Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Golden Land

I think William Faulkner’s “Golden Land” is his nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or maybe he just discovered similar values or lack thereof in Hollywood. Both Faulkner and Fitzgerald dabbled in screenwriting. I don’t know if they were doing it at the same time. That’s probably possible.

In the story, Ira Ewing has come to live in Beverly Hills from Nebraska. His mother has moved near him, also from Nebraska. Ira’s grown daughter seems to be an actress and is involved in some sort of legal problem. Ira is an alcoholic and abusive husband who hates where he lives.

Here’s Ira’s (or Faulkner’s) description of people on the beach:

Lying so, they seemed to him to walk along the rim of the world as though they and their kind alone inhabited it, and he with his forty-eight years were the forgotten last survivor of another race and kind, and they in turn precursors of a new race not yet seen on the earth: of men and women without age, beautiful as gods and goddesses, and with the minds of infants.

Yeah, at least here, Faulkner and Fitzgerald seem to observe the same world and come to some of the same conclusions.

Posted in Fiction

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

As for you, nameless, stateless, and selfless, the bullet remains lodged in your head, stuck in the seal between your two minds, as stubbornly wedged as a morsel of gristle and meat between your molars. You wiggle the bullet with your thoughts, but you cannot dislodge it. This bullet with your name on it is embedded where no one can see either it or your name, a thing that would drive you crazy, except that you are apparently already crazy.

How is the nameless spy from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer committed in his sequel The Committed? Is he committed to a revolution? Is he committed to a cause or belief system? Has he committed a crime? Has he committed his thoughts to paper? Is he committed to an asylum?

It’s probably yes to all of the questions. And he remains nameless unless one considers nicknames like Crazy Bastard or Camus to be his real name.

As in the first novel, this spy protagonist maintains two personas due to the nature of spying; however, this being of two minds takes its toll. In addition to the metaphor I quoted above regarding the bullet lodged between his two minds, Nguyen takes the metaphor of having a screw loose to new heights with this screw holding together (or not) the two minds. And to make matters even more bizarre, a section of the novel has one mind narrating to the other (in which the above quotation is included).

This second novel has some of the same humor in it specifically when it comes to the comic relief of the ghosts of those the protagonist has killed. They pop up at inopportune times to heckle him.

The craziness and the humor give sections of the novel a Kurt Vonnegut feel. Vonnegut specifically comes to mind when the nameless spy seems to be talking to a lawyer or a therapist (difficult to tell which and it really doesn’t matter) about what the Eiffel Tower might be shaped like. He concludes “I didn’t create the absurdity in the world! I just see it!”

For anyone who has read The Sympathizer, I highly recommend The Committed; however, read the first novel first.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek

He said they would always lose the first battles, and if they were outnumbered and outweighed enough, it would seem to an outsider that they were going to lose them all. But they would not.

In the table of contents of my copy of William Faulkner’s Collected Stories, this story is simply called “My Grandmother Millard”; however, when you actually get to the story, it’s called by the title I put in the title of this post – a slightly longer title.

Granny Millard’s 12 year-old grandson narrates this story without a name – at least in this story. I’ve read that Granny Millard is also in Faulkner’s novel The Unvanquished so perhaps her grandson has a name there.

The story is set during the American Civil War which is a little unusual in that Faulkner rarely sets his stories smack dab in the middle of the war – they are usually after the war with flashbacks before and during the war and even then, we don’t get tons of actual war detail. Granny and her family practice grabbing the things they want to save (family heirlooms, etc.) and burying them in a trunk in case the Yankees storm their house. Granny times the rest of the family to see how fast they can get everything buried. A clock that is valued to the family sometimes goes in the trunk for these drills and sometimes it doesn’t. I find this somewhat funny in that Faulkner seems to always play around with time in his stories jumping back and forth even within the same paragraphs. In this story he does it in a more literal sense.

As with so much of Faulkner’s writing, we get one person’s point of view via someone else. It kind of gives the reader intimate details and the big picture all at once. Granny, as with many older folks, hangs on to her southern traditions, with the attitude of “why wouldn’t things go on staying the same? or why would anyone want things to be any different?” even as her slaves are helping her save her personal belongings.

With the two intertwined points of view, Faulkner is able to show the humor in the fact that Granny’s traditions are headed into history whether she likes it or not no matter how much she wants to hold on to them.

Posted in Short Stories

Langston Hughes: One Friday Morning

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 19

…Nancy Lee did not hesitate in her choice of a color for the possible frame, since she could still see her picture clearly in her mind’s eye – for that picture waiting for the blue frame had come out of her soul, her own life, and had bloomed into miraculous being with Miss Dietrich’s help.

Langston Hughes is quickly becoming one of my favorite short story writers and “One Friday Morning” moves him another step in that direction.

He develops the character of Nancy Lee, a high school art student, with the same type of artistic descriptions of Nancy that she uses to describe her artwork. Nancy is deserving of the top art award and almost gets it. The reason she doesn’t get it has nothing to do with her artwork itself.

In her painting, Nancy Lee includes an American flag. She also knows there will be an American flag at the award ceremony. Many, by today’s standards, may see Nancy Lee’s faith in the flag as idealistic and even a little naive.

Without explicitly asking the question, Hughes (and Nancy Lee) ends the story wondering if the hope this flag stands for is real. Hughes (and Nancy Lee) hesitantly moves forward thinking it is.

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 Queen of Spades for Week 19 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: The Brooch

He was not thinking at all. He had just thought once, quietly, So that’s that. So now I suppose I will know, find out what I am going to do and then no more, not even thinking that again.

In William Faulkner’s “The Brooch”, Howard Boyd is torn between his creepy mother and his wife. This isn’t that uncommon among literature but Faulkner puts this conflict into a wonderfully gothic story with an intense buildup to a horror-style ending.

Howard isn’t exactly Norman Bates – his mother remains alive. She makes no bones about hating his wife. While she doesn’t stay in the basement she manages to control everyone from her bedroom. A stroke doesn’t keep her “down”.

The sparse conversations between Howard and his wife, Howard and his mother and even his wife and his mother eerily lead to the story’s final scene.

Faulkner also uses italics in this story (it may not be the first of these stories but I haven’t noticed it as much as in “The Brooch”). In this story, the italics simply allows us to know what Howard is thinking in addition to what he says to the ladies in his life. In his novels, though, Faulkner takes italics to a whole new level.

Posted in Short Stories

William Faulkner: Artist at Home

A poet is human, it seems, just like a man.

Roger’s wife Anne has to deal with all these artist types. Her husband Roger is a novelist but he’s had his work published and is relatively established. It’s these up and coming budding new artists that Roger lets in the house that gets Anne ruffled. This is the overall premise of William Faulkner’s “Artist at Home”.

One such poet comes to stay with them and causes considerable more trouble than usual. And of course he is oblivious to any of the troubled waters he’s churning. Yes, at first glance, he is just like all the other poets and artists to Anne – but then she takes a “second look”.

And Roger isn’t oblivious to this “second look”. He just doesn’t care – that’s different.

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.