Mary Lerner: Little Selves

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 20

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So she folded quiet hands beneath her heart, there where no child had ever lain, yet where now something grew and fattened on her strength.  And she seemed given over to pleasant revery.

Published in 1915, Mary Lerner’s story “Little Selves” tells of a time and place when death didn’t seem so – fatal.  I find it interesting that this story comes onto the literary landscape just before the destruction of World War I would usher in a flood of disillusionment in American Literature.  In the story, death isn’t sentimentalized nor is its finality diminished. Death is death – but it doesn’t stop life from being life.

Margaret O’Brien, 75 years old, knows her life is near its end.  As she lays on what could be her deathbed, neighbors visit as well as versions of her younger self in what most would consider dreams or imagination. Some of her relatives consider her to not be in her right mind as she mumbles about her childhood.  Her niece Anna knows better.  Both Margaret and Anna came to America from Ireland when they were young.  Lerner effectively puts this immigration solidly behind every aspect of the narrative while only briefly mentioning it outright.

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Through her characters, Lerner implies that life and death had a magical quality in the “Old Country”.  A magic that those American born, such as Margaret’s priest and her nephew-in-law, don’t and can’t understand.  This story is very similar to Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” but it has a charm all it’s own.

I selected this story when I drew the King of Clubs for 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.  This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Katherine Anne Porter: Theft

Deal Me In Week 4

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She laid the purse on the table and sat down with the cup of chilled coffee, and thought.  I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing.

Don’t ask me to explain why because I’m not sure that I could, but the disillusionment found in post-World War I literature is one of my greatest joys.

“Theft” , published in 1929, is the second story I’ve read by Katherine Anne Porter and it’s vastly different from “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”, the first story of hers that I read.  I’ll thank Jay of Bibliophilopolis for pointing out to me in his review the similarity of “Theft” to Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  

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The unnamed female narrator of “Theft” realizes that her purse has been stolen.  She retraces, through a flashback, the New York City steps of her night on the town in which she seems to be repeatedly rejected by men – either through letters or through taxi rides.  I’m not sure anyone in the story is happy in their relationships.  Rejection and isolation continue as a theme as one of the narrator’s playwright friends discusses his theater missteps.

The narrator eventually realizes who stole her purse and confronts the person (it’s not one of the men although it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been). This person denies it, then confesses and returns the purse.  When the narrator decides to be forgiving and let the thief keep the purse, the thief rejects the offer.

While the story might seem to be low on plot, no detail is wasted.  Everything comes together in a beautiful loneliness.  “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” differs from this story in that Granny, while having seen her share of rejection during her life, still has a weary strength and a small glimmer of hope even at the end of her life.  It’s difficult to imagine “Theft” ‘s narrator having this same glimmer.

I read “Theft” for Week 4 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project when I drew the Nine of Clubs.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Katherine Anne Porter: The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

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It was good to be strong enough for everything, even if all you made melted and changed and slipped under your hands, so that by the time you finished you almost forgot what you were working for.

Be alert that a spoiler is included in this post, although, even if a reader knows what happens, how it happens and how it’s written are reasons well worth reading this story, anyway.

Sad, powerful, scary, beautiful – all could be words to describe Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  Since it’s the end of the year, I’ve already been thinking of my favorite stories of 2014.  This story will now be included in that group and Porter will now be included in favorite new-to-me authors.

Granny Weatherall is eighty years old and on her death bed.  Her family is around her as well as a priest.  Porter’s ability to capture Granny’s life flashing before her eyes is one of the breathtaking aspects of the story.  One minute she is aware of her surroundings and the next minute she is in her younger days.  She also crosses back and forth between denial and acceptance of her situation.  The events of her life include being left at the altar sixty years prior.  Ultimately, she married someone else and had a family with him; however, the fact that the “jilting” should be so fresh in her mind decades later is nothing short of gut-wrenching.

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Porter spends a significant amount of the story portraying Granny’s strength.  I’m not one to usually put too much thought into how an author names a character; however, Granny seems to have “weathered” a lot in her life.  It’s as though the grief from being stood up molded itself into a strength that stayed with her -a strength that could be described as admirable.  Maybe a strength that could be considered character and personality.  At the same time, Porter’s story heartbreakingly points out that, in spite of the strength, the grief never ceases to be grief.

I found some similarities in Porter’s story to Flannery O’Connor’s stories – Catholicism and the South are prominent even if in the background.  The priest at Granny’s bedside, while a minor character, is both a bother and a comfort to her.  Granny seems to have molded her Catholicism into something of her own:

She had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her.

One final point:  I’ve alway wondered how an author might realistically write about an actual death using first person narrative of the person who dies.  Now, I know.

I have one story on my DMI 2015 list, but I might need to do some ad hoc reading of Porter’s stories.  From the little research I’ve done, she is known mostly for writing in the short story format.  This is my final story for my Deal Me In 2014 project.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

It’s been a great year in stories!

 

 

Ring Lardner: Alibi Ike

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My second baseball story in a row (and it’s also my final one for this year) is Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike”.  In this case, as in last week’s “The Manager of Madden’s Hill”, the story is more than simply a baseball game.   The title character, Ike, is the focus of what seems to be a letter from the narrator to a friend.  All we know about the narrator is that he plays on the same professional baseball team as Ike.  We really don’t know anything about the recipient of the letter.

Ike earns his nickname because of his continuously making excuses for his behavior.  If he does something wrong, there’s a reason why.  If he does something well, there’s a reason he could have done better.  Whether baseball, card playing or women, Ike is unable to admit to situations as they really are.  His teammates understand this and inadvertently cause some “girl problems” for Ike.

The story has a down-home aspect that might be considered endearing.  I say “might be” because I’m not sure.  A little of this type of story would go a long way for me.  It’s written with the dialect of an uneducated baseball player which was tolerable but could have been irritating if the story continued longer than it did.  I almost want to say that the comedy of the story is old-fashioned; however, I think good comedy is timeless.  Good or not, timeless or not, the comedy in “Alibi Ike” is what I would consider a simpler, more straight-forward humor, such as the following conversation:

Well, Smitty went out and they wasn’t no more argument till they come in for the next innin’. Then Cap opened it up.

“You fellas better get your signs straight,” he says.

“Do you mean me? ” says Smitty.

“Yes,” Cap says. “What’s your sign with Ike?”

“Slidin’ my left hand up to the end o’ the bat and back,” says Smitty.

“Do you hear that, Ike?” ast Cap.

“What of it?” says Ike.

“You says his sign was pickin’ up dirt and he says it’s slidin’ his hand. Which is right?”

“I’m right,” says Smitty. “But if you’re arguin’ about him goin’ last innin’, I didn’t give him no sign.”

“You pulled your cap down with your right hand, didn’t you? ” ast Ike.

“Well, s’pose I did,” says Smitty. “That don’t mean nothin’.

The story is worth reading but I would recommend Lardner’s non-baseball story “Haircut”, instead.  It has some of the same down-home humor (it takes place in a barber chair) along with depth of character and some disturbing aspects of human nature.  “Alibi Ike” is an interesting period piece about baseball and that’s fine with me – on occasion.

As this is week 51 of Deal Me In 2014, next week is the final week and I don’t have to do much guessing to say that I’ll be reading Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  This will be the first time I’ve read anything by Porter so I’m looking forward to it.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.