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.

A Guest Post by Jay at Bibliophilopolis: “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor

2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣

For my final Wild Card of Deal Me In 2016 (my Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here), the Two of Clubs, I am excited to have a guest post by Jay at Bibliophilopolis, the sponsor of Deal Me In.  I was fortunate enough to be involved in a reading group with Jay a few years ago and it was here that he introduced me to the wonders of the short story. Each July, the members of the group would choose a short story and we would read all of them and discuss them at our meeting. Up until that point, short stories had not been on my radar (much) but that’s all changed and its a change for the better. So without further ado, here’s Jay:

40489

I am honored to write a guest post for the Mirror With Clouds blog, which I have read “religiously” (heh heh – the card that fell to me was in his suit of “Catholic Stories”) since its inception years ago. By guest posting, I’m actually returning the favor for Dale, who wrote a guest post at my blog, ( https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/jack-cadys-play-like-im-sheriff-story-12-of-deal-me-in-2016/ ) for one of my own Deal Me “IN” wild cards. For me, I got the two of clubs in Dale’s 2016 iteration of the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge. I chose to write about a story by Flannery O’Connor, perhaps the most acclaimed Catholic author of short stories.

“The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

I think I’ve written in prior blog posts of how often I am intrigued by a story’s title. I.e., What does it mean? or How was it chosen? Often I am unable to “figure it out,” but perhaps those instances are my favorites – those that are open to a reader’s interpretation. Was I able to figure out this story’s title? Let’s see…

“Everyone has his price,” as the old saying goes, but what would be your price to completely betray those who showed you kindness in a time of need? For Mr. Shiftlet, the dark protagonist(?) of this story, it’s $17.50 and a beat up old car that he’s got running again for an old lady and her simple-minded daughter, Lucynell.

The great Leo Tolstoy is credited with having said “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” I guess this story would fall in to the latter, although the stranger doesn’t so much “come to town” as just show up on the old lady’s doorstep looking for work. Once the old lady discovers Mr. Shiftlet is of some use with repairs around the house, she quickly begins thinking in terms of him as “husband material” for her daughter. For example, when talking of Lucynell to Mr. Shiftlet, the old woman insists “She’s smart too. She can sweep the floor, cook, wash, feed the chickens, and hoe. I wouldn’t give her up for a casket of jewels.” This is classic “reverse psychology” you see – it turns out the old woman is “ravenous for a son-in-law.” For his next trick, Shiftlet even sets to work on getting the old derelict car of hers running again, succeeding against all odds.  This episode of the story served as a reminder to me that O’Connor was a true master of the simile:

“Late in the afternoon, terrible noises issued from the shed and the old woman rushed out of the house… With a volley of blasts it (the car) emerged from the shed, moving in a fierce and stately way. Mr. Shiftlet was in the driver’s seat, sitting very erect. He had an expression of serious modesty on his face as if he had just raised the dead.”

Another great simile was in the description of the daughter: “Every now and then her placid expression was changed by a sly isolated little thought like a shoot of green in the desert.”

Mr. Shiftlet is quickly “on” to the old woman’s plans for him, though, and plays it to his advantage, asking for money to paint the car and for an almost ‘dowry-like’ cash advance from the old lady before he’ll agree to marry Lucynell. Getting the paint job on the vehicle is the first step, and when the old lady finally agrees, O’Connor relates that “In the darkness, Mr. Shiftlet’s smile stretched like a weary snake waking up by a fire.”  As a reader, you’re not really sure what’s going to happen on the upcoming honeymoon, and those who aren’t experienced readers of O’Connor are likely quite taken by surprise by the scene that later takes place in a roadside diner…

This was a great – if unsettling – short story.  I don’t believe it’s available in the public domain, but any decent library or bookstore should have a copy of O’Connor’s short stories waiting to be checked out or purchased. I liked this one even more because it was full of the things I’ve come to expect and appreciate in Flannery OConnor’s stories.

But what about the title’s meaning? Well, once Shiftlet gets the resurrected car on the road he occasionally sees signs along the road that warn: “Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own.” I think Mr. Shiftlet’s philosophy on what it is like to be a man – as he explains to the old woman earlier in the story – may have something to do with it: “Lady, a man is divided into two parts, body and spirit. The body, lady, is like a house: it don’t go anywhere; but the spirit, lady, is like a automobile: always on the move, always…” His earlier likening a man’s spirit to an automobile adds a little more meaning to the ‘generic’ road signs he’s seeing, I suspect. But that’s just my guess on why she titled the story this way. If you have a different idea I’d love to hear about it.

Do you remember any short stories you have liked but were unable to understand why they were titled the way they were? Or are there any for which you’ve come up with a particularly good interpretation that you’re proud of? Have you read any of the great stories of Flannery O’Connor?  What did YOU think of them?

Lifeyousave

Drive Carefully sign photo found at https://mysteriesandmanners.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/sacramentality-and-the-short-story/.

Flannery O’Connor: Revelation (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 5)

8♣ 8♣ 8♣ 8♣ 8♣ 8♣ 8♣ 8♣

Usually by the time she had fallen asleep all the classes of people were moiling and roiling around in her head, and she would dream they were all crammed in together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven.

Yes, this is Flannery O’Connor, so I’ve come to expect that at some point I’ll end up gasping in disbelief at something she writes – like the above quotation from her story “Revelation”.

40489

In “Revelation”, Mrs. Turpin and her husband, Claud, sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. In her head, Mrs. Turpin performs a detailed review of all of the other people waiting, determining for herself to which class of people each person belongs. It comes as no surprise to the reader that Mrs. Turpin puts herself in the better category and most of the others in something less.

Eventually, Mrs. Turpin provokes an incident in which an insult causes her to confront her arrogance. O’Connor’s creative brilliance makes Mrs. Turpin unlikable but relatable. If the reader is honest with themselves, they will realize that there is a little of Mrs. Turpin in everyone. In an unusual, but believable, twist, Mrs. Turpin takes the insult to heart as she understands there is some truth to it. She makes no admission of guilt to anyone but herself.

During her internal turmoil, Mrs. Turpin sees a vision that she grudgingly accepts as being from God (she does the proverbial fist-shake). She sees the saints go marching in to heaven; however, there is a different order to the march:

And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

I read this story for Week 5 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project when I selected the Eight of Clubs. “Revelation” is included in my copy of The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Flannery O’Connor: Greenleaf

Deal Me In – Week 22

8♥  8♥  8♥  8♥  8♥  8♥  8♥  8♥

She became aware after a time that the noise was the sun trying to burn through the tree line and she stopped to watch, safe in the knowledge that it couldn’t, that it had to sink the way it always did, outside of her property.

The Eight of Hearts in my Deal Me In 2015 project this week brought me to the brilliant, funny and, more often than not, disturbing Flannery O’Connor.  Her story “Greenleaf” is another one included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century.  I find this story a little more traditional by O’Connor standards but it still has the oddities I’ve come to appreciate in her work.

Flannery O'Connor

(Photo obtained from goodreads.com)

The reader gets an “ear full” from the narrator, Mrs. May. The bulk of the story is Mrs. May’s perspective on the world – well, her world, anyway – especially in respect to her hired hand Mr. Greenleaf and his family.  On the flip side, the reader gains a significant understanding of Mr. Greenleaf’s perspective by only a few comments scattered throughout the story, all of which are directed to Mrs. May.

In Mrs. May’s mind, there is a vast difference between herself and Mr. Greenleaf on the social ladder.  Mr. Greenleaf, and I have to think O’Connor also, sees Mrs. May perhaps on the very next rung up only a few inches from himself.  A bull that invades Mrs. May’s farm fleshes out the animosity between the two people.  For those who have not read O’Connor before, the end may come as a shock; however, if you are familiar with her work, the story’s ending won’t be a surprise but will still be satisfying.

Occasionally, I find fascination in minor aspects of stories.  In “Greenleaf”, I enjoyed the names of Mrs. May’s sons, Wesley and Scofield.  As I also liked the names of Mr. Greenleaf’s sons, O.T and E.T.

My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Ernest Hemingway: God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 9

7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣

I drew the Seven of Clubs for Week 9 of my 2015 Deal Me In Short Story project and that corresponded to Ernest Hemingway’s “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”.  I put this story on my list for two reasons: 1) Hemingway has always been a favorite and 2) I’ve gotten into the habit of putting a Christmas title on my list just for the fun of seeing when it shows up during the year. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

18683249

Hemingway starts with a great first line:

In those days the distances were all very different, the dirt blew off the hills that now have been cut down, and Kansas City was very like Constantinople.

The line brings to mind a vague universalism that quickly and seamlessly spirals into Hemingway at his most horrifically raw. On Christmas Day evening, the narrator wanders from a saloon to the emergency room of the local hospital.  A teenage boy has mutilated himself trying to get rid of the “lust” that he considers sinful.  The reader learns of the event from its retelling to the narrator by two doctors.

On the surface, this could simply be a “this is why religion is bad” story; however, as the doctors, one of whom is Jewish, debate the significance of Christmas Day and whether it’s “our Savior” or “your Savior”, the story becomes more than anti-religion.  In retelling the story, one of the doctors brilliantly but unpersuasively states the obvious to the teenager:

If you are religious remember that what you complain of is no sinful state but the means of consummating a sacrament.

While my amateur research tells me that the religious beliefs of Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor were likely very different, it seems they have crossed paths with at least this story.  Both authors focus on the dark side of humanity and its botched attempts to make things right.

If I was to consider this story a favorite, I think I would have to apologize to all of the Joyce Carol Oates fans to whom I’ve said I found her story “The Girl With the Blackened Eye” too disturbing.  So Joyce Carol Oates fans, please accept my apologies.  As a concession, I will have a Joyce Carol Oates ad hoc short story week sometime in March.

Anniversary the Third!

Today is the third anniversary of Mirror with Clouds!  It’s been an interesting, informative and all around great three years and I’m looking forward to year #4.  It’s become my anniversary tradition to post some of my favorite quotations from the past year – so here they are!

These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold.  They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world.  Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere.  With a lantern I inspected them more closely.  Such worshipful venerableness of aspect!  Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells.  I no more saw three tortoises.  They expanded – became transfigured.  I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.

– From Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” (a reference to the tortoises found on the Encantadas, also known as the Galapagos Islands)

 

In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.

-From Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Indians”

 

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.  It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

-From Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

 

He did not believe that he himself was formed in the image of God but that Bishop was he had no doubt.  The little boy was part of a simple equation that required no further solution, except at the moments when with little or no warning he would feel himself overwhelmed by the horrifying love.  Anything he looked at too long could bring it on.  Bishop did not have to be around.  It could be a stick or a stone, the line of a shadow, the absurd old man’s walk of a starling crossing the sidewalk.  If, without thinking, he lent himself to it, he would feel suddenly a morbid surge of the love that terrified him – powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.  It was completely irrational and abnormal.

-From Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away

 

“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble.  You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside.  You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening.  So you’ve got to listen.  You got to find a way to listen.”

-From James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

 

And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city.  He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.

-From Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions

 

 

Katherine Anne Porter: The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦

It was good to be strong enough for everything, even if all you made melted and changed and slipped under your hands, so that by the time you finished you almost forgot what you were working for.

Be alert that a spoiler is included in this post, although, even if a reader knows what happens, how it happens and how it’s written are reasons well worth reading this story, anyway.

Sad, powerful, scary, beautiful – all could be words to describe Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  Since it’s the end of the year, I’ve already been thinking of my favorite stories of 2014.  This story will now be included in that group and Porter will now be included in favorite new-to-me authors.

Granny Weatherall is eighty years old and on her death bed.  Her family is around her as well as a priest.  Porter’s ability to capture Granny’s life flashing before her eyes is one of the breathtaking aspects of the story.  One minute she is aware of her surroundings and the next minute she is in her younger days.  She also crosses back and forth between denial and acceptance of her situation.  The events of her life include being left at the altar sixty years prior.  Ultimately, she married someone else and had a family with him; however, the fact that the “jilting” should be so fresh in her mind decades later is nothing short of gut-wrenching.

129671

Porter spends a significant amount of the story portraying Granny’s strength.  I’m not one to usually put too much thought into how an author names a character; however, Granny seems to have “weathered” a lot in her life.  It’s as though the grief from being stood up molded itself into a strength that stayed with her -a strength that could be described as admirable.  Maybe a strength that could be considered character and personality.  At the same time, Porter’s story heartbreakingly points out that, in spite of the strength, the grief never ceases to be grief.

I found some similarities in Porter’s story to Flannery O’Connor’s stories – Catholicism and the South are prominent even if in the background.  The priest at Granny’s bedside, while a minor character, is both a bother and a comfort to her.  Granny seems to have molded her Catholicism into something of her own:

She had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her.

One final point:  I’ve alway wondered how an author might realistically write about an actual death using first person narrative of the person who dies.  Now, I know.

I have one story on my DMI 2015 list, but I might need to do some ad hoc reading of Porter’s stories.  From the little research I’ve done, she is known mostly for writing in the short story format.  This is my final story for my Deal Me In 2014 project.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

It’s been a great year in stories!