Posted in Short Stories

Anniversary #7!

It’s the seventh anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and as I have been doing the last few years, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2018 with quotations from each of them. I have no method of rating them – they are just the ones I liked the best. And as happens with many of my top ten lists, the top two could be interchangeable on any given day depending on my mood – both of them are fantastic stories!

10. Lions, Harts, Leaping Does – J. F. Powers

He suffered the piercing white voice of the Apocalypse to echo in his soul: But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. And St. Bernard, fiery-eyed in a white habit, thundered at him from the twelfth century:”Hell is paved with the bald pates of priests!”

9.  The Little Regiment – Stephen Crane

Ultimately the night deepened to the tone of black velvet. The outlines of the fireless camp were like the faint drawings upon ancient tapestry. The glint of a rifle, the shine of a button, might have been of threads of silver and gold sewn upon the fabric of the night. There was little presented to the vision, but to a sense more subtle there was discernible in the atmosphere something like a pulse; a mystic beating which would have told a stranger of the presence of a giant thing – the slumbering mass of regiments and batteries.

8.  Faith – William Trevor

Afterwards, Bartholomew told himself that what had occurred must surely be no more than a mood of petulance, an eruption from his half-stifled impatience with the embroidery and frills that dressed the simplicity of truth with invasive, sentimental stories that somehow made faith easier, the hymns he hated. For Bartholomew, the mystery that was the source of all spiritual belief, present through catastrophe and plague and evil, was a strength now too, and more than it had ever been. Yet there was disquiet, a stirring in his vocation he had brought upon himself and wished he had not…Bartholomew – not knowing what he should otherwise do – continued to visit the lonely and the sick, to repeat the Te Deum, the Creed, the Litany. He felt he should not and yet he did.

7.  The Virgin’s Gift – William Trevor

He begged that his melancholy might be lifted, that the confusion which had come in the night might be lightened with revelation. These were the days of the year when his spirits were most joyful, when each hour that passed brought closer the celebration of the Saviour’s birth. Why had this honoring of a season been so brutally upset?

6.  Graillis’s Legacy – William Trevor

His safe employment had been taken for granted; in time promotion would mean occupancy of a squat grey landmark in the town, the house above the bank, with railings and a grained hall door. She had married into that; books had never been an interest they shared, had never been, for her, a need.

The woman for whom they were had often been noticed by Graillis about the town, coming out of a shop, getting into her car, not the kind of woman he would ever have known.

5.  Death of a Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

Finally we saw him; from a distance he resembled the towel we sometimes threw down for second base.

4.  The Reach – Stephen King

“We joined hands, children, and if there were times when we wondered what it was all for, or if there was ary such a thing as love at all, it was only because we had heard the wind and the waters on long winter nights, and we were afraid.

“No, I’ve never felt I needed to leave the island. My life was here. The Reach was wider in those days.”

3.  Resurrection of a Life – William Saroyan

I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will be prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.

2.  The School – Donald Barthelme

Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical-fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

1.  My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

At night I watch the news programs. I watch the war from day to day. It’s a big burning war on a small screen. It rains bombs and the flames go higher. Sometimes I lean over and touch the war with the flat of my hand. I wait for my hand to die.

Posted in Short Stories

A Top Ten List…so far

Since we’re at the halfway point of 2018, I thought I would put together a top ten list of my favorite short stories so far. I have no scoring technique. This is based only on my personal likes and dislikes so at any point another story could jump to the top. We’ll see what makes it to the final top ten list in about six months. Here’s where we stand now, though:

10.) A Jury of Her Peers – Susan Glaspell

9.) Blood Burning Moon – Jean Toomer

8.) Evenings at Home – Elizabeth Hardwick

7.) The Gift – Janice Holt Giles

6.) Roses, Rhododendron – Alice Adams

5.) I’d Love You to Want Me – Viet Than Nguyen

4.) The Reach – Stephen King

3.) Death of A Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

2.) Faith – William Trevor

1.) My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

I guess I also reserve the right to change some of these around if no other stories take their place. I had a difficult time deciding where stories 2, 3 and 4 fell.

Do you rank the stories/books you read? What short stories have been your favorite so far in 2018?

Posted in Short Stories

Stephen King: The Reach (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 18)

9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠

“We joined hands, children, and if there were times when we wondered what it was all for, or if there was ary such a thing as love at all, it was only because we had heard the wind and the waters on long winter nights, and we were afraid.

“No, I’ve never felt I needed to leave the island. My life was here. The Reach was wider in those days.”

One, like me, does not have to have read a lot of Stephen King’s work to understand his preoccupation with the phenomenon of death. It’s not any different in his short story “The Reach”. One also doesn’t have to read a lot of Stephen King’s work to know that he very often goes deeper than just horror for the sake of horror. And that’s not any different in his short story “The Reach”.

oxford short stories

Stella Flanders, approaching 100 years of age if my calculations are correct, has never left Goat Island off the coast of Maine much to her great-grandchildren’s surprise and wonder. She remembers many people from over the years who travelled across The Reach to bigger and better things. And she remembers those friends and loved ones over the years who died in various manners both natural and unnatural including her husband and best friend.

Occasionally, the winters are cold enough that walking across The Reach to the mainland is possible and referred to numerous times as a “Jesus-out-of-the-boat” moment. She has never done that, either. But the current winter is just such a winter.

It’s not surprising that she decides to make this trip, now, beckoned by those who have gone before her.

Yes, the way this story melds reality and metaphor is sheer genius.

“The Reach” is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Nine of Spades for Week 18 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.



Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books Read During The Lifespan of My Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  So far it’s been a fun way to find out what others are reading and get some good ideas on books to read in the future.  This week the topic is Top Ten Books Read During the Lifespan of Your Blog.   Even though my blog is less than a year old and I haven’t read as many books compared to some blogs I’ve visited, it was still difficult to determine exactly which books I would include in my list.  Here’s what I came up with (not in any particular order):

1.  We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

2.  When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

3.  Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

4.  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

5.  The Sea Wolf by Jack London

6.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

7.  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

8.  For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

9.  White Fang by Jack London

10.  11-22-63 by Stephen King

Posted in Short Stories

“Morality” by Stephen King

I read Stephen King’s short story “Morality” this week.  The cover of the book said it was “chilling” so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King’s work.  What I’ve read prior to this story, I’ve enjoyed.  It wasn’t quite the case with this one.

It starts out well enough, with a married couple, Chad and Nora, struggling with finances.  Chad is a substitute teacher trying to write a book.  Nora is a physical therapist taking care of an elderly pastor who is recovering from a stroke.  The pastor realizes Chad and Nora’s difficulties and makes a proposal to Nora.  Before he dies, the pastor wants to commit a sin – not just a little sin but a BIG sin.  He’s willing to pay Nora $200,000.00 to help him.  He explains to her the sin and what she has to do.  Nora tells Chad the situation and then they struggle to decide whether they should do it.

At this point, my interest was piqued because the reader doesn’t yet know what this “sin” is and what Nora has to do.  The premise of the story was something it seemed only Stephen King could create.  However, this is where the story starts to disappoint.  The actual “sin” that Nora commits, while a crime, is by no means as “chilling” as I would have expected.  The other aspect that drove me crazy was that the pastor didn’t do anything other than pay Nora.  I suppose by paying her he was somehow  involved in committing the sin, but for someone who was really excited about “sinning”, he didn’t do much of the dirty work.

Chad and Nora’s marriage takes a strange, but not unforeseen, turn before the story ends.  While I was disappointed in this story, I’m still planning on reading more of King’s work.  Perhaps his short stories aren’t as fascinating as his novels and novellas.  I haven’t read enough of any of them to make an informed decision, though.

Posted in Short Stories

“There was a sound of thunder.”

I’m not sure where or when it originated, but there is a theory known as “the butterfly effect”.  It’s premise is that a butterfly in, say, Peoria could flutter it’s wings and ultimately it would lead to a typhoon in the Indian Ocean.  In recent weeks, I’ve heard this theory used in stories about time travel.  If someone goes back in time and changes one little thing or perhaps one big thing, the “present” world would no longer be life as we know it.  Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63, deals with this idea and the BBC science fiction television show, Dr. Who, uses this concept even if they haven’t necessarily called it that on the show that I’m aware.

Now I have read Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Sound of Thunder”.  I learned of this story because it was mentioned in King’s novel. It involves a character named Eckels who is an avid hunter.  He hires a company with a Time Machine to take him into the past about 65 million years so that he can shoot a T-Rex.  In “Jurrasic Park” fashion, he heads back to Dino land with the assistance of several guides (who have been there before).  He’s severely warned to stay on the “Path” that’s been laid out for him.  Venturing off the path could cause him to step on a mouse – or a butterfly – and cause all kinds of changes to the present (like which president got elected).  Eckels’ encounter with the T-rex is more intense than he thought it would be and he tracks mud and other things into the time machine and brings it back to a slightly different present.  “There was a sound of thunder” is the line that chillingly ends the story.

Bradbury’s writing has always interested me.  I read one of his more autobiographical novels a number of years ago, Dandelion Wine.  It opens with a great paragraph of a boy waking up on his first day of summer vacation.  In “The Sound of Thunder”, Bradbury writes a paragraph describing Eckels’ first step from the Time Machine that is reminiscent, at least in style, if not content, of that opening paragraph:

The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever.  Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats out of a delirium and a night fever.

I find it fun to read stories and novels that are related to other stories and novels that I’ve read.  King also mentioned a short story by Shirley Jackson (of “The Lottery” fame) called “The Summer People”.  I might have to read that one sometime soon.

Posted in Fiction

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

Each July for the last five years, my former book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, would collect a short story from each member for the rest of the group to read.  As I wasn’t a short story reader prior to this, I enjoyed the change of pace.  For the last few years, I always wanted to find a short story about baseball, but never could.  I seemed to gravitate toward Ring Lardner, but eventually would give up and choose something different.  The final July (2011) of our club, another member chose “Casey At the Bat” by Ernest Thayer, and I finally felt somewhat satisfied that baseball got a little bit of representation in my book club before we decided to call it quits.

However, that still had me thinking about baseball stories and not knowing where to look for more.  I had read W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, a number of years ago.  That’s the novel on which the movie, Field of Dreams, was based.  That was a great book, especially when I found out the the film’s character, Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones), was actually another reclusive, controversial author, J.D. Salinger, in the novel.  And the film contains one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “Is this heaven?with the response “No, it’s Iowa”.

All that to point to the book I just read yesterday, Blockade Billy by Stephen King.  It’s a novella (80 pages) about, you guessed it, baseball!  The story is told by George Grantham, a former member of the New Jersey Titans in the late 50’s.  He’s talking to Stephen King in the present day from what he calls a “zombie hotel”, an appropriate term for a nursing home, in a Stephen King novel, perhaps?  It’s the story of William Blakely, a player from the Davenport Cornhuskers (another Iowa reference) who is reluctantly called up to the major leagues to catch for the Titans.  Reluctantly, in that they had nobody else they could get.  While Blakely ends up being called “Blockade Billy” and performs well, the team doesn’t make it to the playoffs.  Blakely is an odd character that doesn’t seem to have it all together.  When told what to do, he simply repeats the words that were told to him.  The coach and owner of the team discover that Blakely has an even stranger and scarier (it’s Stephen King) background story.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that if you’ve ever gotten mad at an umpire (and who hasn’t?) you may find this story kind of satisfying.

Blockade Billy/Morality   [BLOCKADE BILLY/MORALITY] [Hardcover]

The entire story is told in the words and mannerisms of Grantham and sounds much like a Ring Lardner story.  Lots of details about various plays that probably only an old baseball player would remember.  But any baseball fan would love.  I sense from the story that Stephen King, himself, is a huge baseball fan.

While at 80 pages, this story would not have probably passed for a short story with my book club, but it only took me one day to read it.  However, now, I’m looking for another baseball story or novel.  Any suggestions?



Posted in Fiction

“…where mortals dance in defiance of the dark…”

“Life turns on a dime” says Jake Epping in Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63.  So do great stories.  A wonderful scene occurs in the novel when, Jake, a Maine English teacher in 2011,  who is George Amberson, a Texas English teacher in 1961, chaperones  the Sadie Hawkins dance with the new Librarian, Sadie Dunhill.  The dance takes the reader back in time thanks to King’s incredible ability to bring attention to the little details that make up the differences between our current decade and the one fifty years ago.  After the DJ plays Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop”, he requests the presence of the two chaperones to dance to music that they listened to as teenagers (or so he thinks).  At this point, the opening notes to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” can be heard even though it’s only a book with words.  George/Jake and Sadie then perform the “swing” of their lives and none of their lives (there’s about four or five between the two of them) will be the same again.


Dancing and “In the Mood” are recurring themes in this story, the first full length novel of King’s that I’ve read (I know, and I call myself a reader!).   What surprised me most about the book was the hopefulness about life it expressed.  I’ve been told that this book is a little different from much of King’s work.  Since I don’t have anything to compare it to at the moment, I’ll simply say that the “King” of horror can be sentimental – and without being (too) sappy.  Brutal murders and mutilations do occur frequently and play a major role in the plot.  But as George/Jake points out, in expressing what one might call his “world view”:

It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shoots and echoes, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life.  Behind it?  Below it and around it?  Chaos, storms.  Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns.  Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand.  A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.

As the title and cover of the book imply, Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of John F. Kennedy plays a central role in the novel’s plot. It’s not surprising that Oswald is the historical figure who King focuses most of his narrative, making him a fairly well-developed character.  I can’t write too much about the plot without giving away the many great twists and turns that readers deserve to discover and enjoy on their own.   One more scene, though, warrants mentioning.  The suspense that King builds as Jake/George  ascends  the stairs of the six floors in the Book Depository to confront an animal-like Oswald is nothing short of brilliant.

On a final note, the novel makes an intriguing case for the idea that gunning down people for their ideals only makes those ideals stronger and last longer.  Perhaps the dark doesn’t win, after all.