A Top Ten List…so far

Since we’re at the halfway point of 2018, I thought I would put together a top ten list of my favorite short stories so far. I have no scoring technique. This is based only on my personal likes and dislikes so at any point another story could jump to the top. We’ll see what makes it to the final top ten list in about six months. Here’s where we stand now, though:

10.) A Jury of Her Peers – Susan Glaspell

9.) Blood Burning Moon – Jean Toomer

8.) Evenings at Home – Elizabeth Hardwick

7.) The Gift – Janice Holt Giles

6.) Roses, Rhododendron – Alice Adams

5.) I’d Love You to Want Me – Viet Than Nguyen

4.) The Reach – Stephen King

3.) Death of A Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

2.) Faith – William Trevor

1.) My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

I guess I also reserve the right to change some of these around if no other stories take their place. I had a difficult time deciding where stories 2, 3 and 4 fell.

Do you rank the stories/books you read? What short stories have been your favorite so far in 2018?

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Bernard Malamud: The German Refugee

Deal Me In – Week 29

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“I felt like a child, or worse, often like a moron. I am left with myself unexpressed.  What I knew, indeed, what I am, becomes to me a burden. My tongue hangs useless.”

Sometimes, a sad story well-told is a beautiful thing.  Bernard Malamud’s “The German Refugee” is a prime example.  I read it this week when I selected the Six of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2015 Short Story Project. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seenhere. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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The narrator is a young college tutor who privately teaches English and speech during the late 1930’s in New York City.  Many of his students are prominent Jewish men who have escaped Nazi Germany. His current student, Oskar Gassner, becomes more of a friend to the narrator than just a student. The amazing aspect of this story is how Malamud lets the sadness of Gassner’s situation come through loud and clear in relatively minor details such as the anguish of attempting to talk without an accent when giving lectures – the way Gassner made a living in Germany. The reader gets inside the mind of a man in his mid-fifties who must completely start over in another country because his government wants to kill him and understands the conflict within Gassner’s mind between “I must try to make a go of this” and “why bother”.

There are many great stories that tell various aspects of the Jewish plight in Europe during World War II.  I found “The German Refugee” to be one of the best.  It is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike.

 

Bernard Malamud: A Summer’s Reading

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It’s week 49 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project.  Only three more stories to go.  This week I drew the Five of Diamonds and read Bernard Malamud’s story “A Summer’s Reading”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

I tend to assume that authors are avid readers.  “A Summer’s Reading” does not disprove this assumption and I have every reason to believe that Pulitzer Prize winning author Bernard Malamud was an avid reader; however, Malamud seems very skilled at developing a character that isn’t a reader or at least is a procrastinating reader.

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George Stoyonovich drops out of high school and in order to preserve his image promises an elderly neighbor, Mr. Cattanzara, that he is reading a list of 100 books during the summer- to get the kind of education he “really needs”. Impressed, Mr. Cattanzara, spreads the news of George’s endeavor.  One of the more humorous aspects of the story arises from the neighbors continuously giving George knowing smiles as he passes by their doorsteps.  Of course, the smiles make George feel a little guilty for not really reading the books.  At the end of the summer, he finally sits down at his local library.  Do his books get read?  It’s hard to say.

Any story that is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s or 1940’s holds some sort of interest with me.  Something about the neighbors hanging out on the doorstep in the cool of the city night during a hot summer makes for an enjoyable scene. I’ve mentioned before my infatuation with New York City.  I’ve only managed to make it there once and I didn’t make it to Brooklyn – only to Manhattan (Times Square and Central Park area). I didn’t get an I♥NY t-shirt but should have. “A Summer’s Reading” may not be high on plot details but any writing that can take me to another place and time, especially New York City, is worth reading.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud

Robert Redford played Roy Hobbs in the 1984 film version of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel The Natural.  The very dated edition of the novel that I borrowed from the library had Robert Redford on the cover.  As I began reading, my imagination couldn’t help but make me think of Redford as Hobbs; however, as I continued reading, in my imagination, Redford morphed into Humphrey Bogart. The novel has a film noir feel with many morally ambiguous men, including Hobbs, himself, chasing after women whom I could easily imagine as Lauren Bacall.

As a thirty-five year-old rookie, Hobbs finally sees his dream of playing in the big leagues realized as he signs on with the Knights in Chicago.  Hobbs is an enigmatic character and that mystery and vagueness only work sometimes.  More often than not, I found myself in the role of Max Mercy, the reporter bent on finding out who Hobbs really is.  Answers are very slim – to Mercy and the reader.

The atmosphere and time period are developed well by Malamud giving the reader an idea of a time when Ebbet’s Field was still standing and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.  However, the atmosphere wasn’t enough for me to consider this a great novel. Perhaps in the realm of baseball novels, it was good, but I prefer W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe.

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