“Worlds That Flourish” by Ben Okri – Selection 12 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Q♠ Queen of Spades

The Suit: For #dealMeIn2018, ♠♠Spades♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Ben Okri, a new-to-me author from Nigeria who, as his Wikipedia page tells us, is “one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions, and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.” In my brief research on him before writing this post, he definitely sounds like an author I will be reading more of in the future.

The Selection: “World’s that Flourish” – originally published as part of his collection Stars of the New Curfew. I own it as part of my copy of the excellent anthology, “The Weird,” edited by Jeff VanDerMeer.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Worlds That Flourish

“Then it dawned on me that something had happened to time. I seemed to be sitting in an empty space without history. The wind wasn’t cooling. And then suddenly all the lights went out. It was as if the spirit of the world had finally died. The black-out lasted a long time.”

This was a strange story. I have to say, though, that I almost immediately fell into step with the narrative voice of the protagonist. He remains unnamed, but somehow that feels appropriate for this story. He’s a man whose world is beginning to disintegrate. It starts when he, along with many other co-workers, is fired from his job. He goes home, and a neighbor tells him that he “walks around like a man who has no eyes” (“haven’t you noticed that most of the people in the compound are gone?”)

Later, he is robbed by men with machetes and a gun and though they are later caught, they somehow convince the police that the narrator is involved.

After a brief though brutal period of being jailed, he eventually decides to flee the city. “I got into my car and set out on a journey without a destination through the vast, uncultivated country.” On his way out of town he notices that a lot of the people he sees in the street have handwriting on their faces.

Things are just as phantasmagorical on his journey, car trouble, car crashes (or did he imagine that?) Until he finally reaches a place where people seem to be waiting for him…

(I found the above quote from the author online and really liked it so thought I’d share)

This story reminded me of some others that I’ve read, at least in the feeling that this surreal city and setting evoked in me. Premendra Mitra’s Telenapota and Chen Quifan’s Lijiang And Hagiwara Sakutaro’s “The Town of Cats” are a few examples. Such stories make me speculate as to how our senses manage to hold our perception of the world together, and – more importantly – how fragile that hold may be, and that it may not take that much to disrupt it.

(Above: Nigeria’s capital. For the trivia points, can you name it?)

Queen of spades image in the header found here:

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“Child’s Play” by William Trevor – Selection 11 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♥3♥ Three of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, ♥♥Hearts♥♥ is my Suit for stories by the Irish author William Trevor.

The Author: William Trevor has written several of my all-time favorite stories. He passed away in 2017, so there will be no more new stories from his pen, but he wrote so many that I still have a sizable inventory to explore.

The Selection: Child’s Play, from Selected Stories of William Trevor, of which I own a kindle version.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Child’s Play

“Gerald wanted to comfort her, as once his father had comforted his mother, saying he forgave her, saying they would try again. But their game wouldn’t stretch that far… Helplessness was their natural state.”

***Spoilers Follow****

Child’s Play is the heartbreaking story of Rebecca and Gerard, each an only child of one of a pair of couples who were neighbors. The neighboring couples’ marriages disintegrate in the wake of infidelities and jealously, to which Rebecca and Gerard are involuntary witnesses.

When the couples break up, the children each remain with the parent who still occupies the neighboring houses. Eventually those two parents marry each other making Gerard and Rebecca “brother and sister” who become as close perhaps as brothers and sisters by blood would be. Of them, Trevor offers that “They missed the past; resentment and deprivation drew them close.”

The children’s coping mechanism is a game they play in the attic – “their game of marriage and divorce,” their understanding of these institutions cobbled together from personal memories (which they often reenact) and “from information supplied by television.” (“…they watched a television serial in which the wronged ones made a kind of fuss that both Gerard and Rebecca had witnessed.”) What chance for happiness do these children have in such circumstances?

Even less than you think, since the story comes to an end as Rebecca’s birth mother decides to regain custody of her “a court of law would put the matter right, no doubt about that: a child goes to the mother of the mother’s fit and well.”

As with a few other sad stories of Trevor’s that I’ve read, I still “liked” it in spite of that, as Trevor’s writing is so nearly perfect.

What about you? Are there some sad stories you’ve read but liked anyway? I’d think, generally speaking, this phenomenon is somewhat rare as it seems such a difficult thing to pull off.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon!

Hi all!

I had originally planned to be traveling this weekend, but – guess what? – I canceled those plans and am now free to participate in this biannual readathon for the first time in a while. Woohoo! Find out more details about the readathon here.

What are my plans? For the most part, I’ll be reading John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down” and catching up on my woefully behind #DealMeIn2018 short story reading. I also have a couple other books going that I may hit – “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté and “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. I’ve also recently started a multi-year project of reading the Arabian Nights ALL THE WAY THROUGH (I’m giving myself “A Thousand and One” days to finish – ha ha) . Wish me luck on that one.

Turtles-All-the-Way-Down_Main-1

Since I don’t like ‘just sitting around the house,’ I’ll also plan on doing some reading “on the road” at coffee shops or maybe sitting at the bar for lunch or dinner, or maybe the Indiana State Library which is one of my favorite haunts for “public reading”

Are you “Dew”ing the readathon this time around? What are your reading plans? What are your favorite reading spaces when you’re “readathoning?”

No, Not Binge-Watching, Binge-READING

“Binge-watching” has become quite common in today’s world – both the compound verb and the act itself. I myself have enjoyed a few watching binges. But this past weekend, I maxresdefaultspent a lot of my time binge-reading. Yes, at first one wouldn’t think there could easily be such a thing, as books take so much longer to read than episodes of your favorite tv series. Well, the solution is obvious: short stories can be binge-read. (“…and we’re just the guys to do it!”)

Back in late January, I mapped out 24 short stories to read during the 24 in 48 readathon and, as often is the case, failed to complete my mission. I didn’t even blog about the stories I read then, only tweeting updates to the #24in48 hashtag. The remaining stories had been kind of rotting on my TBR vine ever since, but I didn’t want to forget them and this past weekend I resolved to just “knock out” the rest of them. The exercise felt similar, emotionally, to the more common form of tv show binge-watching. As usual when I read through a batch of stories, I discovered some real gems, and I’d like to tell you about a few of my favorites:

“Irises” by Elizabeth Genovise, found in the 2016 edition of “The O. Henry Prize Stories” anthology. Uniquely told by an unborn baby narrator (!!) it provided poignant insight into a love affair.  “I am not yet a daughter but rather a subtle shift in the taste and color of her world, unfurling at the edges of her consciousness as the autumn does just before it erupts into deep reds and yellows.” Why is the narrator’s mother “ready” to have an affair? She’s an artist, specifically a ballet dancer, and he is a well-intentioned but “unfeeling” brute. “He has never known immersion in an art, never taken the artist’s gamble, and so the sheer foreignness of my mother’s commitment to dancing baffles him.” This was truly a great story with some of my favorite writing that I’ve encountered lately. I recommend you pick up a copy and read it for yourself. You can find out more about this author at https://www.elizabethgenovisefiction.org/

“A List of Forty-Nine Lies” by Steven Fischer from the Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. A very effective format for a story about a “suicide-bomber-like” revolutionary of the future, in opposition to the ruling dystopian society called The New Dawn. A very short story, only forty-nine sentences long, and each one of them is a lie. If you weren’t aware of the title of the story, whether or not the sentences are lies, would not be immediately obvious, but by the end of the story, no knowledge of the title would be necessary. Bravo. The entire piece of flash fiction – at least the first draft – was written during a tedious lecture on medical statistics (the author is described as a fourth-year medical student in the story’s intro)

“Train to Harbin by Asako Serizawa, also from the 2016 edition of “The O. Henry Prize Stories” anthology. A hard-hitting story on a difficult subject – the World War II era war crimes of Japan in using Chinese prisoners for medical experiments. Told by one of the doctors/perpetrators who is, naturally, struggling with his role though he was – as the cliche goes – “only following orders.” A powerful story.

“You see, you must understand something: We had always meant to preserve lives. A few thousand enemies to save hundreds of thousands of our own? In that sense, I hardly think our logic was so remarkable or unique.”

“The Equationist” by J.D. Moyer, also from the Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Rare among short stories in that it follows almost the entire life of the protagonist who, as a precocious young math student, decides that people can be understood as equations. Some linear, some circular, some exponential. One he can’t figure out is his classmate crush, Emily Lessard – “A chaos function, maybe. I’m just learning about those.”

I also read four stories from W.W. Jacobs’ collection “The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales,” all of which were good, but none as extraordinary as the four I list above (and none were as good as the two I’d already read during #24in48 – “The Lost Ship and “The Castaway”). Additionally, I enjoyed three more stories from the Welcome to the Greenhouse anthology (stories featuring – you guessed it – climate change)

I enjoyed my weekend binge-reading so much, I plan to make it a regular habit whenever I have a weekend largely free of other responsibilities. Maybe once or twice a season? As usual, I will randomize my reading order and have stories from four different sources; I’m assigning each to a card in a euchre deck to fit my “Deal Me In” challenge methodology.  For this batch, I’m continuing on in several of the sources I started for the Readathon, while adding a new source, that being the short stories found in recent issues of The New Yorker, to which I am a digital subscriber.

What about YOU? Have you ever binge-read? Have you ever binge-watched? I’m much more interested in binge-reading, but I’d like to hear about either, frankly. 🙂

spring 2018 deck

The Boy With Fire in His Mouth by William Kelley Woolfitt – Selection 10 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Three♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♦Diamonds♦ to stories from the anthology “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet,” Edited by Clifford Garstang and published by Press 53. More details about this book may be found  at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O4GETQM/.

The Selection: The Boy With Fire in His Mouth – since this anthology includes stories from “all over the world,” when making my selections for Deal Me In 2018, I tried to pick ones from somewhere I didn’t know too much about. This one was set in Uganda, which I have only touched in my reading history via The Queen of Katwe, the story of the unlikely chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, later made into a feature film by Disney.

The Author:  William Kelley Woolfitt. According to the contributors section of the book, Woolfitt is currently a professor at Lee College in Tennessee. You may find a little more about him at his page on goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7834595.William_Kelley_Woolfitt

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Boy With Fire in His Mouth

“She said she had been given a treasure, the knowledge of how to let everything go.”

This is one of the shorter stories I’ve ever read for the Deal Me In Challenge over the years, checking in at just about a thousand words. We hit the ground running with our unnamed narrator receiving a call from his father that his mother had died (“in her sleep, unexpectedly but peacefully”) and thus he flies off to “the country of his birth,” Uganda.

His father reacts to his mother’s death almost as if he is happy to now be free to do whatever he wants: “…now he could eat, drink, and make merry.” The narrator laments that he hadn’t seen his mother again and thus “given her a final chance to tell me if there was anything I could do to make her happy, anything that was within my powers. Though she did’t believe she should be happy, or that I had any useful skills. She considered me a selfish middle-aged nobody, no wife, no child, no spine, no guts.”

Sadly, the narrator’s father dies too, only a week later, and largely from the excesses of his “newly unrestrained” lifestyle. Our narrator, perhaps is some mild form of shock, wanders Kampala, drinking waragi (a new word I learned this week), visiting the Kasubi Tombs and the marketplace – the latter where he sees the performer of the story’s title, “The Boy With Fire in His Mouth.” He also meets a woman with many children who he tries to help. She makes greeting cards and he goes through a mental inventory of all the things his mother would have done to help her. He thinks of the performer boy, whose lips he has seen to contain sores from his “art.” He wants to give the boy some petroleum jelly to help with the sores.

And that’s about all there is to it. In the contributor’s notes section of the book, the author talks about how Meredith Sue Willis advises writers to cut a third of the words from a first full draft because “trimming intensifies expression.” Woolfitt notes that his first draft of this story was about 2,300 words long, and included “more details about the narrators rakish father and austere mother.”  He concludes that that draft seemed like “a blabbermouth party guest, yammering for attention.”

His trimming of the story left me with more questions than answers. I can certainly understand that the death of just one parent would leave one reeling, and both- well that would seem to – at least – double the impact. I’m not sure what the narrator will “learn” or take away from this sad “homecoming,” but hopefully he will rise above the low expectations that his mother held where he was concerned. We don’t learn in the story where the narrator currently makes his home, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Below: The Kasubi Tombs in Kampala

kasubi tombs

Rose Wept by William Trevor – Selection 9 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card♠Ten♠ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Hearts♠ to the stories of William Trevor, a personal favorite author of mine who passed away in 2017.

The Selection: Rose Wept – from the collection “William Trevor: Selected Stories” which I own via an e-copy

The Author: William Trevor. A “KBE” (Knight of the British Empire), Trevor is widely acknowledged as one of the best contemporary writers of short stories. I was first introduced to him via the “Ana the Imp” blog (sadly, no longer active) whereafter I read through his great collection “After Rain.” The title story of that volume after rainremains one of my all time favorites. I blogged about it here. There are a couple other stories of his that I’ve blogged about before, Gilbert’s Mother and Lost Ground. “I’m very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people,” – William Trevor (as quoted by Publishers Weekly in 1983)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Rose Wept

“She wept for his silent suffering, for his having to accept a distressing invitation because of her mother’s innocent insistence… She wept for the brittle surface of her mother’s good-sort laughter and her father’s jolliness, and Jason’s (her older brother) settling into a niche. She wept for all her young life before her, and other glimpses and other betrayals.”

Rose Dakin is a marginal student, one on the cusp of being admitted to a good university. What do well-meaning parents do when their child is in that situation?  Well, if you’re the Dakins, you hire a tutor to ensure a successful move for your child up the next rung of the latter.

The occasion of the story is a dinner party to celebrate Rose having been admitted to university and, since the tutor, Mr. Bouverie, was instrumental in her success, he and his wife were invited. His wife “can’t make it” and therein is the introduction of the gist of the story, the whole of which takes place at the dinner, but, through flashbacks, we learn “The Rest of the Story” about Mr. (& Mrs.) Bouverie. Seems all this time – a year of Thursdays – whenever Rose would visit him, Mr. Bouverie’s wife would use the time to entertain a special male “guest,” a certain “Mr. Azam.”

When she realizes what is going on, Rose at first feels terrible for Mr. Bouverie, yet indelicately shares the knowledge with her gaggle of young friends. Later, to her increased horror, she realize that Mr. Bouverie is aware that this is going on. As one of her friends says “When a husband knows, he’s not so much a cuckold as complaisant.”

During the dinner Rose imagines what hell the life of Mr. Bouverie must be, and regrets not being there for him as some kind of confidant, but “had betrayed him” (by telling her friends) even before he offered any confidences.

A sad and bitter story which left me wondering how Rose would “do” at University – and indeed for the rest of her life. If I were a betting man, I’d say her parents “won’t be much help.”  It’s as if this one dinner laid bare all the pitiable features of her life – and Life with a capital L as well. I hope she makes it.

♫♫ Personal Note:  I did learn a new “word” while reading this story.  Do you know what a “Gooseberry Fool” is?  It’s an English Dessert made by “folding pureed stewed fruit (normally Gooseberries) in sweet custard”  (or whipped cream). According to Wikipedia, ROSE water may be added as a flavouring agent, so there’s my Deal Me In coincidence of the week.  P.S. Looks delicious!

What short stories did YOU read this week? Are you enjoying the “8th Annual” Deal Me In challenge?

Visiting Chairman Mao by Jocelyn Cullity – Selection 8 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Seven♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Diamonds to stories from the anthology, “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet.”

The Selection: “Visiting Chairman Mao” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. The author says the story “came to her” after teaching in China in the 1990’s.

The Author: Jocelyn Cullity, a native of Australia, she grew up in Canada and has spent time in other countries before now living in the United States. She had a novel published last fall, Amah and the Silk Winged Pigeons . Learn more about her at her website https://www.jocelyncullity.com

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

(below: old postcard of the throngs of people going to “visit Mao” in his mausoleum)

Visiting Chairman Mao

“‘So many followers, even after all that tragedy. Such respect. Astonishing.’ She spoke too loudly. Li labored with the purpose of her statements. ‘We have an official saying,’ Li said. ‘Chairman Mao was sixty percent right and forty percent wrong.”

The title of this story intrigued me, which is probably why it found its way onto my 2018 DMI list. I admit I was somewhat disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be reading a story with Mao as one of the characters, though. Visiting him, in this case, only meant going to view his embalmed body in his grand mausoleum.

The story describes a brief incident where an earnest young woman, Li, working as a tourist guide, takes her (also young) American charge, Claire, to view the legendary Chairman Mao. Both seem unassuming at first, though with Li, who  “…couldn’t get used to her informality,” continually worrying about Claire not knowing when to keep quiet and how to show proper respect.  “At the entrance to the second room, the viewing hall, a guard put up his hand and the line slowed. There would be positively no talking inside the chamber.”

It turns out Claire has other plans and ends up staging a scene of some kind and “shrieking something about democracy” Li becomes “collateral damage” in Claire’s haphazard protest and is forced to leave Beijing, but not before Claire, while being led away by the police, hands Li her bandanna as a gift. At the end of the story, back home, Li decides she will keep it close at hand:

“She would use it as she thought Claire should have used it – to wipe away the fog on her classroom windows when she wanted to really look at the world outside.”

Nice.

This was my eighth story read so far this year for #DealMeIn2018.  Are you also participating in the challenge?  What have been some of your favorite stories so far?

(Below: Mao wasn’t the only one cultivating a Cult of Personality: clockwise from upper left – Stalin, Koreans Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, Ho Chi Minh, and, well, the band who sang about it in the ’90s)

“In Paris” by Ivan Bunin – Selection #7 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♣King♣ of Clubs

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Clubs to stories from the anthology, “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.”

The Selection: “In Paris” – from “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.” In a prior year’s iteration of Deal Me In, I devoted Clubs to stories by Russian authors, and almost every one was a “home run” for me. Hoping to recapture that magic in 2018’s edition! 🙂

The Author: Ivan Bunin – the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was awarded to him in 1933 “for following through and developing with chastity and artfulness the traditions of Russian classic prose.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

In Paris

 “…from year to year, from day to day, in our heart of hearts there’s only one thing we wait for – a meeting that will bring happiness and love.”

‘Nikolai Platonych.’ Is a middle-aged Russian man in Paris. I’m not sure of the year in which the story is set, but I guessed it was sometime not long after the end of the second World War. We don’t know a lot about Nikolai other than “Many people knew that his wife had left him long ago, back in Constantinople, and that ever since then he had lived with a wound in his soul.”

Dining in a small Russian restaurant on one of the dark side streets near Passy, he is charmed by a waitress. She seems sophisticated beyond what her current employment would ordinarily suggest. He reasons that she must have some “ami” (a French “sugar daddy!”) who keeps her in such fine clothes, etc., and he finds himself jealous.

“How could she afford those good-quality, expensive shoes? There must be some well-to-do, middle-aged ami. It was a long time since he had felt as animated as he did this evening – thanks to her – and the thought of this ami was rather annoying.”

I liked that part about it having been a long time since he had felt so “animated.” It reminded me of how sometimes I will experience a feeling of (initially) unaccounted for happiness which, after I question myself “why am I in such a good mood today?” can usually, eventually be traced back to a personal encounter of some kind that elevated me. Why I have a “delayed” reaction, though, that’s for the psychiatrists to say.

Undaunted by his insecurity – and the fact that the waitress, Olga Alexandrovna, is married with an absent husband (working in Yugoslavia), the two make a “love connection” nonetheless.

I also enjoyed a quotation in French that the story shared:

“Rien n’est plus difficile que de reconnaitre un bon melon et une femme de bien.”

Or, “there’s nothing harder than picking out a good melon or a decent woman.” Ha ha ha. Anyway, it was a short if bittersweet story and I enjoyed the style of this author. I’d read him again.

Playing card coincidence/trivia: I’ve pointed out before that the four kings in a standard deck of cards are alleged to represent four actual historical ‘kings’, David, Alexander, Caesar, and Charlemagne, with Alexander being the King of Clubs, i.e., the card I drew this week. Our female character in this story’s patronymic is “Alexandrovna” which if I’m not mistaken means “daughter of Alexander.” How about that?

What short stories did YOU read this week?

“Rue Rachel” by David Ebenbach – Selection 6 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦4♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Diamonds to stories from the anthology, “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet.”

The Selection: “Rue Rachel” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. I know some French, so knew this meant “Rachel Street” but that’s about it.

The Author: David Ebenbach, born and raised in Philadelphia, currently teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. He says he wrote this story after a seeing a similar young woman on a train, “traveling to see a sketchy boyfriend.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Rue Rachel

“She looked over at Adrien’s face. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. She hated him. She was going to get on a train early in the morning and leave him here with all his problems and his friends. It didn’t matter to her whether he was in trouble or not. She could never marry a man like that.”

We’ve all been there. Been part of a random, impromptu human fellowship by way of either waiting in line at the BMV, at a Doctor’s office, or – as it happened in the genesis of this story – “trapped” on a train, or other form of public transportation. If you haven’t brought along your own e-reader or other preferred diversion, there is a danger you will get caught up speculating about these strangers you find yourself cast with. You know what you’re doing there but what are their stories? Author David Enenbach was travelling by train when he met a young woman…

“her strange stories and her slippery-life philosophy and her shoes and her dubious immediate future all stayed in my head.”

And so the story “Rue Rachel” was born. Told in third person, but from the young woman Rachel’s perspective. She’s heading to Montreal via train to visit her boyfriend because she is “worried about him.” After meeting him later, there appears to be good reason for this, but I found myself also worrying about Rachel herself, who seems angry with the world and for whom happiness does not seem a likely destination.

It’s not going to end well for this couple, that much is clear even if I didn’t already spoil it with my lead in quotation above. Her boyfriend Adrien does manage to do one sweet thing in the story, however, as he points out to her a street sign “Rue Rachel.”

“‘See that?’ he said. She did see that. It was kind of nice. Unexpected.”

Not my favorite story among this year’s selections so far, but one worth reading. I also noted the (likely intentional) double meaning of the word, rue. Sure, it means “street” in French, but in English it means regret or sorrow. Something the Rachel – or “Rue Rachel” of this story has her share of.

What about YOU? What did you read for #DealMeIn2018 this week?  Do you like it when authors share with you the “story behind the story” and tell you how they came to write them? I do. Stephen King, for one, often shares this with readers, and the anthology this story was from also includes a section with info about the authors and their comments about their stories.

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“…after all the blank whiteness of upstate New York, the lights of Montreal finally made their little show outside the window.”

Are you remembering to use the #DealMeIn2018 hashtag in any tweets about your post or others you’ve read? My sidebar includes a link to the hashtag on Twitter, which can serve as a kind of one-stop shopping if you’d like to see what the others are reading and writing about for Deal Me In. I’ve been trying to tweet links to the ones I see and encourage others to “support the cause” of their fellow Deal-Me-In-ers and do the same.

 

“Unseen – Unfeared” by Francis Stevens – Selection 5 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Ace♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Spades♠ to stories featuring horror, sci-fi or fantasy.

The Selection: “Unseen – Unfeared,” from the awesome, Jeff VanderMeer anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. I’ve been working my way through the 110stories in this anthology for years now. I’ll be sad when I’ve exhausted them.

The Author: Francis Stevens, the nom de plume of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, an early pioneer for women writers of fantasy and science fiction. I was intrigued when during my research I found that she wrote an early dystopian novel in 1919 called “The Heads of Cerberus.” I will definitely have to look for that one! Stevens is the second “New-to-me Author” that I’ve been introduced to already in Deal Me In this year.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Unseen – Unfeared

“Yet I tell you there are beings intangible to our physical sense, yet whose presence is felt by the spirit, and invisible to our eyes merely because those organs are not attuned to the light as reflected from their bodies.”“Everywhere I looked they were – centipedish things, with yard-long bodies, detestable, furry spiders that lurked in shadows, and sausage-shaped translucent horrors that moved – and floated through the air.“

Have you ever encountered something that was not easily explained by your intellect but, later, when some “plausible explanation” is found – even if only via quite a stretch – you clung to that explanation like grim death because to believe “something else” was more than you could bear? Yeah, me neither. 🙂 BUT, I think it is in our nature to do this as a kind of defense mechanism, which is just such a path that our narrator of this story chooses.

The narrator of the story has just finished dining with an “ever-interesting friend” who also happens to be a detective and thus sets the tone of the story as one of mystery. On his way home, through a neighborhood where the people are “mostly bareheaded, unkempt and generally unhygienic in appearance,” he realizes that “They were all humans, and I, too, was human. Some way I did not like the idea.” In other words, he’s in the perfect mood for a detour into … the Twilight Zone… Well, that’s what he would be if this were a television show in the late 50s or early 60s, but this is a short story of 1919!

With “a sense of evil in the air” he comes upon a drug store with an advertisement shouting “SEE THE GREAT UNSEEN! Come in! This Means You! FREE TO ALL!” He finds this irresistible, and with the mindset that the “there is only one way to deal with an imaginative temperament like mine – conquer its vagaries,” he knocks on the door…

If there are indeed such creatures as described in the lead-in quotation above, where might they come from? How might they be seen? The latter is achieved in this story by viewing them in a strange, green light, produced by looking through a “membrane” from South America(!) Where they come from however, is why we choose to leave them unseen and thus… “Unfeared” as the title suggests.

“Out of the ether – out of the omnipresent ether from whose intangible substance the mind of God made the planets, all living things, and man – man has made these! By his evil thoughts, his selfish panics, by his lusts and his interminable, never-ending hate he has made them, and they are everywhere!”

I almost “liked” (not the right word, but anyway) the disgusting feeling this story invoked regarding the faults of our species, and perhaps its impact on me was similar to that upon the narrator who actually beheld these creatures. I also had not heard of the author before, about whom the introduction to her story in my anthology says she was “the first major American female writer of fantasy and science fiction.” How had I not known about her before?! I think I will look for a copy of her novel “The Heads of Cerberus” and give her some attention she deserves.

♪♪ Personal notes: The author’s descriptions of the creatures in this story kept reminding me of a “toy” we had growing up (pictured below). “Creepy Crawlers” was a set of molds of various creepy crawling insects, arthropods, or arachnids, and using them – and different colored “liquid rubber” you could make your own playthings. How we never managed to burn the house down using the “thingmaker” and its heating element remains a mystery. Maybe other kids did, though, and that’s why they stopped selling them? I also like that there’s a little girl pictured on the box “enjoying” the results! This would never happen in my neighborhood!  I also remember my brothers and I had a box full of our “creations,” most of which would not have been out of place in this story…

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What about YOU? What did you read for Deal Me In this week? Are you old enough to remember “Creepy Crawlers?”

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