Graham Greene: Cheap in August (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 41)

K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣ K♣

The trouble was that, after three weeks of calypsos in the humid evenings, the rum punches (for which she could no longer disguise from herself a repugnance), the warm Martinis, the interminable red snappers, and tomatoes with everythng, there had been no affair, not even the hint of one. She had discovered with disappointment the essential morality of a holiday resort in the cheap season: there were no opportunities for infidelity, only for writing postcards…

Kudos to Graham Greene for using the title phrase of his short story “Cheap in August” over and over again – without it becoming annoying or cliche. Everytime I read the phrase I thought “This is actually working!”

Mary Watson, a British woman living in New England vacations in Jamaica while her American husband travels to England on business. All of this European and American contrast is delightfully confusing (or confusingly delightful – I don’t know). While there could be a sort of cultural, political commentary buried way underneath the bamboo bars and warm Martinis, I’m not convinced that’s the real point of the story.

3688

Mary travels to Jamaica by herself for the purpose of having what she calls an “adventure” or what most might call an affair. Gravely disappointed that a middle-aged woman like herself isn’t seen as attractive to the mostly younger men hanging out at her resort, she ultimately meets a much older and significantly less attractive man.

With his title phrase, Greene captures the air of rejection felt by Mary. He also captures Mary’s regret that neither she nor her husband have the amount of money and material success she thought they would have had by now.

“Cheap in August” is one of those stories that oozes sadness; however, the light wit with which it’s written keeps the reader from feeling the same sadness as the characters. It also makes it one of my favorite Graham Greene stories. Though  I haven’t come close to reading all of his stories, I would highly recommend this one and “A Branch of the Service”. 

I read this when I selected the King of Clubs for Week 41 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Graham Greene: Complete Short Stories. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Graham Greene: Dream of a Strange Land

8♠  8♠  8♠  8♠  8♠  8♠  8♠  8♠

I drew the Eight of Spades this week for my Deal Me In 2014 project which gave me my final Graham Greene story of the year, “Dream of a Strange Land”.  Greene’s work has been hit and miss.  When it’s a hit, I’ve really enjoyed his work.  When it’s a miss, I really haven’t.  I’ll call this story a hit.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

A doctor called Herr Professor receives a patient in his large home.  The patient makes a plea for the doctor to continue treating him as he has; however, the patient has Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, and anything less than putting the patient under quarantine would be against the law.  Greene begins to paint with subtle and unusual stokes the fear that grips the patient at the thought of isolation .  It seems that the patient is already significantly alone and isolated and taking away the small and minute pleasures that give him even an ounce of joy is more than he can stand.  I found it interesting that the patient didn’t have a huge family or a ton of social connections from which he would be taken away.  Greene tends to take things in a direction that one wouldn’t expect.  His subtlety in doing this reminds me of William Trevor’s stories.

3688

Then we cut to a different scene where Herr Professor receives a military acquaintance who has decided that a party for his General will be moved to the doctor’s house including a large orchestra and gambling casino.  In a matter of hours, the doctor’s house is turned into a hustling and bustling “to do” with many guests, lots of drinking and gambling, and lively music.  The reasons behind this change of plans for the party is never really explained which is probably the one issue I would have with the story.

The patient makes his way back through snow and pine trees to the doctor’s house during the party (of which he is unaware) to make one final plea.  Not expecting to hear and see the party through the window, the patient almost feels he is dreaming in a strange land.  Through the window,  the doctor and patient exchange a final glance in which the patient realizes it’s not a dream.

This story is a great study in mood and atmosphere.  The difference between the extravaganza in the house and the quiet snowy evening outside gives the reader a contrast that works amazingly well and takes care of whatever shortcomings there might be in the plot.

Note:  Thanks to Emilia (see below) for pointing out that the story does contain a specific reason for moving the party to the doctor’s house.

Graham Greene: Alas, Poor Maling

7♠  7♠  7♠  7♠  7♠  7♠  7♠  7♠

I’ve now read four short stories by Graham Greene and his novel, The Power and the Glory.  I guess when it comes to works of literature, four out of five isn’t too bad.

Graham Greene

As I drew the Seven of Spades this week, I looked forward to another story by Graham Greene, “Alas, Poor Maling”.   But, alas, I didn’t find it anywhere near as appealing as the other Greene works I’ve read.

Maling suffers from a peculiar stomach ailment.  As he hears music throughout the day, his stomach picks it up (records it, if you will) and plays it at inopportune times.  When I say “music”, I mean real music…like the Brandenburg Concerto.  This causes some rather uncomfortable moments at places like the theater.  The story takes place in 1940 London and Maling’s stomach has the audacity to mimic the tone of the air raid siren causing havoc in his business meetings.

How embarrassing.

The only reason I haven’t completely dismissed the story is the dry British wit with which Greene writes.  For a few moments, that was worth a small chuckle; however, mostly, I just scratched my head.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Graham Greene: The End of the Party

10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠

I’m becoming impressed with Graham Greene’s humor.  Earlier, I read “The Branch of the Service” and it continues to be the funniest story I’ve read this year.  For Week 16 of my Deal Me In 2014 project, the 10 of spades brought me to another one of Greene’s stories, “The End of the Party”, and it’s proven to be almost as comedic as the previous one although I would probably categorize the humor as “dark”, both literally and figuratively.

3688

Francis and Peter Morton are pre-adolescent twin brothers who wake up on January 5th to realize that it’s time for a neighbor’s birthday party.  While Peter isn’t exactly thrilled about going, Francis has already had terrifying dreams about the impending party.  While some of the terrors include the usual – teenage girls, for example, his true fear comes from the knowledge that they will play a game after the sun goes down.  All of the lights in the house will be turned off in order to play the dreaded “hide and seek in the dark”.

Francis attempts every excuse he can think of to miss the party, but they all fall through.  Peter’s special bond as a twin lets him know exactly how Francis is feeling even if the exact words aren’t exchanged between the two.  I thought Greene skillfully deals with this aspect of the brothers’ relationship in a manner that is realistic but also outside the ordinary.  Their give and take with each other isn’t fantasy or science fiction, but its unique and special and one might even say it’s powerful: “Instinct told him he was near the wall, and, extending a hand, he laid fingers across his brother’s face.  Francis did not cry out, but the leap of his own heart revealed to Peter a proportion of Francis’s terror.”

The resolution of Francis’ fear lends an understatement to the story’s title that is creepy – and hilarious.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This story can be found on-line here.

 

A Branch of the Service by Graham Greene

9♠  9♠  9♠  9♠  9♠  9♠  9♠ 9♠  9♠

This week I drew the Nine of Spades which corresponds to Graham Greene’s short story, “A Branch of the Service”, on my list for my Deal Me In 2014 project.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a short story can be an excellent format for comedy and humor.  Perhaps the brevity of a short story can keep humor from getting too “old”.

“A Branch of the Service”, in addition to being a short story, uses another format for comedy.  Sometimes joining two elements that one might not think of together can be ripe for a good laugh.  In Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut has a couple of stories where his narrator is a storm window repairman for the rich and the famous such as the Kennedys and the Hiltons.  They are brilliantly funny, as is this story by Graham Greene.

Graham Greene

The unusual pairing in this story is a Restaurant and Food Critic who doubles as a spy for the British Government.  Or is he a spy for the British Government who doubles as a Restaurant and Food Critic?  The two are blended together so perfectly that it doesn’t really matter.  The agency for which the narrator works originally was named International Reliable Restaurants Association but this had to be changed due to “Irish difficulties” (IRRA) with the new name being International Guide to Good Restaurants (IGGR).

Through the course of the story, the narrator, with wonderful British sarcasm and dry wit, tells the tales of two of his spy/restaurant encounters.  In the first tale, he makes a name for himself by nabbing a secret document in a manner that would make James Bond proud.  For the second tale, he’s not quite as successful as a risk of being a spy/restaurant critic is eating something that doesn’t quite agree with you.  The narrator graciously spares the reader the “unsavory details” but he makes his point.

It’s a little too early to really start thinking about a favorite short story for the year, but as far as funniest, this is the one to beat.

3688

Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory

Until I read Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory, I was not aware of a time in the 1930’s when one Mexican state outlawed Catholicism and priests were rounded up and shot.  This historical backdrop presents both a mesmerizing character study and a psychological and spiritual thriller as two unnamed players make their way to a final showdown.

3690

The lieutenant lives by the law of the land.  He is idealistic, rigid in his beliefs, absolute in his thoughts as he pursues the final priest in his state.  On the outside, he is cold and calculating, taking and killing hostages from the villages that refuse to give up the priest. Greene gives the the reader a glimpse inside the lieutenant, though.  Remembering wrongs committed by the church during his childhood, the lieutenant becomes less black and white and more gray.  I would say that this is typical of Greene; however, this is the first of his novels that I’ve read, so I can’t really say what is typical of him.  He paints his characters so well that I can’t help but feel I’ve read more of his work than I actually have.  The lieutenant, though, is not the focal character of this novel.

As the priest travels from village to village seeking safety that’s never really there, the reader becomes acquainted with his beliefs, too.  Beliefs that are a mixture of faith and doubt and resignation and fear.  Unlike the lieutenant, the priest hangs on to his idealism by a very thin thread.  He’s always one step away from that thread being completely severed.  He refers to himself as a “whiskey priest” (no explanation is really needed as to why he calls himself that) and his sins haunt him throughout his running in the form of dreams.  He’s also not afraid to charge money for baptisms which are outlawed.  Being illegal makes them more valuable.

In spite of his many flaws, the priest is portrayed with a good heart.  One of the most tragic scenes in the novel involves the priest attempting to save a boy who had been shot three times in a deserted village.  While he exerts every effort to save the boy, the boy’s mother hovers around him at a distance like an animal unsure of the stranger and whether he is helping or hurting her child.  This passage of a few pages is probably one of the most frightening I’ve read this year and epitomizes the priest’s isolation.

Greene seemlessly ends his grim tale in what I thought was a humorous note.  Even with all of the ambiguity between the beliefs of his two characters, Greene seems to point out that religious faith, for better or worse, is difficult to simply “shoot down”.

Graham Greene and G. K. Chesterton

What do Graham Greene and G. K. Chesterton have in common?  For starters, they are both British.  They also write with a strong Catholic influence – Greene having a strained relationship with the church but never leaving and Chesterton seeming to fully embrace the church.  They now also have something else in common:  both of them have short story collections that are owned by me.

The first story in the Graham Greene collection, Complete Short Stories, is “The Destructors”.  The story could be considered the flip side to Willa Cather’s great story “The Enchanted Bluff”.  While I would consider the Cather story better, Greene uses a certain unsentimental humor to make “The Destructors” enjoyable and worth reading.

3688

A car-park gang of boys, ranging in age from nine to about fifteen, put together a plan with the leadership of “T” (short for Trevor, but apparently Trevor wasn’t a cool enough name), a boy new to the neighborhood and a threat to Blackie (that was a cool enough name), the gang’s current leader.  The title gives the reader a clue as to the nature of this plan.  The plan might actually be considered a dream in the nature of the dreams and plans of the boys in “The Enchanted Bluff”; however, this dream eventually comes to fruition.  Is this a good thing?  Well, I’ll just let you read the story and decide for yourself.

The collection of Chesterton stories I have is The Complete Father Brown Stories.  The first one is called “The Blue Cross”.  In the nature of mysteries, these stories have strong similarities to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more well-known Sherlock Holmes mysteries. This first one is told from the perspective of French detective, Valentinarriving in London chasing his arch nemesis, Flambeau.  As Valentin tracks down the criminal, he expresses thoughts to himself about reason and doubt.  He begins to become suspicious of two priests. Ultimately, through one of the priests, Father Brown, Valentin catches Flambeau.

671140

I especially enjoyed the parting thoughts Father Brown leaves for both Valentin and Flambeau.  Valentin asks Father Brown how, as a priest, he knows so much about the criminal mind.  Father Brown indicates that years of listening to confessions has made him an expert in human nature – particularly the dark side.  Flambeau, pretending to be a priest in order to steal a valuable ornamental cross, wonders what gave himself away to Father Brown.  At one point in the story, Flambeau (as a priest) talks of God as being above human reason.  Father Brown lets Flambeau know he ought not attack reason – it’s “bad theology” and it was this “bad theology” that gave the criminal away.

I have the feeling that Graham Greene’s stories will utilize the “anti-hero” with a moral ambiguity in his characters.  Chesterton’s Father Brown will likely have a more focused moral compass.  I’m looking forward to reading more of each.