Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Roger Malvin’s Burial

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 43

The vow that the wounded youth had made, the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated – the curse was gone from him; and in the hour when he had shed blood dearer to him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven from the lips of Reuben Bourne.

I’ve come to the end of my Nathaniel Hawthorne stories (at least the ones in the collection I have – I don’t think its complete) with “Roger Malvin’s Burial”. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while but the Deal Me In fates decided to wait until the end.

The plot is fairly simple but what gives it an edge is the conversation and depth of feeling the story begins with and continues on until the end. While Reuben Bourne is racked by guilt for not doing right by his future father-in-law, Roger Malvin, and burying him after a bloody battle, I had to feel a little sympathy for him as his father-in-law encouraged him to leave him so that they wouldn’t both die. In fact the conversation between Reuben and Roger could be the entire story and I would still consider it great.

Reuben marries the daughter of his comrade but doesn’t tell her that he didn’t pay his final respects to her father. Reuben’s guilt turns him into a difficult man unable to live in their community to the point that they leave. After years of remorse, circumstances allow Reuben to gain redemption – but not after a great price has been paid.

If you are looking for great stories about sacrifice and redemption, look no further than this one.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read it when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 43 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Literomancer

Ken Liu’s short story “The Literomancer” gets the award for best use of a live water buffalo. Lilly Dyer, a young American girl living outside a military base in Taiwan in 1961 is having a rough time adjusting to her new home. She jumps on a water buffalo and rides it into a nearby village and befriends not only the water buffalo but a boy her age and his grandfather.

Liu presents this part of the story with such charm and innocence. The relationship between Lilly and her new friends involves learning Chinese, eating new food and talking about American baseball. And Lilly continues to ride the water buffalo.

Not surprising, the super powers-that-be in the world destroy (and that’s the right word) this innocence and Lui masterfully moves from chldhood fun to horrific tragedy. In a biting bit of irony, Lilly’s father explains why the water buffalo has to find a new home:

“He won’t be happy. He won’t have a river to bathe in and rice paddies to wallow in. He won’t be free.”

On a side note, the title story of this collection gets the award for best use of an origami water buffalo.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Egotism, or, The Bosom Serpent

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 42

…at his bosom, he felt the sickening motion of a thing alive, and the gnawing of that restless fang which seemed to gratify at once a physical appetite and a fiendish spite.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is a master at scary stories and “Egotism, or, The Bosom Serpent” shows off that mastery. Of the stories that Hawthorne wrote that might fall into the category of horror, I think this would be at the top of the list.

Roderick Elliston roams the dark streets of his village accusing people of their wrongdoing and suddenly they feel fangs biting into their chest. Elliston himself, though, has what the story could consider the greatest wrongdoing and as a result, he doesn’t just feel the bite but has the slithery beast as a part of him.

Hawthorne’s imagery of slithery scales, green eyes, sharp fangs more than makes up for the fact that in typical early 19th century fashion, he ends the story with a moral about Elliston’s misdeeds as a result of jealousy. A true horror genre might just keep to the scary mood and monsters but don’t rule this story out just because Hawthorne makes it sort of metaphorical.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read it when I selected the Queen of Hearts for Week 42 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: Good Hunting

Ken Liu’s “Good Hunting” morphs a traditional fairy tale into a modern machine age tale and in doing so brings up the notion that magic happens in anytime period:

I imagined her running along the tracks of the funicular railway, a tireless engine racing up, and up, toward the top of Victoria Peak, towards a future as full of magic as the past.

The young boy in the story develops a relationship with a hulijang – a kind of female ghost who bewitches men. It doesn’t seem she is able to bewitch the young boy but she manages to keep him as a friend long into the future. The young boy grows up and little by little becomes part of the industrial age. Though the hulijang might feel outdated, the grown up boy manages to keep her from becoming obsolete. As opposed to a bewitching on either part, both find the other mutually beneficial.

Posted in Short Stories

Leon V. Driskell: A Fellow Making Himself Up

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 41

Leon V. Driskell’s short story “A Fellow Making Himself Up” follows R. P. White (his given name) as he changes his name to Rosco because he doesn’t know what the R and the P stand for. This transformation may not be the type we would traditionally consider inspirational but as I continued reading I found myself nodding my head saying “Yeah, yeah…I get that”.

He gets tired of saying “R (only) P (only)” to everyone including Irma at the diner whom his family thinks he would have married if he had already changed his name to Roscoe. He apparently goes on to marry Pearl whom everyone thinks is better anyway.

The story is told in third person based on what uncle Lester knows about Rosco whom he refers to as uncle. It’s not clear who is uncle to whom. It’s seems like uncle Lester is telling this story to those younger than he is who call him uncle Lester and uncle Lester called Rosco “uncle”. The confusion adds to the fun of the story. These characters are included in Driskell’s novel Passing Through. Perhaps reading that might explain things.

In this story, Rosco makes his way through the Great Depression:

…it was the Great Depression, though Rosco told Lester that the only difference he could see between the Depression and what come before was that the Federal Government began to notice that folks were poor.

Driskell also wrote a book titled The Eternal Crossroads: The Art of Flannery O’Connor. I can see an O’Connor influence on this story, maybe, but without O’Connor’s gothic characteristics.

This is another story included in the collection Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I selected the Three of Diamonds for Week 41 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Perfect Match

I won’t mention any names but think of the names of the voices for any of the major virtual assistants and you know who Tilly is in Ken Liu’s short story “The Perfect Match”. Sai doesn’t mind that Tilly watches his apartment and knows his every move before he does but his neighbor Jenny does mind. In a way, Tilly ultimately brings them together. Does she know that this is really what Sai and Jenny want or does it just happen? That’s at least one of the questions the story asks.

Just like the house in Gish Jen’s novel The Resisters, Tilly has a slightly more intimate relationship with those she is “assisting” than the virtual assistants in our world – “slightly” being the key word here. Though on the surface, Tilly is trying to please Sai by understanding his interests and motives, could this turn into a form of oppression? That’s another question the story asks:

“Good night, Tilly. Please turn yourself off.”

The camera whirred, followed Sai to bed, and shut off.

But a red light continued to blink, slowly, in the darkness.


Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: State Change

I have no candle to burn at both ends. I won’t measure my life with coffee spoons. I have no spring water to quiet desire, because I have left behind my frozen bit of almost-death. What I have is my life.

More magical realism in Ken Liu’s “State Change” although I might go a little further and call it metaphorical realism if there is such a thing. I’ve also heard that all fiction is metaphor. I can go with that, too. This is a great story, so just go read it and decide for yourself!

Rina’s soul is an ice cube. She reads things like T. S. Eliot. Eliot’s soul is coffee and he measures it out with coffee spoons or at least he does in a poem Rina’s reading.

Rina makes some discoveries about what it means to lose your soul and what it means to save your soul and the paradox involved in these activities.

This story? Brilliant even if it didn’t have the “Prufrock” reference but all the better for including it.

Posted in Short Stories

Rosellen Brown: How To Win

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 39

Rosellen Brown’s short story “How To Win” is quite remarkable in the way it gets the reader to change their mind about the protagonist narrator.

Margaret is the mother of Christopher. While we never get an actual diagnosis (the story was published in 1975), Christopher appears to suffer from some sort of behavioral disorder. As Margaret describes her life with her son, we initially think she is simply an overwhelmed new mother with a rather active kindergartener. We also may even think she is exagerrating much the way her husband, Howard, does.

As she gets closer to taking Christopher to school, we see what those outside of Christopher’s family see and realize Margaret is not exaggerating and we begin to feel guilty ourselves about what we thought of Margaret. We even get through the guilt and feel the anger and frustration that Margaret feels at a school and society that refuses to acknowledge those who can’t simply fall in line:

Every day they walk on his neck, I see that now, but he will never tell me about it. I weep but cannot move.

This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Ten of Spades for 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.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Bookmarking Habits of Select Species

“The Bookmarking Habits of Select Species” is the initial story in Ken Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and it perhaps serves as an introductory story. I can’t be sure as I haven’t yet read all of the stories, but I like the way it promises something great even if it’s not as plot driven as one might expect.

The story consists of various fictional beings, cultures, societies and how they collect information, store information and remember information. All of it in great imaginary detail with a conclusion that I don’t think I’m spoiling by revealing:

Everyone makes books.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Paper Menagerie

Folding the creases, I refolded the paper back into Laohu. I cradled him in the crook of my arm, and as he purred, we began the walk home.

I’ve heard quite a lot about Ken Liu’s short story “The Paper Menagerie”. I plan on reading all of the short stories in Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories but to start, I went right to the title story and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is one of the best uses of magical realism I’ve read. The magical part gives it a gentle feeling that perfectly tempers the harsh realism. Jack, the protagonist, suffers the harsh regret of realizing how much he hurt his mother while growing up. He also comes to the gentle realization of how much his mother loved him in spite of this. This realization might come too late but if one is discovering the truth, maybe it doesn’t matter when it’s discovered. Maybe that’s what is magical.

This one’s a favorite.

I plan to post about the rest of the stories in this collection as I read them, but I highly recommend at least finding this one and reading it.