Posted in Short Stories

Flannery O’Connor: The Barber

Deal Me In 2016 – Week 26

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It is trying on liberals in Dilton.

“The Barber” is one of Flannery O’Connor’s earlier stories. The potential for what is to come can be clearly seen here.

Rayber tells his barber that he is voting Democrat. The barber proceeds to tell Rayber why he is wrong using numerous racial slurs.

Rayber leaves and writes an argument which he ultimately delivers to the barber the next time he gets his haircut.

O’Connor establishes the barbershop and its patrons as the norm by making them boisterous and animated. She makes Rayber timid and fearful even as he openly disagrees with everyone.

The beginning of O’Connor’s comedic style comes through as Rayber eventually storms out of the barbershop still with shaving creme and apron.

As one might guess, nobody’s mind is really changed.



Posted in Short Stories

Flannery O’Connor: Why Do the Heathens Rage? (A Short Story Easter Extra)

I find it wonderful and often very funny that so many of the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s stories don’t know what to make of Jesus.

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Her short story “Why Do the Heathens Rage?” is considered to have been the start of her third novel. A mother is disappointed with her son for not taking responsibility for the family farm when his father has a stroke. The son spends all of his time – you guessed it – reading books:

One passage she found in a book he had left lying on the upstairs-bathroom floor stayed with her ominously.

“Love should be full of anger,” it began, and she thought, well mine is.

The passage goes on to reference a mighty General coming to conquer the world. From reading the back of the book, she determines that the book is a letter written from “a St. Jerome to a Heliodorus”.

Then it came to her, with an unpleasant little jolt, that the General…was Jesus.

An unpleasant little jolt? Is the mother the heathen from the title? Is she raging because her son won’t work? And where does Jesus fit in? All questions that maybe would have been answered in O’Connor’s unwritten novel?

Or maybe not?




Posted in Short Stories

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.

Posted in Short Stories

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

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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:


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, ( ) 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?


Drive Carefully sign photo found at

Posted in Short Stories

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

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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”.


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.

Posted in Short Stories

Flannery O’Connor: Greenleaf

Deal Me In – Week 22

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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

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.

Posted in Short Stories

Ernest Hemingway: God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen


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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.


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.