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.






Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Snow Image (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 14)

8♦ 8♦ 8♦ 8♦ 8♦ 8♦ 8♦ 8♦

…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 thruths so profound that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

It’s become a tradition of mine each year to include a story that has a Christmas-type title in my Deal Me In list just for the fun of seeing when it shows up. I’ve yet to have one of them actually get selected during the holiday season. For 2017, I put Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle” as the one non-New Yorker/New York City story in my red suits. It also happens to be the only 19th Century story in my Deal Me In 2017 list. I read this story when I selected the Eight of Diamonds for Week 14 of Deal Me In 2017. It’s included in my copy of The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Knowing that Hawthorne has a penchant for the macabre, I was curious about this story. I would have to say that the macabre isn’t necessarily a part of “The Snow Image” but it does include the supernatural – in a less frightening manner. Although from a child’s perspective, it could still include a scary situation but I would call it more of a sad situation than a scary one.

It’s easy to see Hawthorne’s purpose in showing how adults can squash the imagination of children – even adults with the best of intentions. Two children play in the snow and make a snow image of a little girl to be their sister/playmate. The cold wind gives life to the snow image and the three of them have a grand time playing.

That’s when the parents come in. Not knowing where the third child came from, they get a little concerned. The father, whom Hawthorne continuously refers to as “common-sensible”, is concerned about the third child staying out in the frigid air. While reading the story, one can see where this might end.

An interesting aspect of the story is the reaction of the children’s mother. Hawthorne puts her somewhere in between the children’s wonderful imagination and the common-sense of her husband as the quotation above indicates.

Towards the end, Hawthorne gets a little preachy by explaining the moral of the story. Ordinarily, this would bother me in a story; however, Hawthorne makes it work. Perhaps its because his moralizing is directed at adults instead of children.

While Christmas is not mentioned, “The Snow Image” could make a great addition to any winter/holiday story collection.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rappaccini’s Daughter (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 45)

7♠ 7♠ 7♠ 7♠ 7♠ 7♠ 7♠ 7♠

It was not love, although her rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shivered like the other. Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he know warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh to review the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.

This pretty much sums up Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter”. If anyone can mix love and horror, it’s Hawthorne. I suppose Edgar Allan Poe could do it, too. And maybe even Stephen King but I haven’t read much of his work.

What makes the love and horror mix in this story so great is Hawthorne’s eloquent writing. It’s what I’ve come to expect from him and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. Definitely not with this story. In fact I would take the writing over the plot.

It’s not a bad plot. Dr. Rappaccini reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein if he were a botanist presiding over his own Garden of Eden. His desire to go beyond science into the supernatural provides the horror to his daughter Beatrice and Giovanni’s love.


I read this story when I selected the Seven of Spades for Week 45 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Wives of the Dead

Deal Me In – Week 36

K♠  K♠  K♠  K♠  K♠  K♠  K♠  K♠


Given Nathaniel Hawthorne’s penchant for the eerie and macabre, I wasn’t surprised to find he had a short story called “The Wives of the Dead”.  While an excellent story with great writing (that part didn’t surprise me either), I wouldn’t say that it registers with the scary factor so much as the melancholy factor.

Mary and Margaret, two sisters-in-law, both mourning their husbands who are brothers, sit in their parlor by the fireplace. Instead of action in the story, Hawthorne puts much heart and emotion into it.

The cold light of the lamp threw the shadows of the furniture up against the wall, stamping them immovably there, except when they were shaken by a sudden flicker of the flame. Two vacant armchairs were in their old positions on opposite sides of the hearth, where the brothers had been wont to sit in young and laughing dignity, as heads of families; two humbler seats were near them, the true thrones of that little empire, where Mary and [Margaret] had excercised in love a power that love had won.

Both sisters eventually learn pieces of information that they are afraid to disclose to the other. I found this story to resemble O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”.  By no means as happy as that Christmas classic, the sisters each make a sacrifice of sort not knowing the full picture that the reader is able to see.

I read this story when I drew the King of Spades for Week 36 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Young Goodman Brown

10♣  10♣  10♣  10♣  10♣  10♣  10♣  10♣

Week 39 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project brings me to my final Nathaniel Hawthorne story “Young Goodman Brown”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

I think this is another story that is fairly well-known but I happened to have not read until now.  I have found Hawthorne almost as intriguing this year as Herman Melville.  Both authors are stalwarts of Nineteenth Century American Literature.  To make still another comparison, I’ve been surprised at how downright scary Hawthorne’s stories can be – just as scary as Edgar Allan Poe, another of Hawthorne’s American contemporaries.

Young Goodman Brown says goodbye to his new wife, Faith, to embark on a journey in which the reader (and Faith, I think) never gets the full details as to the reason.  The reader gets the distinct impression that less than noble intentions are behind the journey.  Along the way, Brown meets up with an older man.  Is this man behind the purpose of his travels or is he unexpected?  The reader isn’t sure.  It doesn’t take long to realize that the older man is most likely the Devil himself.  Through eerie descriptions Goodman and the Devil travel through the woods.  The Devil seems to take pleasure in pointing out how many of Goodman Brown’s church people are secretly working for him.  Ultimately, Goodman gets the impression that even his wife, Faith (great name!), might be in cahoots with his travel companion.


The story leaves many questions.  Is this all a dream of Goodman Brown or is it real?  Hypocrisy of religious people seems to play a prominent role in Hawthorne’s stories.  However, Young Goodman Brown doesn’t seem to be completely pure (or puritan) in spite of his name (another good one!).  The possible change in Faith is what makes me think the story is more dream than real.  If any character is pure, it would be her.  But if this is a dream, it’s a dream that has a drastic effect on the rest of Young Goodman Brown’s life.

In this story, as in all of Hawthorne’s stories I’ve read, I love the way he describes the rugged colonial Massachusetts landscape.  Letting him take me back to a younger country with forests and footpaths, scary though they may be, will make me continue to visit and revisit Hawthorne’s writing.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Celestial Railroad

J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣

People get ready, there’s a train comin’.  Actually, there’s a parody comin’.  In his short story “The Celestial Railroad”, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress for a little social satire.  He’s not so much making fun of Bunyan’s work, which I believe was widely read in Hawthorne’s day, as he is humorously pointing out the effect of new technology, namely the railroad, on the society of his time.

In Bunyan’s allegory, pilgrims carry their burdens on their back up a mountain to Heaven.  Hawthorne’s narrator realizes that now all he has to do is throw his burdens in the baggage car while riding in the lap of luxury on a new-fangled locomotive right into the Celestial City.  While traveling, he and his companion, Mr. Smooth-it-away, get a glance at some of the old-fashioned pilgrims and get a good laugh:

Apollyon (the engineer) also entered heartily into the fun, and contrived to flirt the smoke and flame of the engine, or of his own breath, into their faces, and envelop them in an atmosphere of scalding steam.  These little practical jokes amused us mightily, and doubtless afforded the pilgrims the gratification of considering themselves martyrs.

Some of the narrator’s other companions have names like Mr. Live-for-the-world, Mr. Hide-your-sin-in-your-heart, and Mr. Scaly-conscience.  Whatever indictment Hawthorne is making on his society, it’s definitely a light-hearted one and by no means scathing.  Perhaps new technology can have it’s negative effect on humanity’s spirit, but, based on this story, Hawthorne only seems to be bothered by it a little bit.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Ethan Brand”

9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣  9♣


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Ethan Brand” is what I thought my Edith Wharton story choices would be.  It’s rather scary.  Last year, I read his story “Feathertop” and thought it was very similar to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  “Ethan Brand” reminds me of Washington Irving.  It’s a combination of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Ethan Brand returns to the village of Graylock after a twenty year absence in which he conducts a spiritually sinister quest.  His quest is legend among the townspeople and his return peaks everyone’s interest.  The majority of the story is set at a lime-kiln in the middle of a dark night.  A few of the locals inquire as to the result of Ethan’s search – did he find his answers?

After reading the story, the subtitle, “A Chapter From an Abortive Romance”, gives me chills but I couldn’t help but laugh a little.  It reminded me of Jack Nicholson as The Joker in the Batman movie from the late 80’s when he asks “Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light”?

As the morning takes over the darkness, the reader and the villagers of Graylock discover a grizzly ending.

Hawthorne almost teaches a lesson here; however, he settles for telling a good story.