Deal Me In – Week 30 Wrap Up

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Below are this week’s links to new posts since the last wrap up and a couple “extras.” 🙂

On the good news front, the New Yorker has recently opened part of their short story archive for free reading for a limited time. For more info, see the following link http://www.newyorker.com/books/double-take/summer-archive This is an exciting source of FREE stories.

I also found the following, which may be of interest to some short story readers, what with the news headlines of the day: http://arablit.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/the-book-of-gaza-short-stories-from-four-decades/

Among this weeks posts, we welcome the “return” of The Returning Reader, who shares some thoughts on Laila Lalami’s “Homecoming” at http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/short-story-25-homecoming-laila-lalami/

Dale reads Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/henryk-sienkiewicz-the-lighthouse-keeper-of-aspinwall/

Randall posts about Anne Battie’s “Solid Wood” at http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/solid-wood-by-ann-beattie.html

Katherine draws Steven Millhauser’s “Rain” from her bag of tricks, which also includes a video link featuring the seven of diamonds: http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/deal-me-in-week-30-rain/

Deal Me In has its fourth “twin” of the year as I become the second participant to read Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet.” Just scroll down or click https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/anton-chekhovs-the-bet/

I think that’s everybody. If I missed anyone, leave a link in the comments. Until next week, happy reading!

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Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet”

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In the nearly four years that I’ve been doing my one short story per week reading project, a handful of authors have emerged who can always be counted on to deliver the goods. I would count Anton Chekhov (above) among these select few, so I was happy to see that, when I drew the three of clubs, I had assigned it to his famous story, “The Bet.” (My roster of stories may be found here ) I also found it amusing that, after blogging last week about the concept of “Chekhov’s Gun,” the author immediately presented himself as my next “luck of the draw” selection.

During a party at the house of a banker, in a drawing room conversation, a debate arises regarding capital punishment. One argues that it is immoral and has no place in a Christian Nation, the host disagrees, however, saying “…in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly, life-imprisonment kills by degree. Who is the more humane executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the life out of you incessantly for years?”

A brash young lawyer in attendance argues that life-imprisonment is by far more preferable, saying “Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the second. It’s better to live somehow than not to live at all.”

Much debate takes place, and an outrageous bet is the fallout. The banker puts up “two millions” against the young lawyer’s boast that he could stay willingly imprisoned for fifteen years. Terms and rules are set and the clock begins ticking on November 14, 1870…

The story is so short, I’ll leave it for you to read yourself if interested. It may be found online at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Bet.shtml

The premise for this story may seem familiar to some readers. If so, it might be because of a “classic” episode of the TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling shifts the location and changes some of the characters, the purpose for the bet, and many of the details, but it’s still an effective treatment and does, I believe, capture the “spirit” of Chekhov’s story. It’s actually available on YouTube. Here’s a link to part 1:

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Dale at Mirror with Clouds has also posted about this story as part of Deal Me In 2014, making it the fourth “twin” our group has spawned this year. His post may be found here

Deal Me In – Week 29 Wrap Up

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An exciting week for me in my role as Deal Me In host, as a couple more bloggers have raised the Deal Me In banner! Please take a moment if you can to check out the following two blogs and welcome them to the “Wonderful World of Deal Me In” 🙂

New Deal Me In-ers:

Randall at Time Enough at Last has launched his “Deal Me In Litehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/deal-me-in-lite-introduction.html

Deal Me In hits Tasmania! Check out this post by Pam at Travelin’ Penguin: http://travellinpenguin.blogspot.com/2014/07/sunday-market-and-short-stories.html

As an “extra” this week, I also discovered an old song via Pandora that “deals” with a subject familiar to Deal Me In participants. Perhaps a little on the “too spiritual” side (for relative heathens like me), it’s still a fun listen. Tex Ritter, I believe, recorded the original, but here’s Hank’s take:

Hank Williams version of Deck of Cards: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gib-V-FQAT0

On to this week’s posts:

Susan reviewed a couple stories, Jimmy Buffett’s “Take Another Road” and “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” on Goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/849506616?book_show_action=true&page=1

Katherine read “Every Mystery Unexplained” by Lisa Mason and introduces us to “The Blue Room Illusion” with a video http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/deal-me-in-week-29-every-mystery-unexplained/

Randall (new Deal Me In’er – see link above for his roster) posted about his first three stories:
Ray Bradbury’s “All on a Summer’s Nighthttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/all-on-summers-night-by-ray-bradbury.html
John Barth’s “Toga Partyhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/toga-party-by-john-barth.html
And Edward Everett Hale’s “My Double and How He Undid Mehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/my-double-and-how-he-undid-me-by-edward.html
And – just like that – he’s all caught up in his Deal Me In “Lite” (six-month) variation of the challenge!

I read another Alice Munro story “Axishttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/chekhovs-gun-thoughts-on-axis-a-short-story-by-alice-munro/

Dale “laughed and cried” when he read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/flannery-oconnor-everything-that-rises-must-converge/

That’s it for this week! Happy reading!

Chekhov’s Gun – thoughts on “Axis,” a short story by Alice Munro

Is everyone familiar with the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun?” If not, here’s a brief summary about it from Wikipedia:

Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that requires every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed.

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” -Chekhov

Below: An armed Chekhov in a picture from uncyclopedia.com (looks pretty photoshopped to me… 🙂 )

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This may be especially true of short stories, where – due to limited space – details are precious and must have relevance. Experienced readers begin to develop a skill of spotting Chekhov’s gun. Even I sometimes notice one hanging on the wall in a story – and sometimes more than one. This happened to me in reading Alice Munro’s great story “Axis.”

This was my second Munro story in two weeks for my Deal Me In short story reading challenge. Perhaps the hand of fate noticed I wasn’t that taken with the other story of hers that I read (“Menesetung”) and pointed me to this one right away so I might form a better impression of Munro. If so, mission accomplished! Originally published in the New Yorker magazine, I own the story as part of my “The Best American Short Stories 2012” anthology. It’s the story of two college friends, Avie and Grace, and how their lives didn’t quite turn out as expected.

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The bulk of the story takes place “fifty years ago” and Avie and Grace are students at “the university.” Each is pursuing a field of study, but in reality their unspoken purpose is to find their future husbands… The girls have two men in their lives, Avie has Hugo, and Grace has Royce, a former soldier.

The first of Chekhov’s guns came in the form of a dream that Avie had:

“In the dream, she was married to a Hugo, who really was hanging around as if he hoped to marry her, and she had a baby, who cried day and night. It howled, in fact, till she thought she would go crazy. At last she picked up this baby … and took her down to some dark basement room and shut her in there, where the thick walls ensured that she wouldn’t be heard. Then she went away and forgot about her. And it turned out that she had another girl baby anyway, one who was easy and delightful and grew up without any problems.

But one day this grown daughter spoke to her mother about her sister hidden in the basement. It turned out that she had known about her all along – the poor warped and discard one had told her everything – and there was nothing to be done now. ‘Nothing to be done,’ this lovely, kind girl said. The abandoned daughter knew no way of life but the one she had and, anyway, she did not cry anymore; she was used to it.”

When she tells Grace about the dream, her friend’s reaction is predictable. She thinks it’s an awful dream and asks Avie if she hates children. “Not unreasonably,” Avie said. That’s an interesting answer, isn’t it? Anyway, the shadow of this dream (which is related near the start of the tale) hung over the story in my mind as I was reading, and unlike the other Chekhov’s Gun in the story, it is never explicitly resolved. I did finish reading with some pretty strong ideas about its relevance, though.

The other gun of Chekhov’s was more traditional. Early in the story, Royce is traveling by bus to see Grace at her family’s farm in the country. Unlike Avie, Grace is rather straight-laced and hasn’t allowed too much “familiarity” with Royce yet. On the trip, he is harboring hopes of “getting Grace alone” at some point during the visit (I should mention that Grace hopes this too). Along the way, though, the bus passes Avie’s home town and from the bus window, Royce espies Grace’s friend:

“She was standing on the sidewalk of the Main Street, talking to somebody. She was full of animation, whipping her hair back when the wind blew it in her face… She looked carefree, and in immensely good spirits – prettier, more vivid, than he ever remembered seeing her.”

In short, she was everything Grace was not (at least to this point in their relationship). Royce considers hopping off the bus and pursuing Avie on a whim, but common sense prevails and he continues on his journey. Of course, I immediately thought, “These two are getting together,” and began “waiting out” the story until this would happen. As I approached the end of the story, though, I began to get concerned. “There’s only three pages left! Where’s Avie?!”, etc. Well ***Spoiler Alert*** they do meet up again, but in a more poignant and bittersweet way than I would have imagined.

This story first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 2011

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I really enjoyed the story, and also speculating about the meaning of the title, “Axis,” a word which means something that is revolved around. Is the Axis Royce’s visit to the family farm and its result? Is the Axis Royce’s change in career choice after seeing (and noticing for the first time) the “Niagara Escarpment” – a rock formation – which leads him to become a geologist. Is the Axis Avie’s horrible dream, which cryptically might explain everything (or maybe nothing) about the friends? This will not be my last reading of Alice Munro, that much is certain.

What about you? What short stories have you read recently, and who are some of your favorite short story authors?

(Below: part of the “Niagara Escarpment”)

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Oops! Sorry. Wrong Chekhov!

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Deal Me In – Week 28 Wrap Up

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Below are links to new Deal Me In posts since out last update. Five new stories for your perusal…

I would prefer not to give too much away, but Dale read a great story – Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/herman-melville-bartleby/

James read Haruki Murakami and John Hersey this week, comparing their two stories “Firefly” and “A Game of Anagrams,” respectively. Will he find a connection? And which will he like best? Find out at http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/07/09/haruki-murakami-vs-john-hersey-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/

Katherine drew a wild card and decided to go with Leonid Andreyev’s story, “Lazarus,” making it the third(?) “twin” (two of us reading the same story) we’ve had this year. Find out what she thought of it at http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/deal-me-in-week-28-lazarus/ Will we be blessed with any “triplets” before the year is over? I guess remaining wildcards still at large do make at a possibility…

I read Vladimir Nabokov’s “That in Aleppo Once…” Trivia points go to anyone who knows from what Shakespeare play Vlad lifted that title. Or how to pronounce Vlad’s last name… 🙂 https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/that-in-aleppo-once-by-vladimir-nabokov/

That’s it for now. See you next week!

“That in Aleppo Once…” By Vladimir Nabokov

Week 28 – Deal Me In Short Story Challenge

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Driving home from work one day last week, I tuned into NPR and was listening to news from Syria and how the Syrian rebels were about to lose the city of Aleppo (can you find it in the map above?) back to the forces of President Assad. It was no surprise, then, when I drew my latest card for my Deal Me In challenge, it was the nine of spades, which I had assigned last December to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous short story, “That in Aleppo Once,” making this the umpteenth coincidence wrought by my Deal Me In reading the past three and a half years.

This was another difficult story for me, with its strange narrator relating the tale of his and, ostensibly, his wife’s flight from the advancing Germans in war-torn Western Europe. It is presented in the form of a letter to a friend, and explains in detail the chaos that war has wrought in his life and in his mind.

By the end of the story, the reader (well, this reader for certain) is unsure how much of the story is real and how much the narrator has imagined. The narrator himself, in fact, seems to waver back and forth between thinking himself rational and delusional. There are lines like, “It was at that moment that I suddenly knew for certain that she (his wife) had never existed at all.”

He also struggles with his wife’s suspected infidelities (again, real or imagined?, and how are we to know if we’re not sure this wife has even existed?!), and it could be argued that the story could be about jealousy and infidelity (thus the reference to Othello in the story’s title and to Pushkin – also infamous for being jealous of a young wife – within the story), but I doubt that is it. The theme that it left with me was one of pitiable individuals who are caught up in great forces that are far beyond their control, and what a wreck such forces can bring about to one’s psyche – or sanity. One passage that supports this take: “I confess that one evening, after a particularly abominable day, I sank down on a stone bench weeping and cursing a mock world where millions of lives were being juggled by the clammy hands of consuls and commissaires.”

I own this story as part of my “Best American Short Stories of the Century” (edited by John Updike), but I also found the text of the story on line at: http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~mazalek/projects/aleppo/nabokov.html it was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in November 1943 (pictured below)

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This story’s title is a quotation from act five scene two of Shakespeare’s Othello, the same scene that includes the oft-quoted “one who loved not wisely but too well” lines. ****Spoiler Alert!**** “That in Aleppo Once…” was said just by Othello just before he kills himself. Near the end of Nabokov’s story, the narrator speculates that “all this may end in Aleppo” if he is not careful, making many wonder if he does, in fact, end up taking his life after having written the letter. I don’t know…

This week’s trivia tidbit. Nabokov is one of the most often mispronounced author names. Most stress the “Na” syllable, when – according to Nabokov himself – it’s actually the “Bo” that should be stressed. See http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/d453/Vladimir_Nabokov for one online explanation.

Have you read Nabokov? I read the (in)famous novel, “Lolita,” for a book club years ago and also his chess-themed novel, “The Defense” (of which there is an odd film version tiled “Luzhin’s Defense” starring John Turturro). I read another famous short story of his (“Signs and Symbols”) for another discussion group once as well. And that story has made a DMI appearance this year too.

(Below: a tortured Othello, self-recriminating)

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Deal Me In – Week 27 Wrap Up

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Another slow week for DMI activity, but stalwarts Dale and Katherine both contributed a post, and your humble host managed one as well. :-). Below are the links.

Dale read a July 4th story (randomly drawn!) – Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Little Indians.” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/ernest-hemingway-ten-indians/

Katherine read Steven Millhauser’s “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad” and also shared her thoughts on last week’s survey. It’s all here http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/deal-me-in-week-27-the-eighth-voyage-of-sinbad/

For my part, Nobel Prizewinner Alice Munro (it’s her birthday this week!) made her DMI debut (from my roster anyway) as I read her story “Menesetung.” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/meneseteung-by-alice-munro/

That’s it for this week. Oh, and if you haven’t taken the Deal Me In “survey” from last week, feel free to do so at your convenience. 🙂

“Meneseteung” by Alice Munro

This week I drew the ace of hearts for my Deal Me In project . This led me to the Alice Munro short story, “Menesetung.” I own it as part of the massive volume “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.”

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On a personal note, this volume remains, to date, the only “material compensation” I have ever received for writing this blog, as one of my readers – who also happens to be a fellow participant in a local Great Books Foundation reading group I often attend – made a gift of it to me over a year and a half ago. I think I’ve read about sixteen of the stories so far, blogging about most of them. Thanks again, Richard! 🙂

This story was first published in the New Yorker in 1988…

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…and was later included in a collection of Munro’s stories titled “Friend of My Youth.”

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Munro is something of a rare bird among writers, choosing to specialize in short stories as her primary form. To date, I’ve only read a few of her stories, from the one collection of hers that I own, “Too Much Happiness.”

“Menesetung” is basically the story of Almeda Joynt Roth, a late 19th century poet of Ontario, Canada (Not coincidentally the region where Munro is from). Each chapter is introduced by a few lines of her poems. I must say I found the structure of this story a little tedious, as points of view and points in time jumped around quite a bit. There were also times when a fictional local paper, the Vidette, is quoted as a way to introduce new topics or passages. Though I struggled with the format, there was some indisputably amazing writing in the story, especially when Munro describes life in the province where she grew up. For example:

“From her window she can see the sun rising, the swamp mist filling with light, the bulky, nearest trees floating against that mist and the trees behind turning transparent. Swamp oaks, soft maples, tamarack, butternut.”

This passage reminded me a little of one of my favorite passages in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I read a couple years ago.

There was also a great passage about the sort of “Victorian stuffiness” of Roth’s time – when it came to the interaction of the sexes. She is rather sweet on a neighbor gentleman, but must wait on him to “make the first move” thus we have the following:

“She does not invite him to come in – a woman living alone could never do such a thing. As soon as a man and woman of almost any age are alone together within four walls, it is assumed that anything may happen. Spontaneous combustion, instant fornication, an attack of passion. Brute instinct, triumph of the senses. What possibilities men and women must see in each other to infer such dangers. Or, believing in the dangers, how often they must think about the possibilities.”

Isn’t that great?

Overall, though, the story wasn’t one of my favorites this year. Perhaps, like many, it just requires a deeper dive on the readers part. Sadly, this week I lacked the time and energy to read this one over again. Maybe someday.

The odd title of the story refers to the name of a river in the region of Ontario where the story takes place. It is speculated it may have a deeper meaning, but I won’t go into that. Oh, and this week’s “coincidence” is that Munro’s birthday is just a few days after this posting, July 10th. So, happy early 83rd to Alice Munro! 🙂

Two other Deal Me In participants this year have read Munro, both choosing her short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” but what about you? Have you read any Alice Munro? What do you think of her, and what recommendations do you have for further reading?

(Below: Alice Munro)

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