“Worlds That Flourish” by Ben Okri – Selection 12 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Q♠ Queen of Spades

The Suit: For #dealMeIn2018, ♠♠Spades♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Ben Okri, a new-to-me author from Nigeria who, as his Wikipedia page tells us, is “one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions, and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.” In my brief research on him before writing this post, he definitely sounds like an author I will be reading more of in the future.

The Selection: “World’s that Flourish” – originally published as part of his collection Stars of the New Curfew. I own it as part of my copy of the excellent anthology, “The Weird,” edited by Jeff VanDerMeer.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Worlds That Flourish

“Then it dawned on me that something had happened to time. I seemed to be sitting in an empty space without history. The wind wasn’t cooling. And then suddenly all the lights went out. It was as if the spirit of the world had finally died. The black-out lasted a long time.”

This was a strange story. I have to say, though, that I almost immediately fell into step with the narrative voice of the protagonist. He remains unnamed, but somehow that feels appropriate for this story. He’s a man whose world is beginning to disintegrate. It starts when he, along with many other co-workers, is fired from his job. He goes home, and a neighbor tells him that he “walks around like a man who has no eyes” (“haven’t you noticed that most of the people in the compound are gone?”)

Later, he is robbed by men with machetes and a gun and though they are later caught, they somehow convince the police that the narrator is involved.

After a brief though brutal period of being jailed, he eventually decides to flee the city. “I got into my car and set out on a journey without a destination through the vast, uncultivated country.” On his way out of town he notices that a lot of the people he sees in the street have handwriting on their faces.

Things are just as phantasmagorical on his journey, car trouble, car crashes (or did he imagine that?) Until he finally reaches a place where people seem to be waiting for him…

(I found the above quote from the author online and really liked it so thought I’d share)

This story reminded me of some others that I’ve read, at least in the feeling that this surreal city and setting evoked in me. Premendra Mitra’s Telenapota and Chen Quifan’s Lijiang And Hagiwara Sakutaro’s “The Town of Cats” are a few examples. Such stories make me speculate as to how our senses manage to hold our perception of the world together, and – more importantly – how fragile that hold may be, and that it may not take that much to disrupt it.

(Above: Nigeria’s capital. For the trivia points, can you name it?)

Queen of spades image in the header found here:

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“Child’s Play” by William Trevor – Selection 11 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♥3♥ Three of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, ♥♥Hearts♥♥ is my Suit for stories by the Irish author William Trevor.

The Author: William Trevor has written several of my all-time favorite stories. He passed away in 2017, so there will be no more new stories from his pen, but he wrote so many that I still have a sizable inventory to explore.

The Selection: Child’s Play, from Selected Stories of William Trevor, of which I own a kindle version.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Child’s Play

“Gerald wanted to comfort her, as once his father had comforted his mother, saying he forgave her, saying they would try again. But their game wouldn’t stretch that far… Helplessness was their natural state.”

***Spoilers Follow****

Child’s Play is the heartbreaking story of Rebecca and Gerard, each an only child of one of a pair of couples who were neighbors. The neighboring couples’ marriages disintegrate in the wake of infidelities and jealously, to which Rebecca and Gerard are involuntary witnesses.

When the couples break up, the children each remain with the parent who still occupies the neighboring houses. Eventually those two parents marry each other making Gerard and Rebecca “brother and sister” who become as close perhaps as brothers and sisters by blood would be. Of them, Trevor offers that “They missed the past; resentment and deprivation drew them close.”

The children’s coping mechanism is a game they play in the attic – “their game of marriage and divorce,” their understanding of these institutions cobbled together from personal memories (which they often reenact) and “from information supplied by television.” (“…they watched a television serial in which the wronged ones made a kind of fuss that both Gerard and Rebecca had witnessed.”) What chance for happiness do these children have in such circumstances?

Even less than you think, since the story comes to an end as Rebecca’s birth mother decides to regain custody of her “a court of law would put the matter right, no doubt about that: a child goes to the mother of the mother’s fit and well.”

As with a few other sad stories of Trevor’s that I’ve read, I still “liked” it in spite of that, as Trevor’s writing is so nearly perfect.

What about you? Are there some sad stories you’ve read but liked anyway? I’d think, generally speaking, this phenomenon is somewhat rare as it seems such a difficult thing to pull off.