Deal Me in 2014 weekly wrap up (and my selection, “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser)

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As I noted in the sign-up post, I’ll be posting a weekly update for the Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I’ll try to do these regularly on sunday evenings, and will include links to what others have posted since the last update.

I’d also like to thank Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste for upgrading our unofficial logo (pictured above) for this challenge.  I love it! Feel free to use it in your weekly posts if you’d like.

So, What are other Deal Me In 2014 participants reading this week? See the following:

Dale at Mirror With Clouds on Saki’s “The Recessional”

The Returning Reader ‘walks into Omelas’ for the Ursula K. LeGuin Classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 shares her thoughts on Steven Milhauser’s “Thirteen Wives”

Katherine at Writerly Reader read the classic M.R. James ghost story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”

These are the posts I found as I went to press with this post.  If you finished a post on another story for your week one, you can also link to it in the comments to this post.

So, we’re off and running with DMI2014! As I said I’ll be doing a kind of round up post on Sundays.  We’re a small enough group I can probably just manually do these posts with the links.  If you’re a regular reader who’s not taking part in the challenge, please consider visiting some of these other blogs written by fellow fans of the short story.

Now for my week 1 entry:

“Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser

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Story #1 of my fourth annual “Deal Me In” Short Story Reading Project (see here for details on the project). This week I drew the Jack of Spades, which I had assigned to this short story – first published in The November 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker – from Steven Milhauser. I first discovered Milhauser via his excellent short story, “Phantoms,” which was part of my project last year. I own “Miracle Polish” as part of The Best American Short Stories 2012 anthology. As of this writing, it can be read for free online here

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“Miracle Polish” is the story of an unnamed narrator who, against his better judgment, allows a traveling salesman admittance to his house. The salesman sells bottles of a mirror cleanser called “Miracle Polish.” Milhauser’s skills and attention to detail are on display in the opening of the story, especially in his descriptions of the salesman. How carrying his heavy suitcase has “pulled him a little to the side, so that one of his jacket cuffs was higher than the other…” Pitying the salesman, he resolves to buy a bottle. The stranger seemed “surprised, even suspicious, when I said I’d take one, as if he wandered the earth for years with the same case filled to bursting with unsold bottles.”

Though the narrator is by all accounts a fully rational man (“I wasn’t the kind of man who looked at himself in mirrors. I was the kind of man who spent as little time as possible in front of mirrors, the kind of man who had a brisk and practical relation to his reflection.”) he notices something strange when he first uses the polish to clean a smudge on a mirror. Realizing that now the REST of the mirror looks dull, he cleans the whole thing. That’s when the fun begins.

Something “magical” happens to the reflection of the narrator. His “new” reflection is clearly him, yet a different him, full of potential and promise. A “man who believed in things.” He begins to become obsessed with mirrors, buying one after another and treating them with the miracle polish. His relationship with his girlfriend, whose image is also enhanced by the miracle polish-treated mirrors, is affected. Concerned with his seeming obsession, she even goes so far as to say “You know, sometimes I think you like me better there (pointing to a mirror) than here (pointing to herself)”

Predictably, things cannot go on this way,and the story reaches a disturbing(?) climax. At least I thought it did. Others may feel differently. I also got the feeling while reading that the story would be easily adapted into a script for the old Twilight Zone series.

In the “Contributor’s Notes” section of my book, Milhauser himself says of this story: “I was seized by the desire to write a mirror story, but that was as far as things went. Every possibility seemed boring or frivolous. I turned my attention to something else. One day it came to me: the mirror shouldn’t be a gateway to a fantastic world, but should behave very quietly. This thought, or instinct, propelled me to this story.” Nice.

What about you? Have you read anything by Steven Milhauser? What do you think of him? What short stories have YOU read lately.

For another great “mirror story” try Haruki Murakami’s “The Mirror,” which I wrote briefly about in 2012

Would you like to join the “Deal Me In 2014″ short story reading challenge? “Late-joining” is allowed! :-) See the challenge home page

Some other bloggers’ thoughts that I found on this story:

http://sloopie72.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/bass-2012-steven-millhauser-miracle-polish-from-the-new-yorker-111411/

http://perpetualfolly.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-yorker-miracle-polish-by-steven.html

http://www.ann-graham.com/2013/02/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish.html

http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2011/11/11/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish/

(below: Will NOT cause supernatural results)

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(Below: MAY cause supernatural results)

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9 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    January 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Jay, I have to say that the two Milhauser stories I have read about this week makes me think I need to check him out. His thinking that a mirror “should behave very quietly” is great! Thanks for putting this post together and thanks in advance for doing it each week! And another thanks to Mannamoi for the logo!
    -Dale

    • Jay said,

      January 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Dale. Milhauser’s a recent discovery for me (last year) but I’ve heard many rave about him, apparently with justification! Have you read Murakami’s “The Mirror?” Totally different story – other than both featuring mirrors – but also very interesting.
      -Jay

      • Dale said,

        January 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

        I haven’t read Murakami’s The Mirror but something about Murakami and mirrors makes it sound like it could be really good.
        -Dale

  2. January 6, 2014 at 2:46 am

    I’ve never read any Steven Milhauser, but his name keeps cropping up. I’m adding him to my TBR list.

    • Jay said,

      January 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      He’s definitely one of the better “new to me” authors that I’ve discovered lately. :-)

  3. January 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Sounds like an interesting story! I will have to check it out. :)

    • Jay said,

      January 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      I was glad to see it was available on line. (linked above) Hope you enjoy it.

  4. Candiss said,

    January 9, 2014 at 3:25 am

    I finally had time to review my first story. Here’s my link: http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/deal-me-in-challenge-story-1/

    The Milhauser story sounds interesting! I have him on my list, too, but with a different story.

    • Jay said,

      January 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for the link! I think several of the DMI participants have at least one Milhauser story on their roster, and one of us has several stories from one of his collections.


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