Bernard Malamud: My Son the Murderer (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 3)

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oxford short stories

At night I watch the news programs. I watch the war from day to day. It’s a big burning war on a small screen. It rains bombs and the flames go higher. Sometimes I lean over and touch the war with the flat of my hand. I wait for my hand to die.

With Bernard Malamud’s short story “My Son the Murderer”, I run into a situation that doesn’t occur very often.

All I really want to say is go find this story and read it!

It doesn’t use the traditional prose that Malamud so skillfully uses in the other stories of his that I’ve read. Instead, he runs the inner thoughts of a mother, father and son between paragraphs and sometimes even within the same paragraphs. No quotation marks are used when one of them is speaking. And in this story, that makes sense. It gives the feel that it’s about an entire family even if the son is the catalyst for the plot and emotions.

Set during the Vietnam War, Malamud also brilliantly presents the struggles of an entire nation in a few pages of intense family drama.

This story is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 3 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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Lorrie Moore: How to Become a Writer (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 2)

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Understand what you must do. Switch majors. The kids in your nursery project will be disappointed, but you have a calling, an urge, a delusion, an unfortunate habit. You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.

Lorrie Moore’s short story “How to Become a Writer” is made up entirely of directives that point to the title. It’s a very funny and creative story that had me nodding my head and chuckling pretty much the entire time I was reading it.

oxford short stories

An interesting aspect is that the narrator (Francine, but one gets the idea this could be Moore, herself) tends to be self deprecating but also manages to make fun of both her creative writing college crowd and the crowd, like her family, that looks down their nose at her chosen field of work.

All of the amusing sarcasm and satire in the story might be covering up the deeper loneliness that the narrator feels. She’s not sure she fits in to either crowd and doesn’t have any other crowds to consider.

This story is included in my anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Jack of Spades for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

Elizabeth Hardwick: Evenings at Home (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 1)

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When I left I heard the beautiful bells ringing to announce that it was five o’clock and I went home in a lyrical mood, admitting that I had spent many happy, ridiculous days in this town.

Along with the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover, it appears you can’t judge a short story by its title. When I realized that Elizabeth Hardwick’s short story “Evenings at Home” showed up as my first short story for Deal Me In 2018, I wondered why I had put this story on my list since the title seemed too uninviting – rather boring, if I’m honest.

However, it blew me away and while I have 51 more stories to go in 2018, I can’t help but think this is going to rank somewhere at the top as a favorite.

The narrator returns home to Kentucky after living in New York City for a while. The story feels like a stream of consciousness moving through the emotions between what is and what used to be. The emotions also move in and out of the conflict between both the narrator’s disdain and love for her hometown. In theme and style, this story reminds me very much of Jamaica Kincaid’s “Poor Visitor”.

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Incidentally, the introduction to this story explains that Hardwick herself moved to New York City after graduation from the University of Kentucky. It’s included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I picked the Five of Diamonds for Week 1 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In 2018 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Anniversary #6!

Today is the sixth anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and to celebrate, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2017!

10.)  Mary, The Cleaning Lady – Scott McClanahan

I enjoyed reading the anthology Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia but this story is the only one that made it into my top ten.

There were good things like ice cream cones, and trying to keep houses clean, and your mother bringing you to Mary’s house wrapped in a blanket, so you could watch cartoons and dream your cartoon dreams.

 

9.)  Snowing in Greenwich Village – John Updike

I’ve enjoyed several of John Updike’s stories over the years, but the subtlety and nuance in this one made it a favorite.

Richard’s suspicion on the street that he was trespassing beyond the public gardens of courtesy turned to certain guilt.

 

8.) The Snow Image – Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’ve realized that I have never put a Hawthorne story in my top ten so I am including this story the same way some win awards for a body of work – of course, Hawthorne doesn’t really need my approval.

…for all through life she had kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and clear as crystal, and, looking at all matters through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.

 

7.) Poor Visitor – Jamaica Kincaid

A little homesickness or maybe something else makes me want to read more stories by Kincaid.

In a daydream I used to have, all these places were points of happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my small drowning soul, for I would imagine myself entering and leaving them, and just that – entering and leaving over and over again – would see me through a bad feeling I did not have a name for.

 

6.) The Cafeteria – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Leisurely lunches by people who have experienced some of the worst evils of the 20th century make this a very satisfying story.

I decided not to rest until I knew for certain what had happened to Esther and also to that half writer, half politician I remembered from East Broadway. But I grew busier from day to day. The cafeteria closed. The neighborhood changed. Years have passed and I have never seen Esther again. Yes, corpses do walk on Broadway. But why did Esther choose that particular corpse? She could have got a better bargain even in this world.

 

5.) Rembrandt’s Hat – Bernard Malamud

Not your usual short story relationship makes this story intriguing and one that I continue to think about.

That evening, leaving the building, they tipped hats to each other over small smiles.

 

4.) Yours – Joe Ashby Porter

I loved the wacky bitterness of the jilted narrator in this story and it provided one of my favorite quotations.

I’m off newspapers for the moment and to fill the breakfast time this morning I plotted a graph of my life on a napkin.

 

3.)  Chemistry – Ron Rash

Ron Rash’s short story anthology Something Rich and Strange was one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017 and this was the favorite story. It’s also the only story on my top ten list that was not from my Deal Me In project.

“Your mother believes the holy rollers got me too young, that they raised me to see the world only the way they see it. But she’s wrong about that. There was a time I could understand everything from a single atom to the whole universe with a blackboard and piece of chalk, and it was as beautiful as any hymn the way it all came together.”

 

2.) Absolution – F. Scott Fitzgerald

A great story with a great first line.

There once was a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears.

 

1.)  The Balloon – Donald Barthelme

This is a departure in the type of story I usually choose as a favorite but it was just too unusual, but perfect, in structure, plot and style that I had to put it at the top.

…there were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there – muted grays and browns for the most part, contrasting with walnut and soft yellows.

 

 

 

 

It’s time for Deal Me In 2018!

Deal Me In

Over the past almost six years of blogging, no challenge has brought me as much great reading and exposure to tons of different authors as Deal Me In hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. He also has an excellent summary as to what Deal Me In is. Check it out!

So I’m always excited to introduce my list of short stories each year.

Without further ado, here it is!

I did not divide my stories into topics like I have in past years. This year, I simply pulled miscellaneous stories that were already on my shelf. There will be stories here and there that fall under the topic of previous years such as Kentucky, Appalachia, New York City, baseball, Catholicism – plus a lot of other stories. As usual, my Two’s are wild which means they are open to any story of my choosing. Many times, it’s a story I’ve seen someone  else read on their Deal Me In list.

If you have never participated in Deal Me In, there’s no time like now. I highly recommend it.

Bernard Malamud: Rembrandt’s Hat (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 52)

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Wonderful Town

That evening, leaving the building, they tipped hats to each other over small smiles.

The beauty of Bernard Malamud’s story “Rembrandt’s Hat” lies in the relationship between the two men around which the story revolves. They are not best friends nor worst enemies; instead, they are colleagues at an art school and could simply be considered acquaintances.

Arkin comments on Rubin’s hat one day and an inner turmoil ensues when he feels he has unintentionally offended Rubin. While the story never mentions loneliness or isolation, it’s not difficult to understand the possibility of these feelings with the two men. At the same time, I feel like this interpretation lacks something. The two men have a community of sorts and the story might be telling us that a community can be made of relationships that, even if they don’t run deep, can still be meaningful.

I read this story when I selected the Six of Hearts for Week 52 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick.  My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

This also concludes my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. Look for an upcoming post with my list of short stories for Deal Me In 2018. Also, look for a post about my final Jane Austen novel Northanger Abbey.

 

Jim Nichols: Magic (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 51)

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I decided to finish my coffee and head on out to the bridge. I’d watch the sun come up, drop a few rocks and see what happened.

Jim Nichols’ short story “Magic” combines the protagonist’s darkness of mind and mood with his love for magic tricks. The majority of the story focuses on Joe’s obsession with a bridge over a nearby river. The story never uses the word “depression” but that seems to be what Joe suffers from.

It’s a few neighbor kids who love his magic tricks that bring a little spark to Joe’s life. Nichols deftly uses Joe’s dark aspects to keep the story from being too sweet and sentimental but I would call the story pleasant and hopeful.

Degrees of Elevation

“Magic” concludes the stories in my anthology Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Jack of Spades for my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.