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.

 

 

 

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Another Anniversary Top Ten List

Today is the Fifth Anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and to celebrate, I’m posting my top ten short stories of 2016 with some of my favorite quotations underneath the title (and then my own comments in red):

10.) Brooklyns Lose – William Heuman

He didn’t put Kluszewski on, neither,” this guy says grinning. “Klu hit it an’ kept goin’.”

This guy jokes, yet. This is a time for jokes when you have a ball game sewed up eight-to-seven in the ninth, and you lose it with a home-run ball.

I look out the window, and the guy says, “So tomorrow’s another day.”

I don’t even look at him. That kind of guy I don’t look at.

I enjoyed the baseball stories I read this year, and while there may have been other stories with more literary merit in this category, I just couldn’t help finding this one my favorite of the bunch – mostly for its fantastic use of Brooklyn dialect.

 

 

9.) Old Red – Caroline Gordon

Ah, a stouthearted one, Mary! She had never given up hope of changing him, of making him over into the man she thought he ought to be. Time and again she almost had him. And there were long periods, of course, during which he had been worn down by the conflict, one spring when he himself said, when she had told all the neighbors, that he was too old now to go fishing anymore….But he had made a comeback. She had had to resort to stratagem. His lips curved in a smile, remembering the trick.

Caroline Gordon and her recurring character Aleck Maury was one of the more pleasant discoveries I made this year.

 

 

8.) Double Birthday – Willa Cather

“…this is the only spot I know in the world that is before-the-war. You’ve got a period shut up in here; the last ten years of one century, and the first ten years of another. Sitting here, I don’t believe in aeroplanes, or jazz, or Cubists. My father is nearly as old as Doctor Englehardt, and we never buy anything new; yet we haven’t kept it out…”

Willa Cather puts another great spin on the early Twentieth Century – a time period that continues to fascinate me.

 

 

7.) Homeland – Barbara Kingsolver

My great-grandmother belonged to the Bird Clan. Hers was one of the fugitive bands of Cherokee who resisted capture in the year that General Winfield Scott was in charge of prodding the forest people from their beds and removing them westward. Those few who escaped his notice moved like wildcat families through the Carolina mountains…

Known (to me) for her novel The Poisonwood Bible, this was the first of Kentucky author Barbara Kingsolver’s work that I’ve read. Another story is included in Deal Me In2017.

 

 

6.) The Life You Save May Be Your Own – Flannery O’Connor

Every now and then her placid expression was changed by a sly isolated little thought like a shoot of green in the desert.

Technically, I didn’t read this story this year. I read it a couple of years ago; however, Jay selected it for a great guest post. I couldn’t let a technicality like that keep me from including a Flannery O’Connor story in my top ten list.

 

5.) Christmas Gift – Robert Penn Warren

The live cigarette, burned almost to the very end, hung at the corner of the boy’s lips, glowing fitfully and faintly with his speech. It hung there, untouched by his hands, which were thrust under the rug. He no longer drew the smoke in; it seemed to seep in without conscious effort on his part, drifting from his nostrils thinly with his breath.

A great author who happens to be from Kentucky brings tobacco and cigarette smoking to new literary heights.

 

 

4.) The Turkey Season – Alice Munro

There was the Turkey Barn, on the edge of a white field, with a row of big pine trees behind it, and always, no matter how cold and still it was, these trees were lifting their branches and sighing and straining. It seems unlikely that on my way to the Turkey Barn, for an hour of gutting turkeys, I should have experienced such a sense of promise and at the same time of perfect, impenetrable mystery in the universe, but I did.

This is the only story that wasn’t included in my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. I read an Alice Munro story each month this year and “The Turkey Season” (I read it for April) jumped out as a favorite early on. An older female protagonist looks back at a time when she was younger. While this concept appears to be a staple of Munro’s stories, this story has a slightly more positive tone than others.

 

 

3.) A Father’s Story – Andre Dubus

And He says: I am a Father too.

Yes, I say, as You are a Son Whom this morning I will receive; unless You kill me on the way to church, then I trust You will receive me. And as a Son You made Your plea.

Yes, He says, but I would not lift the cup.

I had not heard of Andre Dubus prior to putting this story on my list for 2016, but the raw spirituality made it a favorite.

 

 

2.) The Whore’s Child – Richard Russo

“Are we ever going to meet the father?” one student wanted to know. “I mean, she yearns for him and he gets compared to Christ, but we never see him directly. We’re, like, told how to feel about him. If he doesn’t ever show up, I’m going to feel cheated.”

Sister Ursula dutifully noted this criticism, but you had only to look at the old woman to know that the father was not going to show up. Anybody who felt cheated by this could just join the club.

I rediscovered Richard Russo with this story. The structure is both unique and perfect. I want to read more of his short stories in 2017.

 

 

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

Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.

I admit that there is very little separating my top 4 stories, but I was so surprised at Mark Twain’s ability to combine satire and sentiment in this story that it’s remained my favorite since I read it back in February.

Caroline Gordon: Emanuelle! Emanuelle! (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 27)

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Heyward replied simply that Monsieur Fay was writing to his wife, adding, “He tells me that he has written to her at this hour, whenever they are separated, for thirty years.”

I’ve often wondered if it takes a certain amount of selfishness to make a living as an artist. Is it selfishness or is it simply a tenacity to keep going or a passion that can’t be suffocated? I don’t know the exact answer; however, these questions seem to be behind Caroline Gordon’s short story “Emanuelle! Emanuelle!”. I read this when I picked the Ten of Clubs for Week 27 of my Deal Me In 2016 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 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

In addition to these interesting questions, Gordon’s story provides another great example of the detached sidekick as a narrator. Although in the case of “Emanuelle! Emanuelle!”, Robert Heyward isn’t narrating the story in first person but we get the details from his perspective in third person. Heyward, a recently published American poet, becomes the secretary for already established French poet, Guillaume Fay.

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

Heyward and Fay are visiting a North African city. Fay faithfully writes to his wife in Normandy, France everyday at a specific time prompting Heyward to remember his own wife in New York. Fay makes it known that the letters he sends his wife will one day be published. As Heyward visits the Fay’s farm in France he realizes that things may not be as pleasant between the Fay’s as Heyward thought.

Without giving away the powerful ending, Fay’s art may be interfering with his marriage. This story brought to mind Willa Cather’s story “A Death in the Desert” which I posted about a few years ago here.

 

Caroline Gordon: Old Red (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 25)

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Ah, a stouthearted one, Mary! She had never given up hope of changing him, of making him over into the man she thought he ought to be. Time and again she almost had him. And there were long periods, of course, during which he had been worn down by the conflict, one spring when he himself said, when she had told all the neighbors, that he was too old now to go fishing anymore….But he had made a comeback. She had had to resort to stratagem. His lips curved in a smile, remembering the trick.

Something is a little tragic about one who is unable to share their passions with those to whom they are closest. Or to have someone close completely unable to understand. That’s the situation with Aleck Maury in Caroline Gordon’s short story “Old Red”. While visiting the family of his late wife along with his daughter and son-in-law, Maury reminisces about his marriage while longing for the great outdoors – fishing and hunting,that is, not simply a passion but a part of who he is.

His wife Mary felt Aleck could make something more of himself if he didn’t love fishing and hunting so much. The title comes from Maury remembering an elusive red fox that he could never quite catch. It’s very easy to say that the red fox represents that disillusionment with the American Dream about which so many post World War I authors wrote. However, the story’s introduction by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp refers to Aleck as a “thoroughly Southern pantheist”.  His gods are the outdoors. While the unreachable American Dream may fall into this category, I think the fox represents more of a mystery that can’t be solved or a question that can’t be answered.

And unlike those around him, Aleck Maury is content with the mystery, content with no answers.

The Best American Catholic Short Stories: A Sheed & Ward Collection

According to Wikipedia, Caroline Gordon and her husband occasionally entertained Ernest Hemingway in their Kentucky home. This story has a Hemingway-esque feel from a feminine point of view – which makes the story quite fascinating.

I read this story because I selected the  Three of Spades in my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by the above mentioned Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

Caroline Gordon: The Petrified Woman (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 11)

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We moved away that year and so we never went to another family reunion.  And I never went to the Fork again. It burned down that fall. They said that Cousin Tom set it on fire, roaming around at night, with a lighted lamp in his hand. That was after he and Cousin Eleanor got divorced. I heard that they both got married again but I never knew who it was they married. I hardly ever think of them anymore. If I do, they are still there in that house. The mockingbird has just stopped singing. Cousin Eleanor, in her long white dress, is walking over to the window, where, on moonlight nights, we used to sit, to watch the water glint on the rocks…But Cousin Tom is still lying there on the floor…

Caroline Gordon’s 1947 short story “The Petrified Woman” is chock full of Americana with a hint of underlying darkness. Sally, the narrator, is visiting her relative Hilda for a family reunion. While it’s never actually spelled out, I would say that both girls are pre to early teens. When another relative asks how Sally and Hilda are related, the response is “in about eight different ways”.

The fact that almost everyone at the reunion refers to each other as “cousin” doesn’t do much to dispell a certain stereotype about Kentucky; however, I didn’t get the impression that Gordon was creating this reunion to poke fun of her state. It was more like this is just the way it was.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

The family reunion takes place at Arthur’s Cave, the largest cave entrance in Kentucky although not as popular as Mammoth Cave. As the kids find their way with their adult Cousin Tom and their Cousin Giles Allard to a makeshift carnival, they pay money to see a dead sixteen year-old girl that has turned to stone. Cousin Giles Allard, who the rest of the family deems to be “slow”, asks why the girl’s chest is moving up and down if she is dead?

The petrified woman and the free flow of Kentucky whiskey set off the underlying darkness in the story and the tension between Cousin Tom and his wife, Cousin Eleanor. The plot is not intricate but Gordon’s characterizations of family members in addition to her descriptions of the Kentucky landscape make this just plain good story-telling.

According to this story’s introduction in Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs, “The Petrified Woman” was included in the O. Henry Prize Stories in 1948. I read this story when I selected the Nine of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.