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.

 

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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.

Jamaica Kincaid: Poor Visitor (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 50)

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Wonderful Town

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.

Leaving a bad place for a new one can make one miss the bad place simply because it’s more familiar. The title character of Jamaica Kincaid’s short story “Poor Visitor” experiences this. She has difficulty explaining the feelings she had while she lived in Antigua and she has difficulty explaining what she feels now that she is a nanny in New York City. The entire five page story revolves around the narrator explaining her feelings – in a word, she says it might be called homesickness. But that doesn’t quite cover it.

This is the first story I’ve read by Kincaid but I don’t think it will be the last.

“Poor Visitor” is included in my collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Ace of Hearts for Week 50 of 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.

John McManus: Proof (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 49)

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It seemed these words were proof of thoughts to forget. I didn’t recall writing them and I had a hunch that, if they disappeared, I never would.

For the same reason that I’ve never been able to watch Law and Order: SVU, I had difficulty reading John McManus’ short story “Proof”. That doesn’t mean it has no redeeming value, though. It’s just too disturbing for my tastes.

In fact, it’s amazing how McManus manages to flesh out the characterization of a man who thinks he has no character. He puts heart into his story of Hunter, an Appalachian meth addict reporter, who doesn’t seem to have heart. I don’t mean that Hunter is mean or brutal – though the world that surrounds him is. The meth turns him into a non-entity – at least in his mind.

Degrees of Elevation

Based on the contemporary Appalachian short stories I’ve read, meth use exists in epidemic proportions in this area.

This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Eight of Spades for Week 49 of 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.

 

Alex Taylor: The Coal Thief (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 48)

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When he looked now, he saw them all again, the ginseng and goldenseal and mayapple shooting up through the black soil, the earth surrendering its hidden life, all of it waiting to bloom again once the cold was gone. There was no need to be afraid. The coal was not heavy and the blisters on his hands didn’t hurt.

Many of the short stories I read – or at least ones I’ve read recently – would not fall into the categories of action-packed or suspense thriller. But Alex Taylor’s “The Coal Thief” could easily fall in with these types of stories – which makes it a pleasant and exciting change of pace.

With all of the action, Taylor still manages to provide an interesting change in character for 12 year-old Luke as he starts out his day as nervous and less-than-confident in his attempt to steal coal from a moving train. By the end of the day (and the story), Luke becomes tough and thick-skinned in the face of the day’s action and tragedy. Pulling this off within the course of one day is a nice little feat on the part of Taylor.

Because the story is set during an Appalachian winter, “The Coal Thief” reminds me of a Jack London story – the cold plays an important role. And the moral ambiguity of the hero brings to mind Ernest Hemingway.

Degrees of Elevation

This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the King of Clubs for week 48 of 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.

 

 

Caroline Gordon: The Presence (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 47)

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He turned his face up to the night.  The heavens were dark, for all their gold stars. It would be a long time till morning. When it came they would shut their eyes against the light and lie quiet until the brain, rattling inside the cold skull, set them moving about the hateful business of  the day…

“The Presence” is another story by Caroline Gordon that includes her recurring character Dr. Maury, although in this story he is referred to as Mr. Maury by the author even though some characters call him “Doctor”.

At 75, he is older in this story than the others I’ve read even if he’s never been what one would call young. His wife has been dead for 15 years and he lives in a boarding house in Florida with a group of people of various ages.

After reading “The Presence”, the title continues to intrigue me. Mr. Maury reminisces about the death of his Catholic Aunt who raised him with some Catholic litany thrown into his thought. Perhaps this presence refers to God. Along the same lines, the concepts of age and death permeate the story to the point that it makes me think maybe the presence is meant to refer to death.

There’s also the character of Mr. Maury, himself. He’s always been a kind of grumpy person and age hasn’t changed that; however, he manages to be accepted by the other boarders. Maybe it’s his presence at the boarding house that gives the story its title.

And maybe its all three together.

I read this story when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 47 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

 

Hortense Calisher: In Greenwich, There are Many Gravelled Walks (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 46)

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Wonderful Town

He had no complaints, then, he assured himself…It was just that while others of his age still shared a communal wonder at what life might hold, he had long since been solitary in his knowledge of what life was.

Peter Birge, in Hortense Calisher’s 1950 short story “In Greenwhich, There are Many Gravelled Walks”, is a young man just out of the army who has to take care of his alcoholic mother. Birge is the adult in the traditional sense while his mother acts the child. As described in the above quotation, the loneliness Peter feels resonates throughout the story.

Then there is Susan, the daughter of Robert, an older acquaintance of Peter’s who’s family fortune allows him to also act the child while Susan plays the adult.

Ultimately, Peter and Susan meet – to realize they aren’t completely alone. We don’t know exactly what happens with Peter’s and Susan’s relationship but the fact that they have a common bond is enough for me to consider this story to end happily.

“In Greenwich, There are Many Gravelled Walks” is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the King of Hearts for Week 46 of 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.