A Servant of History by Ron Rash – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦2♦ Two of Diamonds

The Suit: For #dealMeIn2018, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Everywhere Stories.

The Author: Ron Rash. One of my book clubs read his great collection, “Something Rich and Strange” last year. When I drew a wild card this week, I decided to revisit a story from that book

The Selection: “Servant of History”

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.

A Servant of History

“When his ship docked in London harbor six weeks later, Wilson’s tongue had not fully healed.”

Why is it that some of us (myself admittedly included) enjoy so much stories in which someone gets his ‘comeuppance?” I suspect it’s because so often those people we ourselves know who are “full of themselves” are never held accountable for their haughtiness. My granddad used to say that such people were “too big for their britches.” But being full of oneself isn’t exactly a crime, is it? And, as much as we may want to ‘go upside someone’s head’ for such behavior, actually doing so would be an overreaction. (It would, wouldn’t it?)  My Granddad’s actually a somewhat appropriate authority for this particular story too, as he was a denizen of Appalachia as well as most of the people in this story. In his case, the mountains of West Virginia, in their case in Jackson County, North Carolina.

The story is set in 1922, when James Wilson, the story’s protagonist, and a member in good standing of the English Folk Dance and Ballad Society, journeys across the ocean to venture “among the New World’s Calibans” in search of ballads that, “though lost to time in Britain might yet survive in America’s Appalachian Mountains.” Upon arrival, he makes the acquaintance of an elderly resident who serves as his guide in the ‘neighborhood’ letting him know of an established local family, the McDonald’s who immigrated from Scotland, though long ago. His guide says the family has “their great-granny yet alive,” and that she’s “nigh a century old but got a mind sharp as a new-hone axe. She’ll know your tunes and anything else you want, but they can be a techy lot, if they taken a dislikin’ to you.”

It turns out old great-granny McDonald does indeed know some old Scottish ballads, though is hesitant to share them. Rash describes Wilson’s first meeting and seeing the old woman wonderfully: “…Wilson only then saw that the Windsor chair was occupied. The beldame’s face possessed the color and creases of a walnut hull. A black shawl draped over her shoulders, obscuring a body shrunken to a child’s stature. The old woman appeared more engulfed than seated…”

Wilson’s efforts to coax the old woman include posing as if his own Scottish heritage (not really much of one, but he exaggerates it in hopes of gaining favor) is of great and long-standing importance to him. He leaves his chair and “…walked over to the red-and-black tartan hung on the wall, let a thumb and finger rub the cloth. He nodded favorably, hoping to impart a Scotsman’s familiarity with weave and wool. ‘Our tartan hangs on a wall as well, blue and black it is, the proud tartan of Clan Campbell.'”

Suffice it to say perhaps that Wilson should have done a little more research about the Clans whose descendants he might encounter, and especially about what their relationships might have been to his clan, which he so suddenly remembers and claims allegiance to…

(below: I imagine the top tartan here might be like the one hanging on great-granny McDonald’s wall)

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Have you read Ron Rash’s “Something Rich and Strange?” It was a big hit with my book club, and I have posted briefly about it before. What are some of your favorite ‘stories of comeuppance?’

 

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“Mr. Templar” by Jason Sizemore – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Seven♠ of Spades

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Jason Sizemore https://jason-sizemore.com I’ve featured a couple of his stories before in prior iterations of Deal Me In, notably “Yellow Warblers” and “The Sleeping Quartet”

The Selection: “Mr. Templar,” which I own as part of the author’s collection, “Irredeemable”

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.

Mr. Templar

“In eight centuries, Mr. Templar had never fully grasped the true desolate nature of the Earth. However, riding at high speeds two hundred meters in the air, seeing the same grey, dusty landscapes hour after hour, he began to appreciate the total annihilation of the humans’ nuclear bombs.”

First things first, The title character, Mr. Templar, is an Android. There are no humans left on Earth at the time of this story. And the androids that are left are running out of fuel. They roam a desolate landscape several hundred years after humanity has fled the nuclear wasteland of an uninhabitable world they created.

Mr. Templar’s search for fuel leads him to meet another android, who he calls Mr. Ruby (Ruby can’t remember his own name as his memory has been compromised by “data flies” – the reigning pest in this post-apocalyptic world). Ruby has picked up a signal from orbit and believes it to mean that their human “masters” are returning. How will they react? Wishing to reunite with the humans, together they head off to search for jet packs when Mr. Ruby shares that he knows where are cache of them are stored – in a bunker two hundred feet beneath Cape Canaveral.

What struck me about this story was that, in the absence of human stewardship of Earth, the technological life that now remains begins to exhibit some very human characteristics. Those that remain are embroiled in bitter competition for dwindling resources. Sound familiar? It’s every man – er, Android- for himself in this world. The remaining “life” forms also deteriorate into their own form of racism too: When Mr. Templar first encounters Mr. Ruby, he scoffs, “Only robots speak the old language. You must be a worthless robot.”

A good story, on a ♪personal note♪, the abandoned androids reminded me of an old Star Trek (The Original Series) episode (titled “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) where Kirk and the gang encounter a certain Dr. Corby, off on a remote planet making androids with the help of “Ruk” (portrayed by Ted Cassady of “The Addams Family” fame!). Ruk, too, was an Android who was left behind by his creators…

“Yes. The Old Ones… The ones who built us!”

“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:

“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 if 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.