Posted in Short Stories

Chester Himes: Mama’s Missionary Money

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 18

He wouldn’t think what was going to happen when it was all gone. He was the king of the neighborhood. He had to keep on being king.

Just like last week’s story, there is an unusual charm and beauty in Chester Himes’ “Mama’s Missionary Money”. As the reader, we get to revel along with young Lemuel in his getting to be “king of the neighborhood.” Himes draws us into this innocence that enjoys having money to go to the movies, to pay for others to go to the movies, to buy ice cream for friends, to buy new baseballs and mitts. This innocence also only revels in the present day without thinking that the money is going to run out and that Lemuel would eventually be found out – and he is eventually found out.

While it lasts, though, it’s glorious! For Lemuel and the reader!

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrick Clarke. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for Week 18 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: Pennsylvania Station

Though it spoke human speech it did not sound like a human voice, since it was too big to have emerged from known man and it had a quality at once booming, cold and forlorn, as though it were not interested in nor listening to what it said.

Mississippi doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the picture. This makes “Pennsylvania Station” one of William Faulkner’s more unique stories. It’s set in New York City at Pennsylvania Station as one might guess. An old man waiting for a train tells a younger man a story. Having a story within a story definitely is not unique to Faulkner and I didn’t think about it but we don’t necessarily know where either of these men are headed – Mississippi, perhaps? And the quotation above refers to the train station announcer.

The old man tells the younger one about Sister. Sister is a woman whom one might think is the sister of the older man. However, he doesn’t really talk about her as though she is his sibling. He just calls her “Sister”. And Danny is Sister’s son. The old man doesn’t call Danny “Nephew”. We know Sister is dead early on in the story (both stories) but she has paid 50 cents a week for quite a few years so she could have a nice coffin. Each year of payments gets her an upgrade. The insurance/coffin salesman made sure each year the gold plate with her name on it got moved to the “better” coffin.

Anyway, this was the humorous part and the part I enjoyed the most. Danny plays a role in the story, too, but he wasn’t as funny.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Fox Hunt

‘If the Lord didn’t want a man to cut his own grass, why did He put Sunday on Sunday like he did? Tell me that.’

What does the quotation above from William Faulkner’s “Fox Hunt” mean? Your guess is as good as mine. This story contains all kinds of stories from all different kinds of people. I wouldn’t call it a stream of consciousness but a stream of narration. A fox hunt does exist. It’s kind of woven in and out of all these narrations. It’s more in the background.

Ultimately Blair gets his fox – one gets the idea that he’s been chasing this fox off and on over a long period of time. Or maybe its just been today. Blair also “looses” his wife to another man around the same time. Killing a fox and losing his wife. Imagine how they might be connected and you might give some meaning to this story.

The tone and atmosphere and, of course, the words all make up for the strangeness of narration.

Posted in Short Stories

Crystal Wilkinson: Tipping the Scales

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 17

Crystal Wilkinson’s “Tipping the Scales” doesn’t have the same poetic elegance of the last two stories of hers that I’ve read (“Mr” and “Ritual”) but it has a beauty and charm all its own.

Josephine Childs works at a diner in Stanford, Kentucky. One might call her an outcast but I’m not sure that’s the correct word. Josephine is the subject of gossip – probably constant gossip – because of her relationship with various men, many of whom are married.

The difference in this story is that the narrator appears to be one of the town gossips telling Josephine’s story in their own words with their own dialect. This perspective makes for a pleasant realization to the reader that Josephine gets a sort of revenge when a respectable man comes and sweeps her off her feet letting her finally live happily ever after in the site of her little town – a town that understands a little that maybe there’s more to Josephine than they’ve allowed. Josephine tips the scales in her favor:

And Ashe all dressed in white, a smile ‘cross his face a mile long, his voice booming out vows to love Josephine forever. All three of her kids stood up with her, a sight to see. And the whole town ’bout tipped over with everybody traveling to the edge, bending their ears to the door.

This story is included in Wilkinson’s collection Blackberries, Blackberries. I read it when I selected the Eight of Diamonds for Week 17 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: Dr. Martino

In that gathering of summer dresses, of sucked old breaths and gabbling females staccato, the proprietress stood on the veranda with the second note in her hand.

Of the short stories of William Faulkner that I’ve read so far, “Dr. Martino” is probably the most difficult to understand. Reading it for the words and the tone and maybe even the atmosphere is the most I can recommend.

As with much of Faulkner’s writing, the narration jumps around. It’s all third person but just when I thought I would only get Hubert Jarrod’s point of view, it jumps to Louise King, the love interest of Hubert Jarrod, and Louise’s mother. Louise also has a relationship or friendship with Dr. Martino who for the story’s entirety only appears sitting on a bench. But he apparently has an influence on Louise that her mother doesn’t like.

Anyone with any other insight into this story? Feel free to comment.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Honor

Faulkner’s “Honor” is a fun and enjoyable little story with a slightly dark twist. It’s narrated by a soldier that’s been home from World War I and has difficulty holding down a job. The narration has a noir feel to it which actually makes the story that much more fun:

And while I was still drifting around – that was when I first tried selling automobiles – I met Jack, and he told me about a bird that wanted a wing-walker for his barn-storming circus. And that was how I met her.

These barn-storming circus’s show up in Faulkner’s writing from time to time. I’m guessing that they might have been a popular pass-time during the years just after World War I – before television and while movies were just beginning to take off.

I’ll say SPOILERS but this is all part of the plot. The wing-walker has an affair with the pilot’s wife. Yeah, you can see where this might go.

The end of the story lets you know whether what you think is going to happen actually does. I won’t spoil that.

And finally, its toward the end of the story that we find out the wing-walker is none other than, Monaghan, the Irish American soldier in “Ad Astra”.

Posted in Short Stories

Zora Neale Hurston: The Conversion of Sam

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 16

Stella was thrilled to the heart by this passionate appeal. She loved Sam surely, and she wanted to be his wife, but she couldn’t find a word of acceptance that didn’t sound bold and brazen to her. But every woman, whether she be college-bred and city reared, the daughter of wealth and fashion; or just a country girl like Stella has felt that same lack of words under the same circumstance. After a while Stella nodded her head in the affirmative. Sam grabbed her hand and pressed his suit.

Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “The Conversion of Sam” is another story about marriage that is mostly sweet but shows some typical marital bumps along the road not unlike her story “The Gilded Six-Bits”. The marriage in this story, as cute as it might be, has underlying problems as a result of racial issues, gender issues and class issues.

The beauty of the story is that these issues aren’t so overt that it becomes something political. It’s able to remain simply a great story that quietly, but strongly, makes points about the world we live in – both in today’s world and Hurston’s world.

This is included in her collection Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick. I read it when I selected the Six of Hearts for Week 16 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: Wash

Yet still the gaunt, furious figure came on against the glare and roar of the flames. With the scythe lifted, it bore down upon them, upon the wild glaring eyes of the horses and the swinging glints of gun barrels, without any cry, any sound.

I don’t know which came first: William Faulkner’s short story “Wash” or his novel Absalom! Absalom!. But both are connected. Wash Jones is Thomas Sutpen’s companion for twenty years. Wash lives in an old rundown cabin on what used to be Sutpen’s plantation. Even though Wash is white, Sutpen treats him the way he treats most of his former slaves.

The “culmination” of Wash Jones and Thomas Sutpen’s relationship is a significant plot point in Absalom! Absalom! but as with much of Faulkner’s writing, it can be tricky figuring out exactly what is going on. He doesn’t spell out everything and in some cases he seems to actually hide things.

The horrific aspects of Sutpen’s relationship with Wash and his granddaughter are a little more straightforward in “Wash”. This story makes things a little clearer as Thomas Sutpen’s world collapses in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Posted in Fiction

Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

It’s not uncommon for readers to question an author’s writing when it’s published posthumously. I admit I can be skeptical about such publications, myself. However, in the case of J. R. R. Tolkien’s story Roverandom, things are a little different.

We know that we are unable to literally recreate Tolkien telling his own children a story before they go to bed. But what Tolkien fan wouldn’t at least want to try? It’s this theory that allows me to enjoy this short novel instead of “worrying” about whether this was exactly what Tolkien would have wanted published.

Roverandom is a pet dog that bites the trousers of a cranky wizard and gets turned into a toy. As a toy, the dog is still able to wander around and he becomes lost as he gets taken to the moon to meet the Man-On-The-Moon and have some adventures and then back to earth to swim around in a world under the sea.

In a word (or two), its delightful…and fun.

There’s no real connection in this story to Middle Earth; however, here’s one small potential tie-in:

Roverandom thought he caught a glimpse of the city of the Elves on the green hill beneath the Mountains, a glint of white far away; but Uin dived again so suddenly that he could not be sure. If he was right, he is one of the very few creatures, on two legs or four, who can walk about our own lands and say they have glimpsed that other land, however far away.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: All the Dead Pilots

Because they are dead too, who had learned to respect that whose respect in turn their hardness had commanded before there were welded center sections and parachutes and ships that would not spin.

“All the Dead Pilots” might be the final World War I story of William Faulkner’s. It’s the last one in The Wasteland section of his Collected Stories. And in this one there is a Jefferson connection. One of the Sartoris men is in France vying for the affection of the same woman in which Captain Spoomer is interested. In spite of the war setting and the title, the story has some comedic takes – especially as the stray dog roams in and out of the scenes.

This also is another story in which the narrator is nameless, a man with a mechanical leg who censors the mail coming in and out. The mail plays a key role in the telling of the story. We also get to see someone from Faulkner’s Mississippi in a significantly different setting.