“Siddhartha” by Abe Aamidor – selection #19 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card:  ♥2♥ Two of Hearts – a wild card

The Suit: For 2016, Hearts is my suit for “stories from Indiana-related literary magazines and literary journals”

The Selection: “Siddhartha” from the Autumn 2014 issue of The Gettysburg Review. I know, not an Indiana journal, but the story is written by a Hoosier. 🙂

The Author: Abe Aamidor, who lives in Indianapolis and has worked stints at The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, The (Champaign-Urbana) News Gazette, and The Indianapolis Star.

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What 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/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster 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 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 most of the years that I’ve done the Deal Me In challenge, I’ve left the “deuces wild” in each suit to allow at least a little room for ad hoc short story reading that presents itself during the year. Back in March, I went to a book club discussion at Indy’s “Bookmama’s Bookstore” for the book, “Monastery of Writers,” by Abe Aamidor. I found that discussion interesting for two reasons: one was that this was an established nonfiction author who has now ventured into writing fiction as well, the other was that he was remarkably candid about the things he probably still needed to fine tune in his fiction work, a few of which were questioned by the members attendance – e.g., I don’t think any of us liked the main character in Monastery of Writers, something he said editors had cautioned him about as well.


So, anyway, Aamidor mentioned that he now had had several short stories published so naturally asked him which was his favorite if he had to recommend just one. He said “Siddhartha, in the Gettysburg Review” So after I got home I did a little searching online and found the issue and ordered a copy.

“Siddhartha”

“Don’t do it. Don’t take him back,” Mrs. McCarver said. “Men are no good.”

“I know,” Chastity said. “Daddy left you because men are no good. And Oliver’s daddy left him because he wasn’t no good, either. But Jeremy will have a daddy.”

I suppose borrowing the title of a famous novel for a short story is a tricky business.  Will you be considered pretentious?  Will readers understand what the connection is?  Will they have even read the novel?  If they have (and liked it) will they be offended by a story appropriating its title?  For my part, I have read the Herman Hesse classic a couple of times, once fairly recently on an audio re-read that I listed to over several days while doing my walking (actually quite appropriate if you’ve read that book!) and could feel the connection right away.  Aamidor’s short story follows Oliver, a modern-day young man in Bloomington, Indiana, who sets out on his own Siddhartha-like journey, maybe not so much to seek enlightenment, but rather to escape the circumstances of his life, by which, frankly, he seems overmatched. Oliver’s a little slow-witted, and has had trouble keeping a job.  He has a wife and young child that he clearly cares for, he just doesn’t know how to cope with the responsibilities of adulthood and feels they may be better off without him.

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He’s at least planned out his escape to some degree, first parking his car at the Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County State Park, and removing the plates to make identification take longer, then by taking off on foot and hiking south through the Hoosier National Forest.  He’s on his way to Kentucky, which is where he’s been told “his people” come from.

The reader finds himself sympathizing with Oliver, who seems to have a good heart, just not the intelligence or training to make his way on his own. He has interactions along his journey with a convenience store clerk, a couple motorists who give him lifts, personnel at a military base, and the managers of a homeless shelter. Each in their own way help to illuminate Oliver’s shortcomings. And, unlike Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, who had his friend Govinda, poor Oliver has no one to accompany him on his journey, and he eventually runs out of steam and meekly returns home to what fate might await him at the hands of his wife and mother-in-law…

I have enjoyed reading a sampling of works from various literary journals this year. There’s a lot of good work being done and published there. I do wonder how big a reading audience they garner, however. Anyone have any inside info on that?  And what about you? Have you read the Herman Hesse novel?  Do you subscribe to any literary journals?  Any you want to recommend?

Oh, and maybe you can have a laugh at my expense when I mention that, before hearing about the Gettysburg Review, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know Gettysburg College was an actual place, I had assumed it was only “made up” from its appearance in the great movie, Remember the Titans. 🙂

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“The Passeur” by E.E. Lyons – story #18 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥Nine of Hearts

The Suit: For 2016, Hearts is my suit for “stories from Indiana-related literary magazines and literary journals”

The Selection: “The Passeur” from the Winter 2015 issue of Indiana Review. This story was also the winner of The Indiana Review’s 2014 Fiction Prize.

The Author: E.E. Lyons lives in Washington D.C.  An interview with the author may be found here Author picture from Indiana Review.

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What 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/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster 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 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.

 

“The Passeur”

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(above: generic airport security checkpoint. Photo from Forbes here)

In today’s world, almost all of us have gone through a security checkpoint, whether it’s at the airport prior to gaining access to the terminal, or as we’re entering a major public sporting event, or in many cases when entering a public building. The main feelings I can remember having in such cases are frustration and impatience. Never fear, though. Fear like the characters in this excellent story must experience on their trek from Kigali, Rwanda to Bokavu in the Democratice Republic of the Congo.

A pair of American medical professionals are on their way to a hospital in the far-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their cargo includes both knowledge of a life-improving medical procedure and, more dangerously, some modern video camera equipment which will help them record conditions there to ’raise awareness’ in the west, something that the authorities in the DRC would not be happy about. Their journey includes two border checks, one when leaving Rwanda, which they awaited with the greater anxiety and a second when they enter the DRC, which they expected would be less perilous. It would have been so if it weren’t for one of the passengers, a Madame Engel, and her inability to keep her mouth shut and just “hold it” by waiting until they reached their final destination to use the restroom.

(Below: I’m not 100% sure, but this may be the ‘rickety’ bridge described in the story which the characters cross over from Rwanda to DRC. Photo found here.)


Their “native guide” – and driver of their Hyundai – is named Oudry and does his best to help them pass, ’negotiating’ on their behalf with the officer in charge on the DRC side. This officer is hard-hearted at first and tells Madame Engel that they have no restroom.  Then he sees her assistant in the car, who happens to just then be using her inhaler.  Suddenly he has a change of heart and offers her use of his restroom.  Quite relieved she asks which building it is in, but learns he means the restroom at his home, “just two kilometers” away, but a rugged 30 minute drive from the checkpoint…

Oudry, the most interesting character in the story, is frustrated with his passengers’ making things more difficult than they need be, and is not sure of the officer’s motives. At the officer’s house, Madame Engel’s assistant also finally is heard from:

“What’s happening? Does he want something from us?”

“I don’t know.” said Oudry.

“Are we in trouble?”

“I don’t know.”

This agitated her more.  “Do you know him?” she asked. “Did you plan this?”

“No.”

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(above: hey, my nine of hearts “Indiana” card features a bridge too – just like the story…)

The story does a great job of imparting the fear and the tension that the travelers are experiencing to the reader, and I even caught myself holding my breath at one point. I found it to be very effectively written, and I can see why this story was honored with a writing prize.

Curious about the literary journal “Indiana Review?’  Learn more about them at their website.

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Next up in Deal Me “IN” 2016: “Siddhartha” by Abe Amidor.

“God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut: And Farewell” by David Hoppe – selection #17 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠♠♠Three of Spades

The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “short, Indiana-related nonfiction works”

The Selection: “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut: And Farewell” from the book “Personal Indianapolis,” a great collection of short essays. This particular piece deals with the author’s thoughts on the passing of Kurt in 2007. I have three other essays form this book yet to be drawn in my Deal Me IN challenge this year: “Education Testing: Just Doing my Job”, “Peyton Manning – Champion: This Doesn’t Happen Very Often”, and “Songs of Experience: Bob Dylan at the Egyptian Room”

The Author: David Hoppe. He has lived in Indiana since 1980 and is a contributing editor and regular columnist for the Indianapolis alternative weekly magazine, Nuvo. Find out more about him at his website: http://www.davidhoppewriter.com/index.html – you may also see and read some of Hoppe’s recent work at http://www.nuvo.net/blogs/Hoppe/

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/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster 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 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.

“God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut: And Farewell”

The Spring of 2007 was a rough time for Indianapolis’s literary community, as it marked the passing of one of the most famous authors our city and state has ever produced, Kurt Vonnegut. It was just a few years later, shortly after I started writing this blog back in January of 2010 that the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opened in Indianapolis. This was undoubtedly a great thing, I thought, and then when I heard the library has its own book club, I was All IN (of course!) and have been a frequent attendee and supporter of the library ever since. Indeed, Vonnegut is probably THE one author for whom I’ve come close to reading “everything he wrote.” It probably will not surprise you if I say that all that reading has been time well spent.


Hoppe mentions in his essay that in 1991 he played host to Vonnegut who was attending a book festival (organized by Hoppe) called “Wordstruck” (nice name, eh?).  Anyway, he mentions that he had read Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” in college but “hadn’t picked up a Vonnegut book since” – Something he quickly rectified after meeting the author in person:

“Needless to say, I began reading the books – all of them, as their author took justifiable pride in saying, still in print. Oh, what I’d been missing! There was the humor, that dark sense of human comedy and hapless mischief. But there was also Vonnegut’s slapstick way of collapsing fact and fiction, like that boy he wrote about, roughhousing with his favorite dog on the living room carpet, as a way of seeking something like the truth.”  

Hoppe also takes issue with the many people who consider Vonnegut a cynic, but I think the problem here may just be semantics. Vonnegut’s pessimism can be crushing at times, and by my definition, he would still be considered cynical, just with a healthy dash of hope to keep him – and us – going.


This essay was very short (as are almost all in the book) and left me wishing that the author would have shared more of his thoughts on Vonnegut. I’ve since read several of the other “bite-size” essays in Personal Indianapolis and have found them a great option when I find myself with one of those abbreviated windows of reading opportunity.

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On a personal note:

Vonnegut will always hold a special place for me, as he passed away shortly after I had “discovered” and begun to appreciate him. Added to that, the month after he passed away, my dad – more or less his contemporary – followed him into “the great mystery.” I had recently read Cat’s Cradle myself at the time and even quoted a passage from it as part of my remarks, which I’ll share below, at my Dad’s memorial service:

“Another famous Hoosier (if I may be permitted to phrase it that way), Kurt Vonnegut, also recently passed away at the age of 84. In one of his books, Cat’s Cradle, a certain quotation is, I think, quite appropriate here. A character in the book (Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the fictional inventor of the atomic bomb) had won a Nobel Prize and gave an abbreviated 4-sentence acceptance speech:

’I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdling like an eight-year-old on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn. I am a very happy man. Thank you.’

Now, although I would never describe Dad as having ‘dawdled,‘ I think he was indeed a very happy man for just these reasons, and perhaps those in attendance today can honor his memory by embracing the spirit behind this quotation.”

Card image above from https://playingcardcollector.net/2013/07/18/kashmir-playing-cards-by-printissa/

“It Came from Burr County” by Marian Allen – story #16 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

 

 

The Card: ♦♦♦♦♦Five of Diamonds

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

The Selection: “It Came from Burr County” from the story anthology, “The Worst Book in the Universe” (don’t worry; it fails to live up to that lofty title)

The Author: Marian Allen (pictured at left, visit her web Page at http://marianallen.com ) I’ve actually featured one of her stories in before, the delightful “The Warmth of Midwinter” in Deal Me In 2015)

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 legacy project seal of approval 2roster 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 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.

First off, there is no “Burr County” in the State of Indiana. I googled it to check. I also knew there was no sculpture from Burr County at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, which features sculptures from all 92 counties.  So, Burr county is fictional and so is the character from this story, Aunt Gingy, who comes from there. But this story is real. I own it as part of the anthology, “The Worst Book in the Universe” – a collaborative effort of The Southern Indiana Writers Group. (Find more info about them here )

Below: (from wikipedia) Indiana’s 92 counties. I’m writing this just a few miles above that second “N” in Johnson county. 🙂


***SPOILER ALERT*** (this review contains spoilers, so I recommend reading the story first – if you can spare $2.99, that’s all the Kindle version costs, and I’m sure there are many other worthy stories in addition to this one; most (all?) of the stories are woven around the fictional town of “Wurstburg” thus the title of the collection 🙂 )

“It Came from Burr County”

This is a story that probably everybody can relate to. At least everybody who was ever a child so, yeah, I guess everybody. Haskell Tilford (a.k.a. Haskell Jeffrey Tilford when his mom’s mad at him) is our first person narrator, and he goes by the nickname “Husky.” He’s beside himself that his aunt’s coming for a visit will deprive him of his room and privacy even if just “for a couple days.” Added to this situation is the fact that Husky and his young pals are in the midst of a juvenile plan to obtain some “literary contraband.”* It is the hiding place of this contraband which drives the story to its climax.

Seems Husky has “chosen poorly” (see obligatory screen capture from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at right) when it comes to the hiding place, selecting a hidden compartment in one piece (a “train case”) of a set of luggage stored in the attic that hasn’t been used in years. Disaster strikes when Husky returns home and and learns Aunt Gingy is planning a longer trip and has inquired of his mom if she might borrow that very luggage set. Thinking quickly, Husky solicitously offers to retrieve the set from the attic for them (no doubt after moving the contraband to a newer, better location) only to hear – to his horror – that they’ve already brought them down to her room (actually his room).

Husky quickly comes up with a “Plan B” – have one of his operatives sneak in the house while he keeps his mom and aunt occupied. Seems like a great idea, but when the plan is carried to conclusion, his friend reports back that the contraband was no longer train case! At last Husky’s hours of anxiety are resolved when Aunt Gingy tells him that, not to worry, she found the book and is not going to rat him out to his mom. Now this was a twist neither I – nor Husky, certainly – was expecting.

I liked this story because it reminded me of how often in childhood you think something is The End of the World or at least of much, much greater magnitude than it truly is in the world of grownups. It also calls to mind a favorite expression of mine, “Nothing’s ever as bad as you think it’s going to be.” This,naturally, may not be true for everyone, but I’ve found it is true for me – at least when it comes to things I spend a lot of time worrying about.

*what is this contraband? Just a book, but one Husky fears will land him in deep, deep trouble if his parents discover that he’s reading it:

“Geez,” Snake said, “what book is it? The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or Playboy or what?” “Worse than that,” I said. “It’s a Manga. You know Manga?” and, later, upon relating that it’s a manga version of The Bible(!) “I’m telling you, guys, it ain’t Sunday School material. It’s the worst book in the universe!” (So now we know [again?] where the collection got its title) 🙂

Though there is no Burr County in Indiana, it’s fictional existence in this story made me think of one famous Indiana “Burr.” The Council Oak tree in South Bend (above photo credit) – a “Burr Oak” as I’ve been told – was a state landmark until lightning ended its >400 year existence in the ’90s. It was a truly majestic tree, in the shade of which the explorer LaSalle made a 17th century treaty with the local Indian tribes to stand together against Iroquois “aggression.” One side of my family comes from the South Bend area, and I have a personal link to this tree since one time on a visit to South Bend we secured one of its acorns and planted it in our back yard. Sadly, that tree never really made it past tree adolescence as it fell victim to disease and had to be cut down.

More about Indiana’s “Council Oak.”

There’s also a Burr Oak Township in Indiana, in Marshall County.  Maybe that’s where Aunt Gingy of the story really came from…

Card image above from https://playingcardcollector.net