‘Yes. I’ve looked everywhere. I went back out there and looked and I looked here. It must be all right. They must have killed it.’
William Faulkner’s story “The Leg” is an odd conglomeration with its saving grace being the middle section in which the narrator gets his leg amputated and still has the phantom feeling that the leg is still there. I don’t think this was meant to be a creepy story or a gothic story as some of Faulkner’s other stories. Whether in spite of or because of the goriness, its a fascinating narrative.
It’s also difficult to figure out where and when this story is set but all the clues I get lead me to thinking its during World War I in England. The Thames is mentioned often but I can’t tell if it’s physically there or if its just a memory or some kind of symbol. There’s also a mention that at least part of the story is set in 1914. So I’ll go with World War I.
‘The only other thing that troubled me was the wind.’
‘Why, I thought it was a perfectly still night.’
‘Perhaps it was only on my side of the house, but there was enough to sway my curtains and rustle them more than I wanted.’
I love this story!
So many little, insignificant details such as Dr. Denton buying a diary of a Mr. Poynter much to the dismay of his Aunt who needs curtains for their new house. The new neighbors are coming over but Dr. Denton just wants to read his new book (who hasn’t been there?). The Aunt drops the book and a piece of cloth drops out with a pattern – a pattern she thinks would make nice curtains. Dr. Denton gets curtains made with the pattern that looks like someone’s hair.
James uses an interesting Biblical allusion to King David’s son, Absalom.
He didn’t like his women in loud colors. Brought on too much attention.
Crystal Wilkinson’s short story “Mine” doesn’t glorify Joe Scruggs’ tendency to objectify the physical attributes of the women he dates. But it just sort of presents Joe as Joe. He is what he is in a manner of speaking.
Joe pretty much takes up the entire story but through his eyes we get a quick glimpse of Racine, one of Joe’s exes. She’s the one that changes – wears bright clothes all of a sudden, cuts her hair, adjusts some of the physical attributes Joe admires.
While Joe stays Joe, Racine moves on, grows in a different direction.
This story is included in Wilkinson’s collection Blackberries, Blackberries. I read it when I selected the Ten of Diamonds for Week 22 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.
The first thing that jumps out at me in William Faulkner’s “Black Music” is the first paragraph:
This is about Wilfred Midgleston, fortune’s favorite, chosen of the gods. For fifty-six years, a clotting of the old gutful compulsions and circumspections of clocks and bells, he met walking the walking image of a small, snuffy, nondescript man whom neither man nor woman had ever turned to look at twice, in the monotonous hard streets. Then his apotheosis soared glaring, and to him at least not brief, across the unfathomed sky above his lost earth like that of Elijah of old.
I could stop right there and say I’ve read a good story but then I would miss out on the other thing that jumps out at me although it took more of the story to realize the brilliance of the narrator Faulkner uses- something I shouldn’t be surprised at anymore.
As usual we don’t know who the narrator is but they are interviewing Wilfred Midgleston somewhere in what I think is Mexico. Midgleston has disappeared after some shenanigans with his former employer. This interviewer has a journalistic approach to their questions even if we don’t know if they are a journalist. I get the idea they could be fascinated with Midgleston’s disappearance and plan on writing a book or filming a documentary about him.
The detached and unbiased narrator contrasts nicely with the unreliable but entertaining story that Midgleston tells.
Oh, and one of Faulkner’s apparently favorite words is “apotheosis”. It’s almost in every story. I looked it up and it means “a culmination” or “a making divine”. In either case it fits well with this story.
He said quietly, aloud, quizzical, humorous, peaceful, as he did each night in his bed in his lonely and peaceful room when a last full exhalation had emptied his body of waking and he seemed less than an instant to look about him from the portal of sleep, ‘Gentlemen of the Jury, you may proceed.’
Clinging to the past and the now can be comfortable compared to embracing the new no matter how bad the present is and how good the new might be. This appears to be the theme of William Faulkner’s short story “Beyond” as it might be the general theme of much of his work.
Unlike a movie such as The Sixth Sense, Faulkner lets the reader know within a few paragraphs that the Judge is dead – and that he’s moving around among the living while he makes his way to some sort of heaven or at least purgatory.
He carries with him the grief and loneliness and mourning of having lost his wife and son a long time ago. When he has the opportunity in this heaven sort of place to see his son, he refuses.
While Faulkner puts a spiritual and philosophical spin on the Judge’s situation, a reader could easily place this situation onto Faulkner’s American South even though he doesn’t explicitly point it out in this story.
The year was 1730, the month December, the hour somewhat past three in the afternoon.
Nothing says scary like an exact time. A time in which two boys find themselves living under the guardianship at Whitminster. One boy delves into something supernatural. The other unsuspectingly gets caught up with it. Since M. R. James “The Residence at Whitminster” is a scary story, it won’t come as a surprise what might befall both of these boys.
At the same time, nothing says scary like a hundred years later when the residents of Whitminster discover what happened to two boys buried in the house’s graveyard – what happened to two boys who had lived in the house.
Like William Faulkner, James uses so many narrators that confusion ensues about who is telling whom what. Between letters written and stories told and remembrances recalled, the confusion chillingly builds to a climax – an odd climax for a ghost story but one that James makes work. Because decisions are made NOT to open things up, NOT to find out what might be lurking behind lock and key, the mystery -and chill – remains.
As my posts of William Faulkner’s Complete Stories wind down, I’m ramping up with the complete ghost stories of M. R. James. They are in two volumes and I’m reading the second one first because it was the one that was in at my library (volume 1 is now on hold – I’ll have to go pick it up this week). This second volume is titled The Haunted Dolls’ House and Other Ghost Stories. I’m looking forward to what else might be hiding out in these stories.
‘Dey did ‘pear to die, but a few un ’em come out ag’in, en is mixed in ‘mongs’ de yuthers.’
Charles Wadell Chesnutt’s short story “The Goophered Grapevine” contains a delightful humor while showing a serious “what goes around comes around” in the backdrop of the reconstruction south.
It’s a story within a story with a white northern narrator listening to the tale of Uncle Julius, a former slave, about a vinyard the northerner is thinking about purchasing. Based on the context of the story, a goopher is a kind of hex or spell. The former slave goes in to detail about the specific goopher that is on the grapevine.
Within the story told by Uncle Julius, the vinyard’s master takes advantage of the goopher just as he takes advantage of his ability to sell human beings at a profit. Uncle Julius takes his turn at taking advantage when the northerner purchases the vinyard. There’s a back and forth nature to the connected stories that makes the reader nod their head in appreciation of the tricks Uncle Julius plays.
The other aspect of this story is the dialect in which the former slave tells his story. It’s very thick and ordinarily could become tiresome and difficult and by today’s standards may even be considered stereotypical. But in the case of “The Goophered Grapevine”, putting forth the effort to understand Uncle Julius’ story is worth it.
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 Three of Diamonds for Week 21 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.
Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism is a fascinating historical survey of the Christian church in America and its lack of civil rights advocacy since the early days of the New World to the present advent of Black Lives Matter. Nothing in the book is surprising but some of the details Tisby provides round out the historical truth as opposed to simple “sound bites”.
Tisby comes to this topic from inside Christianity which brings a tone of sadness more than anger and he does acknowledge that the white American church at times had a part in the abolitionist movement even if some of that movement had ulterior motives.
It’s easy by the end to want to ask Tisby if he thinks there is any sort of answer to the problems history has handed down to us because he appears to only be pointing out the problems; however, after this book, he published How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice in which he points to what might be answers to the problems he details in his first book. I have yet to read the second book but plan to in the near future.
‘After four years I have bought immunity from running.’
‘You have until daylight.’
William Faulkner’s “Mountain Victory” is another one of his stories where Southerners have difficulty facing change. At the same, time he shows the complexity of the thoughts and ideas and agendas of those fighting the American Civil War.
At the end of the war, a wounded Confederate officer stumbles upon a family in the mountains of Tennessee. He seems to make the assumption that they are sympathetic to the South – which they are not. Confusion ensues.
The fact that the officer wants to go back to his mansion in Mississippi now that the war is over gives a naivety similar to Granny Millard in “My Grandmother Millard”. Faulkner makes his point in a more direct way with Granny, though. Again, “Mountain Victory” by no means is a pining away for the way things were. Some of the characters may have regrets and resist change but Faulkner’s overall tone is one that says “get over it and move on”.
‘After all, she is not a Sartoris. She is no kin to them, to a lot of fool proud ghosts.’
Maybe the future is better but when you can’t see it, it can be difficult to know that. This seems to be the point in William Faulkner’s “There Was A Queen”. It’s one of the more complicated Faulkner stories I’ve read so far. It involves the Sartoris family that shows up in numerous Faulkner works.
Miss Jenny lives in her house as a 90 year-old invalid. Narcissa, a few generations removed from Miss Jenny, lives in the same house. The men in both of their lives have either died or moved on. Bringing the two together is Elnora, their African American servant. Miss Jenny, as one might expect, represents the old south whereas Narcissa represents the new south. Caught in the middle, Elnora clings to the person of Miss Jenny even if the ideas of Narcissa sound good.
The tone of the story is by no means one of longing for the old days. Miss Jenny and her ways do not come across as sympathetic by Faulkner. At the same time, Narcissa’s new ways are painted as puzzling but only because they are new – not because they are wrong.