Six down, Forty-six to go…

Each Saturday morning this year, I draw a card from my short story deck to randomly see which of my 52 planned stories I will read next. When I’m good I read the story the same day, but I often fall behind. I was good this week, though. 🙂

I am also enjoying how the hand of fate often seems to pick a story that is somehow appropriate for me at the moment. This morning, for instance, I woke up in a pretty good mood. There’s nothing better to “bring you down” than a Flannery O’Connor story, though, and now my mood is back to a more normal middle of the curve…

“The Geranium” was O’Connor’s first published short story and was one of the six that she submitted for her masters thesis in the creative arts. It’s also part of the collection, “Everything that Rises Must Converge.”

***Spolier Alert***

It’s a depressing story of an older man (“Old Dudley”) who has left his home in the South to live out “his declining years” in New York with his daughter. Moving was a rather spontaneous decision that he now regrets, and made partially just because when he was a boy he had seen New York in a picture show, “Big Town Rhythm.” We don’t get the impression that his daughter much cares for him other than taking care of him is “doing her duty.” Dudley had never imagined how alien a place The Big City would be to him and longs for his carefree days fishing on the river back home and using his daily catch to supplement the fare at the boarding house where he was living before the move.

The city is also a place he doesn’t fully understand. He got lost once on a simple errand to get groceries down the street. The “underground train” (subway) is a mystery to him, and it seems they always “just have time to make it” whenever they must catch one. He is shocked when he learns that seeing a black man in the hallway of his daughter’s building doesn’t mean that one of the other tenants has “got ’em a nigger” but rather the man is possibly going to rent the apartment next door.

One small joy that helps keep him going in this strange environment is looking across the gap between his daughter’s apartment building and the next and seeing a potted pink geranium. The neighbors, who he doesn’t know, put out the geranium every day about ten and take it in at five-thirty.

As you might guess with an O’Connor story, though, his one lifeline to happiness comes crashing down by the end of the story, and what lies behind where the geranium would sit is a rude, nameless neighbor who threatens Dudley about looking into his apartment, warning him that, “I only tell people once.” What Becomes of Dudley after this we can only guess, but the reader must know that there is now a finality to his “big city unhappiness.”

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6 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    February 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    While I haven’t planned it out nearly as well as you have, Jay, I seem to be developing a pattern of reading a short story on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings. Or sometimes both depending on how “short” they are. I’ve been trying to read stories that fit into my reading project, so for right now, Jack London and Rudyard Kipling or stories that are already on my shelf have been my choices. I end up looking forward to it each week.

    I finished the Sea Wolf and thoroughly enjoyed it! I’ve moved on to “Caleb’s Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a fictionalized account of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in 16??. She won the Pulitzer a few years ago with her novel, “March” – a novel about the dad of the “Little Women” in Lousia May Alcott’s novel. I haven’t read it, yet. She also wrote a novel called “The People of the Book” that seemed kind of DaVinci Code-esque. I think it was somewhat popular a number of years ago. Didn’t read it, either.

    I’ve realized that my reading project is somewhat lacking in female authors, so I am trying to remedy that when I read something outside of my project. I also have several novels by female authors on my shelf that are unread. I think I’ll read some of those also.

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  2. Jay said,

    February 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Dale,
    I was reading “In a Far Country” last night before I went to bed, but didn’t make it to the end before falling asleep (what weird dreams I had, though!). Yesterday, I downloaded Jack London’s Complete Works to my Nook (for 99 cents – how AWESOME is that?) and I think maybe my March author biography project selection will be one on him (I’m only 225/700 pages done with my Kerouac biography for February though; I need to step it up!). I read your post on The Sea Wolf. It was excellent. You might check out “Eclectic Indulgence” in my blog roll, he was on a London kick recently and wrote a lengthy post about The Sea Wolf, with lots of great quotations.

    I’m not familiar with Geraldine Brooks. “Caleb’s Crossing” sounds interesting though. It would be a good follow up to my reading of “Sign Talker” in Jan-Feb too.

    I try to keep track of Male vs Female authors, but don’t usually make it a point to keep it balanced (with the exception of making one of my “suits” in 2012’s Project: Deal Me In! all short stories by women authors)
    -Jay

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  3. Melody said,

    February 13, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    “There’s nothing better to “bring you down” than a Flannery O’Connor story” Isn’t that the truth? I’m 4 stories away from finishing the complete collection, but it’s taken me years to get through them. I start feeling like they’re all ganging up on me if I read them too close together! I am looking forward to reading the last one, though, (Judgement Day), since it’s supposed to be a reworking of The Geranium.

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    • Jay said,

      February 28, 2012 at 8:13 am

      Hi Melody,
      Yes, O’Connor is perhaps best administered in small doses. 🙂 I went to a discussion group fovused on her “A good man is hard to find and other stories” at a local library last year, and I remember some of them commenting how surprised they were by the ending of the title story (which was first in the book). I joked that they wouldn’t have been so surprised if it had been placed at the end, after the new readers were more familiar with her M.O.
      -Jay

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  4. Alex said,

    February 14, 2012 at 6:59 am

    I love Southern Lit (I’m even joining a SL Challenge this year) and O’Connor’s name keeps popping up, but somehow, I never got around to reading her.

    Where’s a good place to start?

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    • Jay said,

      February 28, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Hi Alex,
      I’d recommend, despite the unsavory title, her short story “The Artificial Nigger.” it was my favorite among the stories in “A Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories.”
      -Jay

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