, is quite a page turner and the scene in which the runaway slave encounters a cotton mouth moccasin is as scary as anything out of Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe.

Unfortunately, Faulkner uses some stereotypes that could make this story problematic by today’s standards; however, he throws in one more culture giving the story a little boost out of this problem. The unseen, but still existent, culture of the white man gets the worst treatment.

Posted in Short Stories

Sterling Brown: And/Or

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 11

…he understood that the property qualification was alternative to the literacy qualification. He was told he was wrong…

With methodical determination, Houston attempts to register to vote in a small Alabama town in Sterling Brown’s short story “And/Or”. The written law connects two qualifications with the word “or”. Houston meets one of them. The Board of Registrars says he needs to meet both.

Houston’s back and forth and round and round, to a degree, could be considered humorous because of how ridiculous the situation becomes. The ending could be considered a punchline if the reader really wants to consider Houston’s plight funny.

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 11 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.