Posted in Short Stories

Ralph Ellison: Battle Royal

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 4

It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive.

Ralph Ellison’s short story “Battle Royal” became the first chapter in his most memorable work, the novel Invisible Man according to the introduction to the story by Joyce Carol Oates as editor of the anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Oates also goes on to say that it can still stand on its own. I read it when I selected the Four of Spades for Week 4 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Ellison uses the social contradictions of the story’s setting to create a more nuanced struggle in the mind of the narrator.

The narrator is a young, intelligent and educated African-American man who is invited to give his graduation speech to a group of distinguished white males. The white males, however, grossly and treacherously mock the African-American men invited to the meeting including the narrator prior to the delivery of the speech.

The narrator still goes ahead with his speech while attempting to reconcile the horrors of this meeting with his speech’s call for social responsibility. The speech seems very naive, as the narrator states at the beginning of the story. But I had to ask the question: is he naive or is he just hopeful? And is there a difference?

Have you read anything by Ralph Ellison? What are your thoughts on his work?

 

Posted in Short Stories

Gayl Jones: White Rat

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 3

I learned where she was when Cousin Willie come down home and said Maggie sent for her but told her not to tell nobody where she was, especially me, but Cousin Willie come and told me anyway cause she said I was the lessen two evils…

Gayl Jones’ short story “White Rat” is like a quick punch in the gut over and over again – specifically each time a racial slur is used of which there are plenty.

But this story isn’t meant to be comfortable- at least, hopefully, readers don’t find it comfortable.

The title of the story is the narrator’s nickname given to him by his family. He’s of mixed race and gets mistaken for being white on numerous occasions. The memories the narrator recounts present the damage done to people who live in a world where this matters.

While I’ve read stories with this theme that have been more violent and shows hatred on a grander scale, Jones uses “White Rat” to show the horrors of racial prejudice in the details of everyday life.

I read this story for Week 3 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project when I selected the Seven of Diamonds. It’s included in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

This is the first work by Gayl Jones that I’ve read. Has anyone else read any of her works? Anything that you would recommend?

Posted in Short Stories

Jean Stafford: Children Are Bored on Sunday

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 2

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Emma spots Alfred Eisenburg at a distance. This is how Jean Stafford’s short story “Children Are Bored on Sunday” begins. After this, Emma, our third person narrator, goes into a stream of consciousness about the differences between intellectuals and rubes. She considers herself one of the latter because of her Great Uncle Graham’s farm.

As Emma ruminates, Stafford drops in lots of paintings and artists that gives the reader the idea that Emma is more knowledgeable than she gives herself credit. Many of the intellectuals Emma thinks about and remembers from her younger days could be considered pseudo-intellectuals or at least shallow intellectuals. Though this is never specifically brought up in the story, Stafford just might be suggesting that there is a difference between a person who is an intellectual and a person who is intelligent. Emma might be considered the latter as opposed to the rube she thinks of herself as.

One of my favorite of Emma’s thoughts goes like this:

Thus she continued secretly to believe (but never to confess) that the apple Eve had eaten tasted exactly like those she had eaten when she was a child visiting on her Great-Uncle Graham’s farm, and that Newton’s observation was no news in spite of all the hue and cry. Half the apples she had eaten had fallen out of the tree, whose branches she had shaken for this very purpose, and the Apple Experience included both the descent of the fruit and the consumption of it, and Eve and Newton and Emma understood one another perfectly in this particular of reality.

And then there is Alfred, with whom, after following for the entire story, Emma finally makes contact at the end and the reader might wonder why she has been so hesitant. He seems a quite decent fellow:

Their recognition of each other was instantaneous and absolute, for they cunningly saw that they were children and that, if they wished, they were free for the rest of this winter Sunday to play together, quite naked, quite innocent. “What a day it is! What a place!” said Alfred Eisenburg. “Can I buy you a drink, Emma? Have you time?”

This is the second story by Jean Stafford that I’ve read. The other one is The Interior Castle which also utilizes a stream of consciousness approach.

This story is included in the collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Four of Hearts for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

What about you? How many Jean Stafford stories have you read? What are your favorites?

 

Posted in Short Stories

Raymond Carver: Where I’m Calling From

 

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 1

If she answers, I’ll wish her a Happy New Year. But that’s it. I won’t bring up business. I won’t raise my voice. Not even if she starts something. She’ll ask me where I’m calling from, and I’ll have to tell her. I won’t say anything about New Year’s resolutions. There’s no way to make a joke out of this.

Week 1 of Deal Me In 2020 brings me to the Nine of Spades and Raymond Carver’s short story “Where I’m Calling From” which is only the second Carver story I’ve read, the first being “Are These Actual Miles”. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. Since we are pretty much two decades into the 21st century, I might add that the title of this anthology refers to the 20th century. It’s also fun when the Deal Me In fates give me a story for Week 1 that at least mentions New Year’s.

“Where I’m Calling From” contains a coldness and a hard facade that covers the emotion buried deep in the narrator’s alcoholic condition. The narrator, who doesn’t have a name, meets J. P., another alcoholic, at a “drying-out” facility. The narrator gladly listens to J.P’s story while recalling memories of his own story. The intersecting of these stories gives Carver’s narrative the intrigue I needed to get drawn into it. Because of Carver’s writing, I felt a little like the narrator:

“Then what?” I say. “Don’t stop now, J.P.” I was interested. But I would have listened if he’d been going on about how one day he’d decided to start pitching horseshoes.

Depression laces the memories of the narrator but he has one memory that brings a smile to his face and to the reader’s – giving the story a quick shot of warmth before ending. Speaking of “warmth”, after the narrator recounts this memory, he then remembers Jack London’s short story “To Build A Fire”. The warmth in Carver’s story probably sticks around as long as it does in London’s story.

Posted in Short Stories

I’m back for Deal Me In 2020

I don’t know if anyone else out there has ever taken (or needed) a sabbatical from reading (for pleasure, I mean). I have for the last two months. I really don’t know why and I can’t say it was planned but I think I needed it – it wasn’t just the need to stop blogging for a while (which I haven’t done in six months).

But I’ve decided to start posting again by participating in Jay’s Deal Me In 2020 short story challenge.  This will be the 8th year I’ve participated and I’ve completed all of them except for 2019. So I will be including those stories I didn’t read last year on my list for 2020 and then adding more.

So be on the lookout for my Deal Me In 2020 list in a few days.

And if you love short stories…join in, too!

Posted in Short Stories

It’s time to say goodbye…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed blogging over the last seven and a half years but as life brings more twists and turns, I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I appreciate all of the support I’ve gotten from book bloggers and readers everywhere. I will continue to be on goodreads.com (Dale Barthauer) and Twitter (@DBarthauer).

As one of the many things I’ve learned over the course of blogging is how great short stories are, I will close with a Top 20 list of my favorites:

20.) Yours – Joe Ashby Porter

19.) Watch With Me – Wendell Berry

18.) The Reach – Stephen King

17.) Bonus Baby – Joe Donnelly

16.) Death of a Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

15.) In the Gloaming – Alice Elliot Dark

14.) The Virgin’s Gift – William Trevor

13.) A Father’s Story – Andre Dubus

12.) The Whore’s Child – Richard Russo

11.) “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad” – M. R. James

10.) The Turkey Season –  Alice Munro

9.) Everything That Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor

8.) The Diary of Adam and Eve – Mark Twain

7.) The Balloon – Donald Barthelme

6.) The School – Donald Barthelme

5.) My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

4.) A Voice in the Night – Steven Millhauser

3.) DeDaumier-Smith’s Blue Period – J. D. Salinger

2.) For Esme – With Love and Squalor – J. D. Salinger

1.) Sonny’s Blues – James Baldwin