Deal Me In – Week 8 Wrap Up


I hope everyone has enjoyed reading a short story or two this week. Below are links to new posts since last Sunday’s update. If you are participating in the Deal Me In challenge but not necessarily posting about your stories, feel free to tell us what you’ve read in the comments to this post.

Dale read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Ethan Brand”:

The Returning Reader drew her Three of Hearts and tantalizes us with a short review of Donald Barthelme’s “The School”

Then, in an amazing coincidence, Candiss at Read the Gamut drew her King of Spades leading her also to… Donald Barthelme’s “The School”  What are the odds?  (I think 1 in 2,704? – that would be before either card was drawn; once one is drawn, then there is a 1 in 52 chance that it would be matched I guess – I was never good at understanding how odds are calculated, as Marilyn vos Savant’s column in Parade Magazine used to frequently remind me…)

Katherine at The Writerly Reader shares her thoughts on “The Conversion of Tegujai Batir” by Jack Kirby

Here’s one I missed a couple weeks back: Susan at Avid Series Reader commented on a couple stories she’s read for DMI2014 via Shelfari: Padgett Powell’s Wayne in Love and Chance by Edith Pearlman – the latter story featuring a poker game (quite appropriate for this challenge, eh?)

I read Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House” Bloch is the author of “Pyscho” of the 1959 Hitchcock movie fame.

Well, these were the posts that had been published as of my creating this wrap-up.  Feel free to link to any other posts in the comments.  Happy reading and see you next week!


Mirror, mirror, on the Wall… Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House”


Deal Me in 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge – week 8

This week, I drew the four of spades, which led me to a ghost story, Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House,” published in 1951. (My complete roster of 2014 stories for this challenge may be viewed at ) I own this one as part of the anthology, “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.” Bloch is probably best known for writing the novel “Pyscho” in 1959. Maybe you’ve seen the movie.

(Below: Robert Bloch)


Anyway, the luck of the draw this week led me to a story which turned out to eerily complement the first story I read of DMI2014, Steven Milhauser’s “Miracle Polish.” Both involve mirrors. While Milhauser’s story has a protagonist who becomes obsessed with mirrors and his reflection in them, Bloch’s story features a house once occupied by a woman, now long dead, who shared the same affliction. Mirrors are her pathway of choice to haunt the living and perhaps influence them to “do things.”

The young couple who moves into this house is unaware of its history, but both soon (individually) notice that they’re not alone. Both hesitate to tell the other anything for fear of seeming silly, but things begin to come to a boil when the husband finds an old, locked closet full of mirrors in the attic and later when they host a party for other couples in the neighborhood, which provides their spectral roommate more people to play with. I enjoyed the story, but it was far from being the best I’ve read in the genre. I wasn’t able to find the story available anywhere online, I’m afraid. If you’re interested in reading it, I’d recommend “The Weird” anthology mentioned above – well worth purchasing for all the other great stories it contains.


Have you read any of Robert Bloch’s works? What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

“Follow Your Leader” – Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”


I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional mystery genre. I have certainly read some books that were good mysteries, but the exercise of reading with the intent of determining “whodunit” doesn’t appeal to me as the best way to spend my reading time. This bias of mine does not apply, however, to a certain class of novel that is something akin to a mystery. I’m speaking of novels in which the reader is from the start cast into unknown circumstances and must be patient as things are slowly revealed to him. Herman Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno” is such a novel – or I guess technically a novella, as it checks in at only about 75 pages.


I first read Benito Cereno back in 1992, together in a volume along with several other of Melville’s shorter works. The other two I still remember are “The Encantadas” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” (the latter of which I’ve posted about previously). I remember way back then being confused by Benito Cereno, and when I recently re-read it I could easily see why. It’s a mystery of sorts, not so much of a whodunit as a “whodunwhat.”

Based on “actual events” in the early 1800’s, Melville’s story was published in serial form in 1855, and it should be read with the historical context of that time in mind. A time when the struggle between anti- and pro-slavery forces was nearing the fever pitch that culminated in the U.S. Civil War. The story is of an American sea captain, Amasa Delano, at a remote port in southern Chile. While there, a nearly derelict Spanish vessel, the San Dominick is spotted, erratically making its way into the harbor. Delano takes a small boat out to encounter it, possibly to offer assistance, and there meets its captain, the eponymous Benito Cereno.

On board, Delano is met by a rag-tag crew featuring both Spaniards and African slaves. All are nearly starving and beg for supplies. Clearly something is not quite right in this unusual social amalgam. Delano, however, struggles to grasp what might be amiss. An extremely frustrating character, many things are obvious to the reader long before they are to Delano, who continues to take Cereno and his black servant, Babo, at their word when, to most, suspicion and a skeptical reaction would seem to be the order of the day. There is undoubtedly some great writing along the way in the book, as the truth is slowly revealed, and Melville also deftly handles a great, climactic scene that kept this reader on the edge of his seat.

I feel, however, that, since I’ve labeled this work a mystery of sorts, I shouldn’t reveal the details of the true story of the San Dominick. I will reveal the source of the “Follow Your Leader” quote from the title of this post, though. When Delano first boards the ship, he notices that the figurehead on the ship’s prow is covered with canvas and only the ship’s inscription “follow your leader” is visible. Check the illustration above to see what lay hidden under the canvas…

Have you read Benito Cereno, or other shorter works by Melville? What did you think of them?

Benito Cereno may be read for free online at

It is also one of many available audiobooks free via the “Free Audio Books” app for the iPhone/iPad.

(Below:  from Wikipedia)


Deal Me In Week 7 Wrap-Up


Greetings all! A great week of reading for me here, figuratively snowed in and not motivated too much to go out so it’s option B – stay home and read! Below are links to everyone’s stories that I found since our update last Sunday. Make sure to pop over to your fellow DMI participants’ blogs and see what they’ve shared with us this week.

Dale at Mirror With Clouds ( ) reads his 2nd Edith Wharton story in a row, “The House of the Dead Hand”

Two weeks, two Edith Wharton (below) stories for Dale.  That’s one per dog. 🙂


Returning Reader ( )drew the ace of hearts and read Liam O’Flaherty’s “The Sniper

Katherine at The Writerly Reader ( ) is taken away to Montana in Eric van Lustbader’s “The Singing Tree.” (Her post includes a great clip of a Penn & Teller “magic trick” too)

We also have a couple stories from Candiss at Read the Gamut (  –  Haruki Murakami’s “Samsa in Love” and Sherman Alexie’s “Saint Junior”

Hanne of Reading on Cloud 9 brings us her four of clubs, Lorrie Moore’s “Referential” – another story from the pages of The New Yorker.

For my part, I drew the Queen of Diamonds which led me to Glen Hirshberg’s creepy ghost story, “The Two Sams.”

And as a DMI ’extra’ I read Donald Hall’s short story “Argument and Persuasion” for a local discussion group. It presents an interesting question that I’ve shared with my readers. If you have time and would like to play along, it’s at

Happy reading & see you next week!

“The Two Sams” by Glen Hirshberg


Deal Me In 2014 – Short Story Reading Challenge week 7

This week I drew the queen of diamonds for my Deal Me In 2014 challenge (details here). This year, Diamonds are my designated suit for “stories recommended by others,” and one thing I’m discovering is that I don’t always do a good job documenting where I heard about a story. Poking around my records for this one, I think I heard about it via Nina’s excellent blog “Multo (Ghost)” which also led me to the great story anthology, “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories,” which is also represented on my Deal Me In 2014 list.


“The Two Sams” is the title story in the author’s volume of short stories subtitled “ghost stories.” That works for me. 🙂 I own it in e-book format and will certainly be reading the others at some point.
It is one of those stories that reveals details only slowly, which sometimes annoys me and sometimes works for me – probably depending on my mood as much as anything – am I willing to do a little extra work in reading a story or not? In this case I was.

It begins with a husband waking in the middle of the night and not realizing what has awakened him. An earthquake? The noise from a garbage truck? His wife’s unborn baby moving (as her belly is pressed against him)? Or something else that is more sinister?

The reader later learns that the couple lost their first two babies, so naturally there is much anxiety about how this third pregnancy will turn out. We also slowly learn that the husband suspects that the spirits of the two children have come back to greet the third child. Creepy, eh? Well, trust me, it gets even creepier by the end. More so than I liked, but that’s the story this author chose to tell.

There’s also a great, chill-inducing scene in the story where the husband relates an incident – this one during the second pregnancy – when he is starting to sing to the unborn child in his wife’s womb (his song of choice? “You Are My Sunshine”) and “realizes” there is another presence in the room with them. He panics, but his wife reassures him “It’s just Sam. You and me and Sam.” The couple had decided to name their first child Sam and stuck with the name for the second pregnancy, but abandoned it after it also ended in loss (thus the title of the story). The husband goes on to relate that:

“Not until long after Lizzie had fallen asleep, just as I was finally dropping off, did it occur to me that she could have been more right than she knew. Maybe it was just us, and Sam. The FIRST Sam – the one we’d lost – returning to greet his successor with us.”

Overall a pretty good story, even if not exactly to my tastes. Have you read or heard of this author? He has also published a novel, “The Snowman’s Children” and recently another collection of short stories, titled “The Janus Tree.” You may check out the author’s website at

I don’t think this story is available online anywhere, but here is a link to the collection on Amazon (only 2.99 for the kindle version)

What short story(s) did you read this week?

“Argument and Persuasion” by Donald Hall – Who would YOU pick?


Tuesday of this week I went to the monthly meeting of a local Great Books Foundation discussion group. I’ve been going off and on, but fairly regularly, for a couple years now. If you didn’t know, the Great Books Foundation is an outfit in Chicago whose mission is to “help people think and share ideas.” Their website is here if you’re interested in learning more about them. (This is not a personal endorsement of the organization, I’m just sharing the info 🙂 ) They publish anthologies of significant works or selections from the same. The group I’ve been participating in has been working its way through the Foundation’s “Short Story Omnibus” (how appropriate for me, huh?) for quite awhile now. The stories have been great and the discussions enriching. This month we read Donald Hall’s story “Argument and Persuasion.” I own the story as part of his story collection, Willow Temple.


The story has a unique construction, beginning with little more than an outline of a tragic story of a woman’s death. Knowing nothing about this story going in, I remember thinking, ’this is a weird way to choose to write a short story.’ Soon the reader learns that this is a story within a story, though, and the real story is about an English Professor who teaches composition and he’s telling his class the story outline as part of an exercise in writing “argument and persuasion.”

I thought it might be fun to just share with you the story outline and pose the same question to you that he poses to his class, after which I’ll wait a few days before sharing more about the short story in the comments, okay? Here goes:

“A husband and wife named Raoul and Marie lived in a house beside a river next to a forest. One afternoon Raoul told Marie that he had to travel to Paris overnight on business. As soon as he left, Marie paid the Ferryman one franc to row her across the river to the house of her lover Pierre. Marie and Pierre made love all night. Just before dawn, Marie dressed to go home, to be sure that she arrived before Raoul returned. When she reached the Ferryman, she discovered that she had neglected to bring a second franc for her return journey. She asked the Ferryman to trust her; she would pay him back. He refused: A rule is a rule, he said.

If she walked north by the river she could cross it on a bridge, but between the bridge and her house a Murderer lived in the forest and killed anybody who entered. So Marie returned to Pierre’s house to wake him and borrow a franc. She found the door locked; she banged on it; she shouted as loud as she could; she threw pebbles against Pierre’s bedroom windows. Pierre awoke hearing her but he was tired and did not want to get out of bed. “Women!” he thought. “Once you give in, they take advantage of you…” Pierre went back to sleep.

Marie returned to the Ferryman: She would give him ten francs by midmorning. He refused to break the rules of his job; they told him cash only; he did what they told him… Marie returned to Pierre, with the same lack of result, as the sun started to rise.

Desperate, she ran north along the riverbank, crossed the bridge and entered the Murderer’s forest…”

SO… The professor’s question is: ”Which of the characters in this story is morally most responsible for Marie’s death?”

What do you think? Please leave a comment and let me know. (The professor tells his classes that there is no right or wrong answer and that this is merely a writing exercise.) Go! 🙂

The professor also notes that the story is supposedly an anecdote that writer Albert Camus (pictured below, from Wikipedia) liked to tell, asking people, “Who is to blame?”


Deal Me in Week 6 Wrap-Up


Below are links to new posts since last week’s wrap-up. Please take a moment to visit – or even better – leave a comment for this week’s posts. Wo knows, you may find a new favorite story or author among them. And … it’s never too late to join the Deal Me In Challenge, either. 🙂

James tackles John Hersey and Henry James. Will he find a connection between “The Wedding Dress” and “John Delavoy“?



Meet murderer Hubert Granice as Dale posts about Edith Wharton’s “The Bolted Door.”

Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 read Alice Adams’ “The Last Lovely City”

For my part, I was blown away by “The Things” by Peter Watts.

Katherine at The Writerly Reader read Katherine Dunn’s story “Allies

Katherine Dunn is also author of the novel “Geek Love.” (THAT’s where you’ve heard that name before) 🙂


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

“The Things” by Peter Watts


Deal Me In 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge – story #6

This story was recommended to me by Taryn, the astute author of the blog, Book Wanderer. When she informed me it was a version of the classic sci-fi story, “The Thing,” told from the alien’s perspective, I knew it was going on my short story roster for DMI2014. (Also of note is that the movie, “The Thing” first came to life from a novella by John W. Campbell, “Who Goes There?” (This novella is available online at. ) )

(below: from the original motion picture – it starred James Arness(!) who lurched through some scenes in costume in the title role)


Ever wonder why, in most of the science fiction shows we watch or books we read, that the aliens are often humanoids? Okay, well maybe with something funny going on with their ears, nose or forehead (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Star Trek), but still they’re all roughly human. Far more likely, as I’ve heard many scientists say, is that extraterrestrial life, if any exists, would be WILDLY different from our own forms here on earth.

The author of this story is thus taking on a mighty challenge. We’ve all heard the oft-repeated advice to prospective authors of “Write what you know,” but this is impossible here. No earthbound writer has ever KNOWN how a creature like The Thing would think or act. Watts does an admirable job of imagining how it does, however, right from the opening paragraphs:

“I was so much more, before the crash. I was an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary. I spread across the cosmos, met countless worlds, took communion: the fit reshaped the unfit and the whole universe bootstrapped upwards in joyful, infinitesimal increments. I was a soldier, at war with entropy itself. I was the very hand by which Creation perfects itself.”

The Thing can “hijack” the bodies of other living things, as he often does in this story. Injured in a crash of his spaceship though, he is at first so depleted that he cannot exert much control, only hitching a ride.

“But I was only riding a searchlight. I saw what it illuminated but I couldn’t point it in any direction of my own choosing. I could eavesdrop, but I could only eavesdrop; never interrogate.”

The Thing was also confused by dreams:

“At first I only took control when the skins closed their eyes and their searchlights flickered disconcertingly across unreal imagery, patterns that flowed senselessly into one another like hyperactive biomass unable to settle on a single shape. (Dreams, one searchlight told me, and a little later, Nightmares.)”

I even began to feel some empathy for the thing. It (he?) had never encountered a planet with life like Earth’s before. His thoughts:

“Because here, tissues and organs are not temporary battlefield alliances; they are permanent, predestined. Macrostructures do not emerge when the benefits of cooperation exceed its costs, or dissolve when that balance shifts the other way; here, each cell has but one immutable function. There’s no plasticity, no way to adapt; every structure is frozen in place. This is not a single great world, but many small ones. Not parts of a greater thing; these are things. They are plural.”

I loved this story and appreciated the difficulty its subject matter presented AND the brilliant writing it took to surmount it. Now I want to go back and watch the movie versions of this story again!

(below: a dramatic scene from early in the original film. An unidentified flying object has crash landed in the arctic, leaving a trail of melted and re-frozen ice in its wake. The men spread out to find the borders of the object beneath the ice and find it’s circular – a “flying saucer!”)


At the time of this writing, the story may be read (or listened to) for free online at

(below: John Carpenter’s 1982 remake “The Thing” was also well-received)


(Below: one edition of the original novella)


Deal Me In 2014: Week 5 Wrap-Up


Hi All,

First I’d like to update you that we’ve had a few “late joiners,” and I’ll first link to their story rosters:

Susan at Avid Series Reader:

Kubi at The Exchange:

Hanna at The Exchange:

Please take a moment to pop over to their lists and see what they’ll be sharing with us in 2014. Like I’ve mentioned before, one of the advantages of this challenge is that it’s easy to catch up if you’re “behind” – just read a few short stories and you’re right back on schedule!

Now for new posts this week.

Dale @ Mirror With Clouds read the story “Haircut” by Ring Lardner

Candiss @ Read the Gamut shares her thoughts on “Extra” by Yiyun Li

Hanne @ Reading on Cloud 9 drew the six of diamonds for Laurie Baker’s “Mother of Hope”

Returning Reader drew a couple diamonds since our last update: “Ships in High Transit” by Banyavanga Wainaina and “Dancing to the Jazz Goblin and his Rhythm” by Brian Chikwava

Katherine at THe WriterlyReader picked our third Steven Milhauser story to make its appearance in the DMI2014 community: “Behind the Blue Curtain”

As for me (Jay) I read Julie Otsuka’s “Diem Perdidi” a very sad story, but worth reading.

Please take a moment to visit some of your fellow participants’ posts and leave a comment if you feel so inclined. Who knows you may discover a story or two you will also want to read. I always do…

“Diem Perdidi” – a story by Julie Otsuka


First published in Granta magazine, Julie Otsuka’s short story Diem Perdidi was the fifth story I drew from my “Deal Me In 2014 Challenge” deck.  I own it as part of the Best American Short Stories of 2012 anthology.

If you’re up on your Latin, you know that the title of the story translates to “Lost Day.” It’s a painful story to read, especially if you’ve experienced the tragedy of having known a loved one whose mental faculties have deteriorated, for that is what this story describes.  Briefly, it’s told effectively in the 2nd person voice, and with what becomes a natural “rhythm” – almost all the sentences begin with “She remembers…” or “She does not remember…” and this juxtaposition serves to amplify how heartbreaking the situation is.

Otsuka wrote the story based on personal experience and tells in the “Contributors’ Notes” section of the anthology that , for a while, she feared she would go on collecting notes for it “forever” until she “got the idea for the structure (She remembers, She does not remember) and found the right voice (using the second person narrative addressed to the “me” stand-in seemed vastly preferable to writing about myself in the first person), the story began to write itself and take on a life of its own.”

Below: author Julie Otsuka. Have you read any of her work?