Anniversary #7!

It’s the seventh anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and as I have been doing the last few years, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2018 with quotations from each of them. I have no method of rating them – they are just the ones I liked the best. And as happens with many of my top ten lists, the top two could be interchangeable on any given day depending on my mood – both of them are fantastic stories!

10. Lions, Harts, Leaping Does – J. F. Powers

He suffered the piercing white voice of the Apocalypse to echo in his soul: But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. And St. Bernard, fiery-eyed in a white habit, thundered at him from the twelfth century:”Hell is paved with the bald pates of priests!”

9.  The Little Regiment – Stephen Crane

Ultimately the night deepened to the tone of black velvet. The outlines of the fireless camp were like the faint drawings upon ancient tapestry. The glint of a rifle, the shine of a button, might have been of threads of silver and gold sewn upon the fabric of the night. There was little presented to the vision, but to a sense more subtle there was discernible in the atmosphere something like a pulse; a mystic beating which would have told a stranger of the presence of a giant thing – the slumbering mass of regiments and batteries.

8.  Faith – William Trevor

Afterwards, Bartholomew told himself that what had occurred must surely be no more than a mood of petulance, an eruption from his half-stifled impatience with the embroidery and frills that dressed the simplicity of truth with invasive, sentimental stories that somehow made faith easier, the hymns he hated. For Bartholomew, the mystery that was the source of all spiritual belief, present through catastrophe and plague and evil, was a strength now too, and more than it had ever been. Yet there was disquiet, a stirring in his vocation he had brought upon himself and wished he had not…Bartholomew – not knowing what he should otherwise do – continued to visit the lonely and the sick, to repeat the Te Deum, the Creed, the Litany. He felt he should not and yet he did.

7.  The Virgin’s Gift – William Trevor

He begged that his melancholy might be lifted, that the confusion which had come in the night might be lightened with revelation. These were the days of the year when his spirits were most joyful, when each hour that passed brought closer the celebration of the Saviour’s birth. Why had this honoring of a season been so brutally upset?

6.  Graillis’s Legacy – William Trevor

His safe employment had been taken for granted; in time promotion would mean occupancy of a squat grey landmark in the town, the house above the bank, with railings and a grained hall door. She had married into that; books had never been an interest they shared, had never been, for her, a need.

The woman for whom they were had often been noticed by Graillis about the town, coming out of a shop, getting into her car, not the kind of woman he would ever have known.

5.  Death of a Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

Finally we saw him; from a distance he resembled the towel we sometimes threw down for second base.

4.  The Reach – Stephen King

“We joined hands, children, and if there were times when we wondered what it was all for, or if there was ary such a thing as love at all, it was only because we had heard the wind and the waters on long winter nights, and we were afraid.

“No, I’ve never felt I needed to leave the island. My life was here. The Reach was wider in those days.”

3.  Resurrection of a Life – William Saroyan

I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will be prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.

2.  The School – Donald Barthelme

Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical-fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

1.  My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

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.

Donald Barthelme: The School (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 34)

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Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical-fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

It’s surreal. It’s funny. It’s dark. It’s short. It’s Donald Barthelme’s short story “The School”. Last year, his story “The Balloon” took the spot as my favorite story. I don’t know if this one will take that spot this year, but it’s one that I’m sure will make my top ten. It also could easily be the most hilarious story I’ve read this year.

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We get a snippet of Edgar’s life as an elementary school teacher in which death confronts him every time he turns around. Things become a little intense as the story hits its third and final page. Most of the humor comes from Edgar’s casual and naive attitude as the kids ask pointed and philosophical questions about both life and death – but mostly death.

Then the kids move on to a different topic in the final paragraphs, but I’ll let readers get the enjoyment out of discovering that topic for themselves.

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 Eight of Spades for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found 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.

 

 

 

 

Donald Barthelme: The Balloon (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 12)

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…there were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there – muted grays and browns for the most part, constrasting with walnut and soft yellows.

Meaning takes on a whole new meaning in Donald Barthelme’s 1966 story “The Balloon”. As a giant balloon inflates over a significant part of New York City, much discussion ensues over what it means by the narrator. Is the narrator the one responsible for the balloon? Possibly? What is the balloon? The narrator acknowledges these as logical questions, but of course there are no real answers – just descriptions of how the balloon influences New York City life – and it doesn’t influence life nearly as much as one might think.

As the quotation above implies, in many ways, this is more like a painting than a story until we get to the final paragraph. That’s where a semblance of meaning, of purpose, of plot begins – just as the story ends.

As unusual as Barthelme’s story is, it is easily in the top three stories I’ve read so far for Deal Me In 2017 and I can see it making its way to the top ten at the end of the year. I highly recommend it!

I read “The Balloon” when I selected the Nine of Diamonds for Week 12 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s 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 byJay at Bibliophilopolis.