“The Queer Client” by Charles Dickens – and some other thoughts on revenge…

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My 43rd story of my annual “Deal Me In” short story project was the eight of spades, representing “The Queer Client” by Charles Dickens. I own this story in my anthology “Great Short Stories of the World” which I purchased at Half Price Books specifically to provide fodder for my project. 🙂

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It’s a rather straightforward tale of revenge, and was originally published within Dickens’ serialized The Pickwick Papers as “The Old Man’s Tale About the Queer Client.” The queer client is a newly rich man, Heyling, who suffered greatly from poverty when younger, losing his wife and son who literally die from poverty and hunger while he is in debtor’s prison, a victim of a ruthless, unforgiving old man. Providentially, Heyling unexpectedly comes into some money and begins to plot his revenge.

He surveils the old man and, during a day at the beach, in a chilling scene, Heyling reveals his identity and refuses to come to the aid of the old man’s drowning son.

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As if that weren’t revenge enough, later, he orchestrates the financial ruin of the old man who, rather than face the music (legally) for his bankruptcy, flees and goes into hiding. Heyling hires an attorney (thus becoming the titular “queer client”) to track the old man down so that he may exact additional vengeance.

I’ve read other, better works centering on the theme of revenge ( <ahem> “The Mysterious Mansion“) but this one got me thinking about incidents of revenge in literature and art. I was even reminded of the great lyric from Phil Collins’s 1980 release “In the Air Tonight.”

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“Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend
But I don’t know if you know who I am…”

Then, coincidentally, someone posted this link on social media where Mandy Patinkin muses about his favorite line in The Princess Bride (not the one you might think, but one that deals with the revenge theme)

Then there’s the all-time #1 villain in the Star Trek franchise, Khan, whose lust for revenge powers “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan” (guess the title kind of gives that away too). He also speaks the memorable line about a “Klingon Proverb” that “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold,” adding that, “It is very cold… in space.”

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But what about revenge in literature? What are some of the best examples? There are many classics, but what are your favorites? (This would be a good topic for “The Broke and The Bookish’s” weekly Top Ten Tuesday meme if the haven’t explored it already.) Let’s see who can come up with the best literary tale of revenge…

(below: MY favorite scene from The Princess Bride is different)

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“Before Adam” by Jack London

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Has this happened to you? You’ve settled into bed and have just fallen – or are just about to fall – asleep, but then you suddenly shake yourself fully awake after having the sense you are about to fall. What’s that all about, anyway? Well, it’s a common phenomenon known as a “hypnagogic myoclonic twitch” or “hypnic jerk” for short. While the cause is not completely known, it has to do with the brain misinterpreting “relaxation signals” from the muscles and being tricked into thinking you are falling down. It then takes the appropriate measures to prevent a fall. Many think this is an ancient reflex from when evolutionary ancestors slept in trees to avoid the many predators below.

Whatever the cause, author Jack London uses the latter idea brilliantly to explain the phenomenon that the narrator of his unique novella, “Before Adam,” is experiencing. You see, the narrator, since childhood, has spent night after night dreaming of a time long ago, recalling an earlier life of an ancient hominid progenitor. He believes this phenomenon is a freakish amplification of the type of “racial memory” (like the sensation of falling) everyone experiences, and that he is seeing a kind of replay of an actual life lived long ago.

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(my guess is that Big Tooth would fall somewhere between the third & fourth of this line-up) 🙂

All of this is explained in the first couple chapters, and the remainder of the novella is a narrative of the adventures of this ancestor, known as “Big-Tooth,” who begins his life living in the treetops of a primeval forest with his “species” and flees when the abuse of a step-parent (to apply the modern terminology) becomes more than he can endure. He next lives with “the horde” – a clan of cave people who spend time dodging saber-toothed tigers and also the clan leader, a oversized brute called “Red-Eye.” Other dangers include a new “race” of hominids called the “Fire-People” who have alone tamed fire and have even invented a rudimentary bow and arrow. They hunt the people of the horde, to whom a bow is a shocking development.

I found it remarkable that London’s imagination could run so far with this concept, especially in an age when the science of the day knew relatively little of the early ancestors of man. Perhaps, though, this is also why this is a novella rather than a longer work. London ran as far as he could with it. In an age where it is becoming harder and harder to find anything new under the sun to read, I found this work of just over one hundred years ago a refreshing change of pace.

Have you read “Before Adam?” What did you think about it? Is there other “prehistoric genre” literature that you can recall or recommend?

(Other cinematic interpretations of early and proto-humans: Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Raquel Welch as Luana being brought home to “meet the family” by Tumak in One Million Years B.C.)

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The Shadows on the Wall by Mary Wilkins Freeman

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I like to read ghost stories in October. I’m sure I’m not alone in this predilection. I also like to read Paula Cappa’s weekly blog (linked in my blogroll) post titled “Tuesday’s Tale of Terror.” A lot of my ad hoc reading includes stories of a dark nature, but if none of my current reading fits that bill, I can always count on a quick fix from TToT. Paula is also good about including links to the stories if they are in the public domain – and also to other interesting and related material.

So this week, after discovering author Mary Wilkins Freeman via this blog, I followed one of the links to a different story, the ghostly tale “The Shadows on the Wall.”

(Below: Edward’s siblings look uncomprehendingly upon the shadow on the wall)

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I remember being fascinated with shadows early in my childhood, probably further than my average memory reaches. I remember having a terrible fright once playing outside the house after dark – maybe it was hide and seek – and running between our house and the neighbors’ to hide. I recall that the street lights soon cast a shadow of a man on the wall of the neighbors’ house. It looked like someone with arms outstretched to the side at right angles (kind of the pose of the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro.) Mistaking this shadow as one of my brothers or friends’ in some triumphant “Aha! There you are!” victory stance, I walked to the front yard to find… NO ONE there. I think I was done playing for that night.

There are some other shadowy encounters in my life experience, but I won’t bore you with them here. Suffice it to say, a respect for the “power” of shadows helped me appreciate this story by Mary Wilkins Freeman.

The story (which may be read for free on line at http://www.litgothic.com/Texts/shadows.html ) deals with the Glynn family, specifically with the death of Edward Glynn and his surviving siblings, Henry, Rebecca, Caroline, and Emma. The latter is the only married sister and she has returned home and learns some troubling details about the death of her brother a couple days earlier. It seems that Edward and Henry had a spirited argument the night Edward died. Rebecca had overheard/eavesdropped the argument and related that when Henry shouted that Edward “had no business” living at the family estate, Edward replied that “he would stay here as long as he lived, and afterward too.”

The sisters are fearful to know the extent of Henry’s complicity in Edward’s death, and, to the surprise of Emma, seem afraid to light the lamp in the large front room when night falls. When she insists upon it, we meet for the first time a strange shadow on the wall… The rest of the story deals with how the siblings cope with this supernatural presence. It ended a little too predictably for me but was still a good ghost story.

Have you heard of this author before? What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

(Below: Rio de Janiero’s “Christ the Redeemer” overlooking the beautiful Guanabara Bay)

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THE END(er’s Game movie release) IS NEAR!

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How often have you been aware of a famous book for years but only got around to reading it when you heard the movie version was coming out and you wanted to read it before you saw it? I’m often guilty of this and my most recent case in point is the classic sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game, written in 1985 by Orson Scott Card. The early trailers for the movie looked spectacular and I thought, “I’d better read that.” I did, and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The film also includes Harrison Ford in its cast, which I find to be … perfectly acceptable. 🙂

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Most have heard the basic premise of the story, but to quickly sum it up: Earth has survived previous alien attacks and is anticipating another. Somehow, their best plan is to train children from a very young age to be the future warriors in this impending conflict. Especially very gifted children, and Ender Wiggin certainly fits that description. Ender is also a rare “third” – a child born after a family has already had the maximum number of children allowed by law. His older brother and sister are also gifted, but have not passed muster as potential officers in the anticipated war. They turn their attention to equally fascinating terrestrial political ambitions, however.

Ender himself, along with other gifted children, undergoes rigorous and often brutal training administered by a hero of the former wars with the insect-like aliens. Spending countless hours in a battle simulator, Ender amasses an impressive record, defeating all scenarios thrown his way, while at the same time managing the leadership of the rest of his child “army.” Finally, with a real attack eminent, Ender faces one final, seemingly impossible test of his readiness to command. Is he ready? Will he succeed? Read or watch and find out.

Have you read the novel? Do you plan to see the movie (coming out in North America on 11/1)?

Wanna see a trailer?
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vP0cUBi4hwE&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DvP0cUBi4hwE

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“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

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(Above: Kate Chopin)
Though I’ve been meaning to for years, it was only this week that I finally got around to reading this perfectly titled classic novel. I found it to be, though not a “happy” novel, both brilliant and beautifully written. The Awakening is the story of Edna Pontellier, the Kentucky-born wife of a New Orleans businessman “on the rise” named Leonce Pontellier. It takes place spanning the course of a summer through early winter in New Orleans and the “rich people’s retreat” of Grand Isle (see the bottom center of the map below).

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In her late twenties, Edna is coming to the realization that the future life that stretches before her will be an unhappy, or at least unfulfilling, one. She is merely filling a role that society expects of her and is losing her own independent existence. Enter the charming Robert Lebrun, who is one of many catalysts for Edna’s “awakening.” Other catalysts come together in chapter 10 of the novel, which consists of 5-6 pages of the best writing I’ve encountered this year. The other catalysts? Edna, who has all her life struggled to learn to swim, finally “gets it” and is able to swim out further from shore than she has ever dared to venture:

“That night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realises its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly, and with over-confidence.”

Another catalyst is Edna’s having listened to a piano performance earlier in the day by Mademoiselle Reisz:

“I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing moved me tonight, I wonder if any night on earth will ever again be like this one. It is like a night in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings. There must be spirits abroad tonight.”

The theme of spirits or other strange forces being “abroad” recurs several times during the novel. In this case, young Robert describes her fate by making up (I assume he makes it up) a strange legend about the 28th of August, the date of her swim and, ostensibly, her awakening:

“On the twenty-eighth of August, at the hour of midnight, and if the moon is shining – the moon must be shining – a spirit that has haunted these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf. With its own penetrating vision the spirit seeks someone mortal worthy to hold him company, worthy of being exalted for a few hours into realms of the semi-celestials. His search has always hitherto been fruitless, and he has sunk back, dishearted, into the sea. But tonight he found Mrs. Pontellier. Perhaps he will never wholly release her from the spell. Perhaps she will never again suffer a poor, unworthy earthling to walk in the shadow of her divine presence.”

Now, young Robert is just unwittingly being his usual, charming self, and doesn’t realize that something very like what he has playfully described really HAS happened to Edna that day and night, and the rest of the novel unfolds as she works out the consequences of being “awakened.”

I learned after reading that Chopin’s work was censored and suppressed by her contemporaries, and that it was only in the 1960’s that she resurfaced and became celebrated as a pioneer of feminist fiction. One might think that a reader like myself, a middle-aged man, might not have much to gain by reading works like “The Awakening.” Not so. For my part, the story of a soul’s (ANY soul’s) struggle to free itself from artificial confinement and become what it may is worthy reading for any person – man or woman, young or old, rich or poor.

Have you read Chopin? What did you think of her? I’d previously only read her short story, A Shameful Affair a few years ago (part of a former book club’s “short story month” and, truth be told, picked by a member only because of it’s brevity and the seeming promise of salaciousness in the title). I own The Awakening as part of a volume that contains other stories of hers. I’ve already read one (“Wiser than a God”) which I also thought was very good.

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Read-a-thon post #5 (final)

Well, I’m never doing that again! Well, maybe I will, it was an entertaining – if draining – challenge. I cheated a bit at the end this morning, as I was only ten pages from the end of my last book when time expired, but I kept reading out of momentum and finished seventeen minutes late. (I figure I had a 30 minute cushion in the bank from my unplanned interruption yesterday, though, so that’s my rationalization).

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New reading since my last post included finishing The Right Kind of Wrong, reading Saul Bellow’s short story “Looking for Mr. Green,” and finishing the pre-read-a-thon-started non fiction book, “No Plot, no Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days” by Chris Baty (Hey, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, you know) 🙂

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My final unofficial “stats” are as follows:

Four books completed
Okay, so two I had started before the read-a-thon and joined in medias res, and one of those two was only fifty pages from the end, but so what? And the other two were quite short. One was 173 pages and the other was more of a novella at only 75 pages.

Five short stories read
I thought I might end up reading “just a bunch of short stories” during this event but I’m glad I kept them to a respectable number.

Total pages read:
Probably about 455. That doesn’t sound like that many, but I’m a slow reader (a condition I curse almost daily), usually in the neighborhood of 30-45 pages an hour.

Total time spent reading:
I was diligent about keeping exact track of this until about 6 p.m. but kind of got distracted later. My best estimate would be about 11 1/2 hours. I only slept about 5 1/2 hours. The great mystery is: what did I do during all the rest of the twenty-four hours?? I can come up with an explanation of about 3.5 of them, but that still leaves 3.5. Did I fall asleep during the day? Did I do the math wrong in my early counting? Next time – if there is a next time – I’ll just have to keep an old fashioned log book or something.

Well, that’s it for me. I look forward to posting in more detail about some of this burst of reading in the near future. Thanks to all the read-a-thon cheerleaders and others who visited Bibliophilopolis during this event. I hope you enjoyed your visit and come back in the future.

-Jay

Read-a-thon post #4

Checking in at about 6:15 EST. I’ve so far spent a total of 6 hours and 44 minutes reading today. What have I read since my last update? Well, I tried the first two stories in my new ghost story anthology (pictured previously in post #1) and I hope they are not representative of the rest of the collection as I wasn’t very impressed with them. They were “Across the Moors” by William Fryer Harvey and “Attorney for the Damned” by Renier Wyers. I’m sure I’ll return to this anthology in the future but it won’t be today. 🙂

After that disappointment, I turned to a go-to anthology of mine, “The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange tales.” I had much better luck there, as Dennis Etchison’s story “It Only Comes Out at Night” was much better and much more chilling. I still have a lot of stories still unread in this HUGE anthology, which I’m sure will serve me well for years to come. It is also the source of the story “The Howling Man” which I also read today. Here is a YouTube link to the tv adaptation of that story from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. A classic! http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-k4WJGtGnBw&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D-k4WJGtGnBw

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I’ve spent the rest of my time since my last update reading Jade Eby’s “The Right Kind of Wrong.” Okay, yeah, its kind of a “girl book,” and I’m a middle aged guy, but knock it off with the teasing. Jade is one of the first bloggers I connected with almost four years ago when I first started blogging. She and I coincidentally bought or read Alex Flynn’s novel “Beastly” at about the same time and we’ve been “blogging friends” ever since. And here it is a few years later and she has a book of her own out. I am nothing if not loyal, so of course I had to read it. AND I have to admit I’m enjoying it. You gotta problem with that? 🙂 Seriously, I’ll give it a full review once this read-a-thon madness is over with. God I hope that’s soon as my eyes are getting tired. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it and should be able to finish it up here this evening. It’s not that long.

(Below: yes, I’m really reading a book with a cover like this – hey, at least its only on my e-reader!)

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How’s your read-a-thon going?

P.S. The tv has yet to be turned on today. 😀

Read-a-thon Post #3

OK, another update.  I read another 1 hr, 55 minutes and in that one sitting was able to complete Kevin Helmick’s “Driving Alone: A Love Story.”  Hopefully I can post in detail about it at a later date, but must get back to reading soon.  It was pretty good, though my e-copy had several typos slip through, which I found disappointing. Think I’ll try a couple ghost stories next.  I am taking an “excused absence” from my tentative family obligation today, so that gives me a little more time to read. 🙂

At my reading interlude at Panera this morning, I ran into a couple friends (they spotted my car in the parking lot after grocery shopping and popped in to distract me from reading for about 30 minutes – curses! :))  I told them I would tell the blogging world of their transgression, but they reasoned that that would just make them famous.  They are former members of my now disbanded book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, though, so I guess if anyone had to interrupt me, I’m glad it was a couple fellow readers.

How’s everyone else progressing?

Read-a-thon post #2

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A quick update. 10 a.m. – I’ve read a total of 1 hour and 56 minutes thus far, and I was able to finish Jack London’s unique novel, Before Adam. I won’t post about it in depth at this time, but maybe later. For my short story reading project, I drew the five of spades, which I had assigned to the Charles Beaumont short story, “The Howling Man,” which I have just completed. (You may be familiar with this story from the Twilight Zone episode of the same title.) What’s next? I think I may get started on Kevin Helmick’s “noir novel” Driving Alone: A Love Story.

How’s your read-a-thon coming along?

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Read-a-thon post #1

Read-a-thon Eve: Plans(?) and schedule(?)

Okay, I’m starting this thing at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Maybe even earlier, as I may listen to an audio book during my morning walk. I started Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth this week on my Free Audiobooks app on my iPhone.

Then, after cleaning up, it’s off to my routine coffee at Panera bread (I hope “my spot” is free). I can get a couple hours of reading in there in the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. range, at the end of which I hope to post an update on my blog. I may “have to” stop by Mom’s for a visit after that, as I missed last weekend and am trying to be a good son. I usually call first, so maybe when I explain the read-a-thon – and that I’m off Monday and maybe could visit then – I can be excused to get more reading done in the late a.m. If not, I’ll resume after lunch.

I’ll try another session until about 2 p.m. and post a brief update. Then back at it again until 4 p.m. Then, maybe a quick update and assessment of where I am, how many pages I’ve read, etc. (If the number is big, I’ll reward myself with a visit to BW3’s for some dinner and a few games of Buzztime trivia, an unhealthy addiction of mine…)

If not, I’ll just keep going and read as much as I can from 4:30 until evening, with a few updates, and a few visits to other participants’ blogs to see how they’re doing. I’m a rookie at this, so I don’t know if my plans fit the read-a-thon “rules” or not?

BUT… what will I be reading you ask? I have a few plans there as well. First, I want to finish the short Jack London novel, “Before Adam.” I made it to about the halfway point tonight (to ensure I could finish something tomorrow) and probably have a little mor Ethan an hour to go. Then, Saturday morning is my traditional short story random drawing. I have twelve stories to go this year (1 per week) in my annual project so would have been reading this even without the read-a-thon.

(below: “What’s left, Ray?” “3 nines, 2 eights, one queen 3 sixes…”  etc. I have just twelve stories to go in my Project: Deal Me In annual short story reading project)

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I also want to read the novella, Driving Alone: A Love Story by Kevin Lynn Helmick, which I’ve heard good things about. I also want to read Saul Bellow’s short story, Looking for Mr. Green, which is “due” for a Tuesday night meeting of my Great Books Foundation discussion group next week.

After that, I have a lot of options. Some hard copy books are pictured below, including a new ghost story anthology, which is certainly seasonally appropriate. I also have several books in my nook library that I may read or start (also pictured below).

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I don’t want to do any books that are re-reads, but if I get fatigued from reading, I thought I might try to revisit a favorite short story or two as a “break.” Well, that’s about it as far as my plans go. Maybe more seat of the pants than most participants, but I’ll plead my rookie status again. What are your plans? Have you done the read-a-thon before? How many times? Do you recommend any of the reading options I’ve pictured in particular? I’m willing to be guided… 🙂

(below: a few books on my Nook account that I may include in the read-a-thon)

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