Posted in Short Stories

Raymond Carver: Where I’m Calling From

 

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 1

If she answers, I’ll wish her a Happy New Year. But that’s it. I won’t bring up business. I won’t raise my voice. Not even if she starts something. She’ll ask me where I’m calling from, and I’ll have to tell her. I won’t say anything about New Year’s resolutions. There’s no way to make a joke out of this.

Week 1 of Deal Me In 2020 brings me to the Nine of Spades and Raymond Carver’s short story “Where I’m Calling From” which is only the second Carver story I’ve read, the first being “Are These Actual Miles”. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. Since we are pretty much two decades into the 21st century, I might add that the title of this anthology refers to the 20th century. It’s also fun when the Deal Me In fates give me a story for Week 1 that at least mentions New Year’s.

“Where I’m Calling From” contains a coldness and a hard facade that covers the emotion buried deep in the narrator’s alcoholic condition. The narrator, who doesn’t have a name, meets J. P., another alcoholic, at a “drying-out” facility. The narrator gladly listens to J.P’s story while recalling memories of his own story. The intersecting of these stories gives Carver’s narrative the intrigue I needed to get drawn into it. Because of Carver’s writing, I felt a little like the narrator:

“Then what?” I say. “Don’t stop now, J.P.” I was interested. But I would have listened if he’d been going on about how one day he’d decided to start pitching horseshoes.

Depression laces the memories of the narrator but he has one memory that brings a smile to his face and to the reader’s – giving the story a quick shot of warmth before ending. Speaking of “warmth”, after the narrator recounts this memory, he then remembers Jack London’s short story “To Build A Fire”. The warmth in Carver’s story probably sticks around as long as it does in London’s story.

Posted in Books in General

The TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books so I thought I would post an update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. While I can’t say the number of books I’ve read so far is anything to post about, I will say that I’ve become very inspired to read the books that are already on my shelf.

I’ve read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and am almost finished with Steven Millhauser’s collection Voices in the Night: Stories. The Millhauser book I am counting even though it’s from the library. I’ve had it since before the beginning of 2016. I planned on reading Jack London’s Martin Eden, also from the library; however, it had to be returned before I got a chance to read it (I couldn’t renew it). So the London novel will have to wait until the spring.

Next up will be the Bronte sisters. I’ve had Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on my shelf for years. It’s high time I read them.

Posted in Short Stories

Jack London: Koolau the Leper

Deal Me In- Week 51

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All his lusty whole-bodied youth was his, until the sharp pangs of impending dissolution brought him back. He lifted his monstrous hands and gazed at them in wonder. But how? Why? Why should the wholeness of that wild youth of his change to this? Then he remembered, and once again, and for a moment, he was Koolau, the leper.

It’s the next to the last week of Deal Me In 2015 and I selected the Ace of Clubs which corresponded to Jack London’s “Koolau the Leper”.

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When I think of lepers, I tend to think of the Biblical term “the least of these”.  People with whom society wants no part. In London’s story, Koolau is the leader of a colony of lepers that are forced to live in a secluded section of one of the Hawaiian islands. London’s descriptions of the colony’s members, which are probably accurate, remind me of The Walking Dead.

What is fascinating about London’s portrayal, though, is that he gives guns to these lepers. With Koolau as their chief, they attempt to defend themselves when what little of the world they have becomes threatened.

London put plenty of action into this story. It reminds me of a Rambo movie and while I’m not a huge Rambo fan, I found the action to be quite enjoyable.

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

I now know which story I will be reading next week: “Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup” by Mark Twain.  Because of the rather humorous title, I’ve been looking forward to reading this one all year.

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction

The Call of theWild by Jack London

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This isn’t the first time I’ve read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. I think it might be the third time; however, I know it’s at least the second time. I also know that it’s the first of London’s works that I read which lead to some of his other more well-known novels and a lot of short stories. In fact, at one time, London was the by far the most tagged author on my blog. Since I noticed that he’s fallen behind some other authors, I thought I’d help get him caught up. I only  have three stories left for my Deal Me In 2015 short story project and one of those is a London story so I’ll have another post of his work here in the near future.

Another more personal reason for reading The Call of the Wild is the newest member of my household – a three year-old Siberian Husky named Jakoby. It’s only been three weeks but he is pretty much a part of the family, now. Buck, the protagonist in The Call of the Wild, in my mind has always been a husky; however, he is actually half St. Bernard and half Shepherd dog.

From previous reading(s), I remembered Buck’s grueling transformation from domesticated hunting dog to wild wolf of the Yukon. I did not remember the passages about his relationship with John Thornton. As sentimental as it might sound, I keep thinking for these passages as the “love” passages. The title of the chapter that includes these is “For the Love of a Man”:

Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller’s down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge’s sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge’s grandsons, a sort of pompous guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.

Another reason this “love” chapter takes on more meaning at the end of the book is that this love doesn’t go on forever. The loss of it is simply one more example of both man and nature’s brutality – a theme found in so many of Jack London’s works. The manner in which London finally moves Buck permanently into the wildness of his ancestors is writing that is truly breath-taking:

When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.

 

Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx Week, Day 2 – The Blood Bay

That night he froze to death on Powder River’s bitter west bank, that stream of famous dimensions and direction – an inch deep, a mile wide and she flows uphill from Texas.

Annie Proulx’s “The Blood Bay”, set in the 1880’s, begins with a group of cowboys stumbling across a man who has frozen to death in the Wyoming winter.  Any story that has someone freezing to death is going to remind me of Jack London; however, so far, Proulx’s writing brings to mind London in theme and style, also.  In this story, the man who dies alone is only the catalyst for a very short and darkly comic tale.

One of the cowboys takes a liking to the dead man’s boots and his grisly manner of removing them as well as his encounter with the horse that gives the story its title sets the stage for a great punchline.  Just as in some of London’s stories, the fun and games inside a warm cabin provide a stark contrast to the wicked cold outdoors.

I would recommend this story to anyone wanting a quick introduction to Proulx’s work.

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Posted in Short Stories

Annie Proulx: The Half-Skinned Steer

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 17

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It’s Week 17 of Deal Me In 2015 and I drew the Six of Diamonds.  This brought me to Annie Proulx’s short story “The Half-Skinned Steer”.  This is the second work of Proulx’s that I’ve read.  Prior to blogging, I had read her short story “Brokeback Mountain”.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  Jay also posted about this story last year.

Proulx took me by surprise with her ability to effectively incorporate a cross-country road trip within a short story.  Mero leaves his home of sixty years in Massachusetts to head back to his childhood home of Wyoming where his brother Rollo has died.  Proulx perfectly blends the physical and natural world with Mero’s aging confused mind.

In theme, this story reminds me of Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” or, for that matter, any of London’s man vs. nature stories. In “The Half-Skinned Steer”, Proulx doesn’t explain the exact outcome of this classic conflict; however, the reader has a good idea who wins.

The story contains one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read in a while:

In the long unfurling of his life, from tight-wound kid hustler in a wool suit riding the train out of Cheyenne to geriatric limper in this spooled-out year, Mero had kicked down thoughts of the place where he began, a so-called ranch on strange ground at the south hinge of the Big Horns.  He’d got himself out of there in 1936, had gone to a war and come back, married and married again (and again), made money in boilers and air-duct cleaning and smart investments, retired, got into local politics and out again without scandal, never circled back to see the old man and Rollo, bankrupt and ruined, because he knew they were.

Mero’s remembered story of the red-eyed ghostly omen of the half-skinned steer gives the reader a clue as to why he left Wyoming in the first place. The bad luck that had been there sixty years prior (and that Mero apparently left behind) seems to have not gone anywhere.

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This story is included in my anthology Best American Short Stories of the Century and I can see why.  I think I would include it with a few other stories vying for my favorite of the year.  I highly recommend it.  It’s also included in Proulx’s collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

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Posted in Short Stories

Jack London: Negore, The Coward

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Hey!  It’s Jack London week here at Mirror w/ Clouds!  I just finished reading his novel  Before Adam and posted about it here.  Then, this week I drew the Eight of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2014 project which brought me to London’s short story “Negore, The Coward”.   My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  Jay also posted about this story last year.

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“Negore, The Coward” poses some interesting questions both from a literary standpoint and from a philosophical one.  Negore is branded a coward by his people of Alaska as they fight the Russians in the mid-Nineteenth century.  His reasoning behind his act of cowardice isn’t actually known until he returns to his people and to Oona, the woman he loves.  Oona only half accepts his explanation, but gives him an opportunity to prove himself once more.  I’m still not sure how I feel about Oona.  She asks for a lot.

But attempt to prove himself is what Negore sets out to do.  Does he succeed?  I’ll have to leave that up to anyone who happens to want to read this story.  It can be found here for free.

As I’ve said, the story asks some fascinating questions.  Which is better – a dead brave man or a coward who has managed to survive?  Are there things worth dying for or should survival be priority?  Aside from these philosophical questions in general, I also couldn’t help but be curious about what Jack London, himself, thought.  Survival plays a key role in much of his writing.  The brutality of nature tends to be a common enemy to humanity.  Just a gut feeling makes me think London could very well have thought that anyone who is able to survive, regardless of the means, has a certain amount of bravery and cowardice is only in the eye of the beholder.  Are there noble reasons to be considered a “coward”?  Can sacrifice be viewed as “cowardly”?

All in all, a very enjoyable and thought-provoking story.