“Missing Athena” by Josh Green – Story 14 of Deal Me IN 2016

The Card: ♦4♦ Four of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2016, Diamonds is my suit for “contemporary Indiana authors”

The Selection: “Missing Athena” from the short story collection, “Dirtyville Rhapsodies” which I own an ecopy of and which I heard of via Melissa’s excellent blog, Avid Readers Musings. See her review of this collection here.  I picked this story because, as a Classics Minor back in my college days, I’m a sucker for any reference to the classical myths. 🙂

The Author: Now based in Atlanta, Josh Green spent enough time in Indiana to write for both the Indianapolis Monthly magzine and the Indianapolis Star newspaper. I first heard of him at a book club meeting at Bookmamas Bookstore, where author Robert Rebein – also a creative writing professor – mentioned him as one of his former students whose work I should check out. You can find him online at http://joshrgreen.com

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

Missing Athena

The Athena of this story is not the one we know from mythology. She is/was (a distinction of some importance in the story) the wife to one – and mother to the other – of the two characters in this story. We meet Hank Obelisk (love that name) and his son Joe while on a flight returning from Hank’s home town of Chicago to Atlanta, where he relocated to years ago after meeting and marrying the title character. He was a strapping young big-city fireman and she an upwardly mobile young professional. We learn of their life view a few flashbacks, after the dialog between Hank and Joe reveals that she is no longer with them, e.g. when flying over Georgia’s “black-green carpet of rolling hills and pines—down where his wife must be, somewhere.”

Frank’s relationship with Joe is the highlight of the story. Joe is a “precocious seven-year-old and only child, stores each word (of Frank’s) as undisputable fact.” Young Joe is a nervous flyer, though, and the early parts of the story detail Frank’s efforts to reassure him that “this landing” will be a good one, unlike the “last time,” which is the source of Joe’s anxiety. After the interplay between Frank and Joe, we learn via flashbacks of how Frank and Athena met and what may have become of her after her disappearance/abduction. Several times on the plane flight, father corrects son when the latter talks about Athena in the past tense. Frank hopes against hope that maybe she is still alive, been if deep down he knows she isn’t.

So at its core the story is a tragedy and maybe a chronicle of coping. The author compares Joe’s getting sick on the plane to the times he got sick shortly after His mom’s disappearance, when he got similarly ill. That nausea, though, “came from constant microwave pizzas, soda, and Twinkies—a clueless father’s specialty.” Toward the end of the story we are handed the following exchange.

“Look at that sunset,” Hank said one evening. “It’s like red sheets, ripped off the city and pulled out west.” Joe cocked his head, his eyes in philosophical squint. “I bet mom liked sunsets.” “ Likes ,” said Hank. “She likes them.

How sad.

I’ve come to enjoy the writing of Josh Green and suspect this won’t be the last of his stories that I share with the “citizens” of Bibliophilopolis.

Posts at Bibliophilopolis about other stories from Dirtville Rhapsodies:

Axis of Symmerty and The Delusional Mr. Necessary

Athena – the Goddess, that is – has graced my bookshelf for many years. Ever since Mom & Dad picked up the little statuette below on a trip to Greece about fifteen years ago.

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Booth Takington’s “A Reward of Merit” story #13 of 2016 Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♣A♣ Ace of clubs

The Suit: For 2016, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my suit for “legendary” Indiana authors”.

The Selection: “A Reward of Merit” contained in “The Collected Short Stories of Booth Tarkingon” which I own as a kindle version. I picked this story from that collection because I was intrigued by the title.

The Author: Booth Tarkington of Indianapolis – one of the standard bearers of the “Golden Age” of Indiana Literature.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

A Reward of Merit

When I hear the name of author Booth Tarkington, the first thing that comes to mind is his, uh, magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which I’ve read more than once, not to mention watching the Orson Welles film adaptation multiple times as well. That wasn’t the only Pulitzer Prize for fiction he won, though. He also won for Alice Adams in 1922, making him one of only three authors to win the award more than once. Can you name the other two? I’ll save that answer for the end of this post… 🙂

collected shorts tarkington

I would describe this story as a tale of youthful hijinks, escapades, or monkey business. It amusingly explores how distorted the view of the world can sometimes be for those who are too young to have “put all the pieces together” in their understanding of how life really works. It has almost a Tom Sawyer-ish feel, focusing on two idle young boys, Penrod and Sam, and the adventures they run into one rainy afternoon.

***Spoilers Follow*** (If you’d like to read this story first, it’s available online at http://cozycoffeehouse.blogspot.com/2007/04/booth-tarkington-reward-of-merit.html )
Pernod and Sam encounter a “stray” horse in the alley. It is basically old and has sort of been “discarded” by its former owner. The boys don’t know this, and with their youthful logic surmise that a lost horse must worthy of a great reward to its finders. They are sharp enough to discern that it is nearly starving and end up feeding it nearly half the provisions in Penrod’s house.

Eventually, the risks involved in their little enterprise begin to become apparent and, after being “found out” by the family’s cook, Della, they figure they are in big trouble for trying to hide the horse in a carriage house and also for “stealing” food for it. This leads to the humorous declaration by Penrod when the boys are contemplating how they might be able to escape the trouble they’ve found themselves in:

“I don’t know where you’re goin’, but I’m goin’ to walk straight out in the country till I come to a farm-house and say my name’s George and live there!”

But what actually happens at the end of the story? It turns out the adults in Penrod and Sam’s circle view their acts in a wholly different way. To them they are acts of kindness toward an unfortunate animal, and for that the boys are presented with a “Reward of Merit” the value of which far outweighs their fanciful imaginings of what a monetary reward might have been – yes, a happy ending. I enjoyed the story a lot, and it brought back some funny memories of some of my own childhood antics where I was as clueless as poor Penrod and Sam.

I wasn’t aware of it before writing this post, but “Rewards of Merit” were once a real thing commonly given to children by encouraging teachers or other adults. Many were fanciful cards with beautiful illustrations. One website I found with examples and explanations is http://www.merrycoz.org/merit/MERIT.xhtml – also where the images above and below are found.

In preparation for writing this post, I also read an old essay from The Atlantic about Tarkington. Though curiously mean-spirited and acerbic, I did find much of interest in it, including the observation that the Penrod stories were written in “the precisely defined period when the stable was empty but not yet rebuilt into a garage”

Also from the article in the Atlantic:

“To be caught with Tarkington in one’s hands is to be suspected of nostalgia, a willingness to endure the second-rate for the sake of some moonlight on the Wabash, which must still be flowing somewhere through the heartland. But if that’s what one is looking for, disappointment will soon set in with the realization that Tarkington was himself in the throes of nostalgia, setting most of his work two or three decades before he wrote it. He was, in fact, a kind of historical novelist, whose books can now be read only through a double glazing of time.”

As promised – the answer to the trivia questions above – Other multiple Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners: John Updike and William Faulkner. Please tell me you know which is which…

  
(Ace of Clubs image above found at https://www.spicherandco.com/home.php?cat=1217)

Have you read anything by Booth Tarkington? What other short stories have YOU read lately?

Jack Cady’s “Play Like I’m Sheriff” – Story #12 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

img_6930The card: ♦2♦ The two of diamonds.

The suit: For 2016’s Deal Me “IN”, ♦diamonds♦ represent more ‘modern’ Indiana authors (as opposed to my “legendary Indiana authors” clubs suit.

The story: “Play Like I’m Sheriff”found in “Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Stories” edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. It was published in 1968 and included in the 1969 edition of Best American Short Stories.

The author: Jack Cady. Cady is known for writing fantasy and horror, winning the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker Award.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

For Story 12 of Deal Me “IN” 2016, we turn the reins over to my blogging colleague Dale, whose excellent blog, “Mirror With Clouds” is definitely one you should follow.  Dale’s been a regular participant in the annual Deal Me In challenge almost since it started. If you’d like to see his Deal Me In roster for 2016, click here. I’ll also be returning the favor and guest posting on his blog sometime this year when his ♣2♣  comes up. 🙂 The rest of this post’s text comes from him:

I’m excited to celebrate Indiana in literature as a guest writer with Jay at Bibliophilopolis. One might be asking how a story from an anthology of Kentucky Short Stories could be included as Indiana literature. Cady grew up in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky so I think these states tend to share him or at least all three claim him. For more about this story’s Indiana relationship – keep reading…

“Play Like I’m Sheriff”

This story has a strong element of fantasy although it’s not the magical story of which one might think. Two strangers meet and begin what could be considered a role playing game for an evening. Both have come from broken relationships and decide to name each other “Norma” and “Johnnie” while they pretend to be married. At their initial meeting, Norma sets the stage for the loneliness and despair that prevails over the plot:

“There’s lonesome in the wind. I walked to the bus station, and there was lonesome in the crowd. Like something evil hovering…I haven’t talked to anyone for more than a week.”

As readers, we know little detail of Norma and Johnnie’s past relationships and subsequent breakups and are unable to determine, as each of them talks to the other, what is the truth. When Norma takes Johnnie to a house she calls her grandmother’s, readers might even question whether this is true. Regardless of who owns the house, Norma has a key.

All that the reader doesn’t know helps to emphasize the shallowness of the couple’s attempts at what they consider normalcy. The conversations remind me of Ernest Hemingway’s characters in that so much is under the surface but the reader knows it’s there. Cady puts enough of a human touch to these two that I didn’t find them completely pathetic – only very sad. Perhaps one could say they are on the brink of being pathetic – and maybe on the brink of being insane, too.

What is the Indiana tie-in to this story? Norma and Johnnie happen to meet and play out their game in Indianapolis. Having lived and worked in Indianapolis for 18 years, I couldn’t help but smile when Cady describes Indianapolis’ famous circle from Johnnie’s point of view in the story’s first paragraph:

“Sunset lay behind the tall buildings like red and yellow smoke. The cloud cover was high. Shadows of the buildings fell across the circle that was the business center of downtown Indianapolis. The towering monument to war dead was bizarre against the darkening horizon. On it figures writhed in frozen agony, except when they caught the corner of his eye. Then they seemed to move, reflecting his own pain.”

circle monument

I love that this Indianapolis landmark (pictured above, from google images) can pave the way for a very sad but fascinating story and can serve as a premonition of the horror stories yet to come in this Indiana (and Kenutcky and Ohio) author’s career. I spent many a lunch hour walking around the “Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument” over the 18 years that I worked in downtown Indianapolis.

“What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell” by Clint Smith – Story #11 of Deal Me In 2016

The Card: ♦7♦ Seven of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2016, Diamonds is my suit for “contemporary Indiana authors”

The Selection: “What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell” from the short story collection, “Ghouljaw and Other Stories” which I purchased at Bookmamas Bookstore in Irvington. I picked this story because I was intrigued by the title.

The Author: Clint Smith of Indianapolis. I’ve previously read his work in Punchnel’s “Mythic Indy” series (which have now been collected in a hardcover anthology). I’ve also explored some of the other stories in “Ghouljaw and Other Stories” with the “title track” being my favorite thus far. You can find him online at clintsmithfiction.com

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only legacy project seal of approval 2stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

“What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell”

This was an effectively terrifying story. It begins with the reader learning that High School Principal, Mr. Wilkinson, only has two hours to live. Or, as the author puts it, “two hours left of as an independent functioning organism existing as something other than food.” How will his end come about? Surely it has something to with the urgent calls and emails he’s been getting from an Afghan war veteran, one who seems to clearly be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both PTSD and school violence are, sadly, facts of life in the 21st century. When the two are mixed together – along with a touch of the supernatural – the resulting story can hardly be other than horrific right?
After inexplicably – and irresponsibly! – ignoring these calls and emails for several days, principal Wilkinson finally opens the latest email. It’s a warning from one veteran, William Craft, about a former comrade in arms, Lonnie Meadows, someone who he urges “you must stop from entering your school.” Of course, on the day he reads this email, two army recruiters are visiting his school…

The rest of the email, however, contains excepts from Craft’s wartime journal when he and Meadows were on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they were friends beyond the basic “comrades in arms required” level, and Craft has genuine concerns about Meadows’ mental health. Who wouldn’t be after listening to the following:

“There was a time” -he swiveled his head, glancing around- “that I thought being a soldier was the best way to show my family I wasn’t a total fuck-up.” He ran his fingers over his forearm, tracing the scar that’d been camouflaged by a swirl of tribal tattoos. “How are we supposed to go anywhere, let alone home, after seeing the things we’ve seen?”

Their tour included a night mission to a remote village nestled against the mountains and “docked” with one of the cave entrances common to the area. After a brief, creepy meeting with a village elder and his entourage of unnaturally tall burka clad “women” they head inside and we learn just how Meadows came to be so dangerous…

I usually include an image of the card selected, but I varied from routine when I saw the ‘devil mug’ and included it instead. Indeed, I count 7 visible diamonds in that picture so… (Devil mug image above from https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/26607595_beer-mug-devil-and-card-royal-bayreuth-bayreuth)