The Half-Skinned Steer by Annie Proulx

For week 35 of Deal Me In 2014, I drew the queen of spades from my short story deck.

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Not one of my favorite stories of this year’s Deal Me In, this story deals with the return “home” (to Wyoming) of an 83-year old man, Mero. The purpose of his journey? To attend his brother Rollo’s funeral. Mero grew up on a ranch which has since been transformed to “The Outback in Wyoming” featuring animals from Australia including, unfortunately for Mero’s deceased brother, Emus.

Mero’s trek across the country (in his Cadillac!) presents much opportunity for retrospection and self-examination for a man nearing the end of life. By the time he reaches Wyoming, he’s on his second Cadillac (there was a traffic mishap in Iowa) and has encountered a nasty snowstorm. One gets the feeling this might not end well for Mero.

(Below: Illustration from The Atlantic Monthly, where this story was first published)

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Interwoven with the current day story is a flashback to the story of a half-skinned steer, which adds a supernatural element to the tale. If you’ve gotta know the truth, I didn’t quite get the deeper meaning of this story within the story. In my post-reading research I learned that the story of the half-skinned steer is adapted from an Icelandic folktale called “Porgeir’s Bull,” which among its themes includes the concept of revenge of nature against man. This story makes more sense in that light.

Annie Proulx – perhaps now most known for her work, “Brokeback Mountain” – is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and another of her stories (“Heart Song”) was featured in a post by fellow Deal Me In participant Hanne back in January. http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/heart-songs-by-annie-proulx/

This story is available to read online at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/the-half-skinned-steer/306168/?single_page=true

(Below Annie Proulx in 2009 )

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Deal Me In – Week 34 Wrap Up

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Since tomorrow is the “regularly scheduled” wrap up post for week 35, I guess I’d better finally post week 34’s… :-). (Sorry, I’ve had a really busy week)

Links to week 34 Deal Me In Posts:

Bellezza takes us to Japan with the story Rashomn by Ryunosuke Akutagawa http://www.dolcebellezza.net/2014/08/roshomon-by-ryunosuke-akutagawa.html

Dale read Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” and shares his thoughts at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/conrad-aiken-silent-snow-secret-snow/

Randall tackled Stephen Leacock’s “Who Do you Think Did It” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/who-do-you-think-did-it-by-stephen.html

Katherine read “The N Auntie” by Anne McCaffrey http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/deal-me-in-week-34-the-n-auntie/

I read Andre Gide’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” (recommend by HKatz of Sill of the World) but haven’t finished a post on it yet.

Some Other Short Story Links

This one might interest Dale and James and other Capote readers: http://heavenali.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/truman-capote-a-summer-readathon-six-short-stories-2/

YA short story recommendations: http://odearylibrary.com/book-lists/great-ya-short-stories/

Deal Me In – Week 33 Wrap Up

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THIS WEEK’S DEAL ME IN POSTS:

Following are links to our group’s postings this week:

James reads Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business” and George Orwell’s essay “Marrakech” his post is at http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/13/george-orwell-vs-raymond-chandler-2/

Dale shares with us a lesser know story from the creator of Walter Mitty, posting about James Thurber’s “University Days” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/james-thurber-university-days/

Randall’s finally heads south, posting about Carson McCullers’ “Sucker” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/sucker-by-carson-mccullers.html

Katherine visits The Barnum Museum once more, sharing the penultimate remaining Steven Millhauser story in her deck, “Alice, Fallinghttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/deal-me-in-week-33-alice-falling/

I wrote about two stories, “Class of 1990″ by Rebecca Emin and “The Bell in the Fog” by Gertrude Atherton. I’m going to stop linking to my own posts since you can “just scroll down” and you’re already at my blog. :-)

My use of the word “penultimate” above reminded me of one of my favorite cartoons, that I think first appeared in The New Yorker. Any excuse to share…

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IN OTHER SHORT STORY NEWS:

George R.R. Martin a short story writer? http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/game-of-thrones-author-george-rr-martin-reveals-hes-tempted-to-publish-neverbeforeseen-writing-9674262.html

Though not a Deal Me In post, regular DMI contributor James’s following entry is certainly worth a look: http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/15/a-short-story-review-anthology-hemingway-williams-babel-alexie-cunningham-paley-murakami-kinsella/

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (now 25) stars in the series “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” – an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/television/gail-pennington/daniel-radcliffe-wizard-poet-doctor-actor/article_cd739684-53b3-5a52-b2d0-8eb2a895152a.html

P.S. I’ll be off-line almost all of next weekend (Indianapolis Open Chess Tournament – Nerd Alert!) so my week 34 wrap up post will certainly be delayed. :-)

Gertrude Atherton’s “The Bell in Fog”

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For week 31 of my Deal Me In short story challenge (yes, I’m playing a little catch-up), I selected the King of diamonds, which corresponded to this story. Atherton is one of several authors that I’ve learned of through Paula Cappa’s excellent blog and her weekly Tuesday’s Tale of Terror feature. I don’t think she’s covered this particular story, but Atherton has come up at least once that I remember Based on Paula’s preferred type of story, I was expecting my pick to be a supernatural delight. In that I was “disappointed” since there isn’t a major supernatural element in it. I also was left grumbling a little at its “unsatisfying” (to me, anyway) ending, but oh, the writing! Atherton is an author I’ll revisit time and again I’m sure.

(Below: Gertrude Atherton)

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***minor spoilers follow***
The Bell in the Fog is the story of Ralph Orth, an accomplished and much respected author, who inherits the English estate (Chillingsworth) of his great-aunt. He quickly becomes enamored of the newfound pleasures of life at this estate, and is particularly charmed by two old family portraits, a young boy and a young girl. The girl’s portrait enchanted him in particular:

“She was angelically fair, and, young as she was – she could not have been more than six years old – her dark-blue eyes had a beauty of mind which must have been remarkable twenty years later. Her pouting mouth was like a little scarlet serpent.”

He speculates about what must have become of the children. Of the girl, he muses:

“‘Did she live to grow up, I wonder?’ he thought. ‘She should have made a remarkable, even a famous woman, with those eyes and that brow, but – could the spirit within that ethereal frame stand the enlightenments of maturity? Would not that mind – purged, perhaps, in a long probation from the dross of other existences – flee in disgust from the commonplace problems of a woman’s life? Such perfect beings should die while they are still perfect.'”

His investigations into who the children were yield imperfect results, with one questioned sighing that “I’m afraid the painter was their only biographer.” It was upon Orth’s return from one of his investigations that I fell in love with Atherton’s writing:

“The next night, as his train travelled over the great wastes of Lancashire, a thousand chimneys were spouting forth columns of fire. Where the sky was not red it was black. The place looked like hell. Another time Orth’s imagination would have gathered immediate inspiration from this wildest region of England. The fair and peaceful counties of the south had nothing to compare in infernal grandeur with these acres of flaming columns. The chimneys were invisible in the lower darkness of the night; the fires might have leaped straight from the angry caldron of the earth.”

Surely this description was born of Atherton’s own experience during a nighttime rail trip in the region. I can almost picture her in my mind’s eye, gazing out the train window, observing and noting a scene that would find its way into her writing.

But, getting back to the story, Orth is also a writer, and a talented one might bring the children into existence again – in a way at least. He makes them the subject of a new novel, and finds new creative energy. He becomes rather obsessed with the portraits of the children and his imaginings of what they would be like. He begins to think of them as his own and occasionally it was only “with an effort that he sometimes humorously reminded himself that another man had fathered them,and that their little skeletons were under the choir of the chapel.”

After living “two months in his fool’s paradise” he begins to acknowledge to himself that he’s becoming a bit too obsessed, but then on one of his habitual, long daily walks (“England seems to cry out to be walked upon.”) he encounters a young girl who appears to be “the original of the portrait” with which he has become obsessed!

It turns out the girl he meets is no spirit, but a coincidentally similar-looking American girl, whose mother is visiting a local family. Orth’s obsession is transferred to the living girl for whom he wishes to provide “infinite opportunities” (thankfully his interest in her is seemingly platonic and not too “creepy” – “The paternal was all he had to give, but that was hers forever.”) and even wants to adopt her. Will he possibly be able to convince her mother to allow this?

Read this story online at: http://www.online-literature.com/gertrude-atherton/bell-in-the-fog/1/

Have you heard of or read anything by Gertrude Atherton? Do you care to share any recommendations? What great “tales of obsession” have you encountered in your literary travels? Do share…

Playing card image from playingcardcollector.net

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Rebecca Emin’s “Class of 1990″

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It’s week 33 of the Deal Me In short story reading challenge, and the hand of fate fell down on the job a little bit this time, dealing out the five of hearts and this story only after the peak of high school and college “reunion season” (at least around here) had passed.

Worth noting is that I also read a story by this author as part of last year’s Deal Me In challenge. My post about “Tour and Duty” may be found here. Like that story, this one was quite short and would, I think, be more accurately classified as “flash fiction.” I liked this one as well – particularly its premise – but only wished there were more to it.

“The Class of 1990″ is the story of four (I presume college) friends who, on their graduation day meet at a favorite restaurant. Sylvia, Clive, Kate, and Max share the standard pleasantries such an occasion warrants and one suggests that they meet there every five years to “have a catch up.” They all agree and the subsequent “chapters” each include a brief exchange of dialogue from those five-year reunions.

The gimmick of the story is that, after each character speaks a line of dialogue out loud, we are given in italics the true thoughts that are going through the character’s mind. For instance, when Sylvia says, “Im so glad we decided to come for a meal,” what we read in italics is: Let’s get this ordeal over so I can go home to my real friends.

Most of the ’true thoughts’ are what many of us have surely always suspected is going on behind the curtain at reunions, except for Max’s that is. He is the one character who is actually sincere in his dialogue AND his true feelings. Max is also the first one of the four not to show up at one of the every five year reunions. Why he is not there is the “twist” of the story.

This makes the third story from Emin’s collection “A Knowing Look and Other Stories” that I’ve read. I’ve enjoyed all three enough to finish the collection, but whether I parcel them out slowly as part of my future editions of Deal Me In, or knock them out all at once as a vacation read or something, I don’t know. The collection maybe found on Amazon (kindle version only $2.99 http://www.amazon.com/A-Knowing-Look-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B006CNB2KQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0/176-7342648-4161038 )

I found the following photo at http://playingcardcollector.net/2013/04/27/the-colour-printing-plant-nevskie-playing-cards/ which features a beautiful Russian deck of playing cards.

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Deal Me In – Week 32 Wrap Up

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My apologies for being a little late with this week’s wrap up.

SHORT STORY NEWS & LINKS

I found another blogger doing a challenge similar to ours, but much more ambitious. Check out “the short story box” – http://msbookish.com/a-short-story-a-day-randomized/

If, like me, Returning Reader’s short story deck has whetted your appetite for African short stories, check out the following:

http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2014/08/05/short-story-day-africa-2014-longlist-announced/

This one sounds interesting:

http://siouxcityjournal.com/lifestyles/local/retired-dordt-professor-digs-up-tales-from-the-crypt/article_dc90c812-4317-5d7d-8094-56d145e9465c.html

NEW POSTS THIS WEEK

Dale read Truman Capote’s “Mojave”http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/truman-capote-mojave/

Candiss read the Guy de Maupassant classic, “The Necklace” – http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/deal-me-in-challenge-story-32-the-necklace-by-guy-de-maupassant/

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Katherine read “Diamonds aren’t Forever” by S.P. Somtowhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/deal-me-in-week-32-diamonds-arent-forever/

Randall read “Dimension” a story by one of Deal Me In’s most popular authors, Alice Munrohttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/dimension-by-alice-munro.html

Me? I’m behind and haven’t read my 32nd story, “The Redfield Girls” by Laird Barron…

That’s it for now. Until next week – happy reading!

“This was supposed to be… the Summer of George!”

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(No, no, no! George Eliot a.k.a. Maryann Evans)

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Yes, I’m a fan of the TV show Seinfeld and can rarely channel surf past one of my favorite episodes. One was when George Costanza has the “good fortune” of seeing his fiancée succumb to the “toxic glue” on their wedding invitation envelopes (see, George cut some corners and ordered the cheap stuff) thus absolving him(!) of the obligation of having to get married. Afterward, feeling like a free man again, he proclaims that this will be “The Summer of George” – where he does nothing but loaf around half-dressed in his unclean apartment, watch TV, and eat cheese straight from a huge block. Hmm… come to think of it (except for the cheese part) some of the summers of my mis-spent youth are pretty close to that mark!

Anyway, I learned that two of my preferred book clubs/discussion groups were reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss with “due dates” barely a week apart(!) in early September. No problem, I thought, that just means this will have to be my own “Summer of George!” And yes, certainly, one could read both of those classics easily over the course of a summer. Of course, as usual, I’m overly ambitious and failed to factor in all my other reading “obligations” that are currently outstanding. In short, I have six “serious books” that I’m supposed to read by mid-September and a few others I’ve made less official commitments to read. Here’s my list:

1. “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall for a meeting on August 7th. That’s only twelve days from now and I just bought the book today. I just realized that 8/7 is also the night of the first NFL preseason game for “my” Indianapolis Colts. Hmmm… I may have to skip that meeting. (Update: I’ve actually finished this one since I started writing this post a week ago)

2. “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen
This is for the August meeting of the Indy Reads Books book club. We meet on the fourth Sunday of the month (8/24); haven’t started or even bought that one.

3. “Vonnegut and Hemingway: Writers at War” by Lawrence Broer.
This is for the August meeting (8/28) of the book club of the Vonnegut Memorial Library here in town. Just bought this one on Thursday.

4. “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” by Haruki Murakami
A favorite author’s new book that comes out on August 12th, and for which blogger Bellezza is hosting a read-along from 8/12-9/12. Reading this will not be a chore at all, though. :-)

5 & 6 “Middlemarch” and “The Mill on the Floss” by George Eliot
I’ve yet to start either of them, I’m ashamed to say. I don’t know how I’m going to get them finished.

Others: I entered into a “verbal agreement” to read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway with a friend. Fortunately, she hasn’t started it yet either so I’m probably going to keep quiet about it until she brings it up! I’m also mostly done with a short story anthology of “weird western” tales (“Dead Man’s Hand“). Then there’s the final two volumes of Ben H. Winters’ “The Last Policeman” trilogy. I attended the “launch party” for the third volume, which just came out, and feel like I want to read the other two and write a Big Blog Post about it…

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So, all-in-all, that’s a superhuman (well, it is if I’M the human) amount of reading for the next eight weeks or so. What are the chances I actually do it all? As my dad would have said, “You’ve got two chances: ‘slim’ and ‘none’” :-) Who knows, though, maybe I’ll surprise myself… What about you? Do you often find yourself “biting off more than you can chew,” reading-wise?

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Deal Me In – Week 31 Wrap Up

 

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A busy week here at the Deal Me In 2014 Offices!

RANDOM SHORT STORY NEWS:

Latest on potential publication of “new” Salinger work: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/28/jd-salinger-stories-published-70-years-out-of-print

Have you heard of “Teffi?” I hadn’t. http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Biblio/Detail.aspx?blogId=1273

And we thought we were doing good to read 52 stories a year? How about 4,000?(!) http://lighthouseblog.org/2014/07/28/member-dispatch-heidi-pitlor-and-the-transcendent-american-short-story/

Are short stories “Literary palate-cleansers?” http://www.nj.com/entertainment/arts/index.ssf/2014/08/need_a_break_take_a_bite_out_of_nyc3.html

THIS WEEK’S DEAL ME IN POSTS

Another blogger is joining the Deal Me In challenge! Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza has created a list. Check out her intro post – and way cool picture – at http://www.dolcebellezza.net/2014/07/deal-me-in-challenge-better-late-than.html

James reads Grace Paley and Raymond Chandler and shares impressions on their stories, “Come On, Ye Sons of Art” and “No Crime in the Mountains” http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/07/28/raymond-chandler-vs-grace-paley/#comments

I read Gertrude Atherton’s “The Bell in the Fog” (Atherton was recommended to me by Paula of “Paula Cappa’s blog”) http://paulacappa.wordpress.com/ I haven’t finished my post yet ’cause I left my notes at the office Friday.

Dale enjoyed another Herman Melville story, this time tackling “The Encantadashttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/herman-melville-the-encantadas/

Randall posts about William Gay’s “Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/where-will-you-go-when-your-skin-cannot.html

Katherine’s David Copperfield anthologies continue to (finally) live up to her expectations, this week with Tad Williams’ story “The Stuff that Dreams are Made Ofhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/deal-me-in-week-31-the-stuff-that-dreams-are-made-of/

Candiss is back and shares her thoughts on Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/deal-me-in-challenge-story-31-bullet-in-the-brain-by-tobias-wolff/ (This story is DMI2014’s fifth “twin,” as James also covered it in May; in case you missed it, his take is at http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/05/13/henry-james-vs-tobias-wolff-a-deal-me-in-short-story-chalenge/ )

Bellezza posts about “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa http://www.dolcebellezza.net/2014/08/in-grove-by-ryunosuke-akutagawa.html#.U97E7cu9KSM

I think that’s it for this week. Hope I didn’t miss anybody. (As always feel free to add an additional link in the comments). See you next time!

Deal Me In – Week 30 Wrap Up

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Below are this week’s links to new posts since the last wrap up and a couple “extras.” :-)

On the good news front, the New Yorker has recently opened part of their short story archive for free reading for a limited time. For more info, see the following link http://www.newyorker.com/books/double-take/summer-archive This is an exciting source of FREE stories.

I also found the following, which may be of interest to some short story readers, what with the news headlines of the day: http://arablit.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/the-book-of-gaza-short-stories-from-four-decades/

Among this weeks posts, we welcome the “return” of The Returning Reader, who shares some thoughts on Laila Lalami’s “Homecoming” at http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/short-story-25-homecoming-laila-lalami/

Dale reads Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/henryk-sienkiewicz-the-lighthouse-keeper-of-aspinwall/

Randall posts about Anne Battie’s “Solid Wood” at http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/solid-wood-by-ann-beattie.html

Katherine draws Steven Millhauser’s “Rain” from her bag of tricks, which also includes a video link featuring the seven of diamonds: http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/deal-me-in-week-30-rain/

Deal Me In has its fourth “twin” of the year as I become the second participant to read Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet.” Just scroll down or click https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/anton-chekhovs-the-bet/

I think that’s everybody. If I missed anyone, leave a link in the comments. Until next week, happy reading!

Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet”

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In the nearly four years that I’ve been doing my one short story per week reading project, a handful of authors have emerged who can always be counted on to deliver the goods. I would count Anton Chekhov (above) among these select few, so I was happy to see that, when I drew the three of clubs, I had assigned it to his famous story, “The Bet.” (My roster of stories may be found here ) I also found it amusing that, after blogging last week about the concept of “Chekhov’s Gun,” the author immediately presented himself as my next “luck of the draw” selection.

During a party at the house of a banker, in a drawing room conversation, a debate arises regarding capital punishment. One argues that it is immoral and has no place in a Christian Nation, the host disagrees, however, saying “…in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degree. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly for years?”

A brash young lawyer in attendance argues that life-imprisonment is by far more preferable, saying “Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It’s better to live somehow than not to live at all.”

Much debate takes place, and an outrageous bet is the fallout. The banker puts up “two millions” against the young lawyer’s boast that he could stay willingly imprisoned for fifteen years. Terms and rules are set and the clock begins ticking on November 14, 1870…

The story is so short, I’ll leave it for you to read yourself if interested. It may be found online at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Bet.shtml

The premise for this story may seem familiar to some readers. If so, it might be because of a “classic” episode of the TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling shifts the location and changes some of the characters, the purpose for the bet, and many of the details, but it’s still an effective treatment and does, I believe, capture the “spirit” of Chekhov’s story. It’s actually available on YouTube. Here’s a link to part 1:

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Dale at Mirror with Clouds has also posted about this story as part of Deal Me In 2014, making it the fourth “twin” our group has spawned this year. His post may be found here

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