The Story of Keesh by Jack London – selection 3 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥3♥  Three of Hearts. Playing card image found on Pinterest from the “Undertale Souls” deck of cards. I thought it would be appropriate to have a card featuring snow since the story involves the Inuit People of Alaska. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and London certainly qualifies. I – and other Deal Me In participants – have written about many London stories over the years.

The Author: Jack London, one of the Titans of American Literature. I’ve posted about several of his works before, including Before Adam, Negore the CowardA Relic of the Pliocene, and Moon Face, to name a few.

The Selection: “The Story of Keesh” which I own as part of my e-copy of The Complete Works of Jack London. The story is in the public domain and may be read for free online in many places, like the link at the bottom of this post.It was first published in 1907.

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 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Story of Keesh

“Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men.”

***spoilers follow*** This one was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. At least compared to other Jack London stories I’ve read. There just wasn’t enough to it for me. It’s basically an old folktale of a young boy (he has only seen “thirteen suns” – after each winter of no sunlight, when the sun returns, that counts as one year, so he is…13) who rises to a place of respect in his “igloo village” due to his crafty method of hunting polar bears.

It all starts out when he speaks up at a council one night, because, since his father has died (in the act of slaying a large bear to provide food for the village) he and his widowed mother’s meat apportioned to them by the tribe is “ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.” The men of the tribe, brave hunters all (just ask them), are neglecting their duty to provide for the rest of the village fair shares of the “community” meat.

The men react harshly to this upstart and Keesh vows never to return to the council but sets out on his own with arrows and his father’s spear. He’s gone a very long time and his mother and her comforters fear the worst, but he shows up with – lo and behold! – a big hunk of bear meat and directs the other hunters in the tribe that the rest of his kill may be found and returned if they take their sleds along the path he has come. Naturally, Keesh makes sure that everyone in the village from “the least old woman and the last old man” receive a fair portion of the meat.

With Keesh being so young, the men of the tribe suspect some trickery and even suggest that “witchcraft” might be involved, and that he “hunts with evil spirits.”  Such is the way with any who are ignorant of how something extraordinary is achieved, isn’t it? Keesh, when questioned, puts them straight and says, “It be headcraft, not witchcraft.” His method of bringing down the bears was quite original, I must say.

So, an easy read, but too short to sate my story hunger for one week. A better story, with more “meat on its bones” if you will, featuring the natives of the far north is London’s tale “Negore the Coward” which I’ve wrote about before and linked to in the header of this post.

What short stories did YOU read this week? What is your favorite of Jack London’s many short stories?

You can read the story online here: https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/the-story-of-keesh

 

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The Crabapple Tree by Robert Coover – Selection 2 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♣6♣  Six of Clubs. Playing card image found on Pinterest from a 19th century deck. The bones are quite appropriate for one section of this story, heh heh.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for “Award Winning Stories” which I’m defining for Deal Me In purposes as stories that were featured in either the O. Henry Prize Winning story anthology of 2016, or the Best American Short Stories anthology from 2017.

The Author: Robert Coover, who I’ve never read before. Picture is from wikipedia. From what I hear, he has a penchant for horror stories told in a kind of fairy tale language.

The Selection: “The Crabapple Tree” which I own as part of my e-copy of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. I guess I also own it as a digital subscriber of The New Yorker, which published the story in its January 12, 2015 issue. The story is essentially a retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale “The Juniper Tree”- somehow being set in the contemporary world makes it even more chilling. Read it online at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/12/crabapple-tree (I believe The New Yorker still allows three free articles read per month online).

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 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Crabapple Tree

“Marleen seemed to live in a storybook land of her own. When she spoke, she spoke to the world, the way singers do, and what she said seldom made any sense.”

This was a great – and creepy! – story told in a fairy tale-like voice, which made it very easy to read. Tolstoy famously said that all great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. This story would fit into the latter. The stranger is the second wife of a local farmer whose first wife had died giving birth to his son, Dickie-Boy. The narrator of the story and her friends refer to the woman as the Vamp, thinking she may be a former prostitute and, even if not, certainly 150112_r25994the possessor of a certain power over men.

With this stranger came her daughter, Marleen, who becomes a playmate of both Dickie-Boy’s and also (at least initially) the daughter of our narrator. The Vamp is a mean spirited person, and trouble lies ahead for this family as first Dickie-Boy, then the farmer himself die under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Local authorities are curious about these deaths, but not so much so as to truly “investigate.”

“…the little boy had never quite seemed part of this world in the first place, so it wasn’t as sad as when his mother died.”

He is buried under the crabapple tree (where his mother had also been buried) and Marleen has a strange bond with the tree. One time, while playing with a pile of bones, stringing them together into a kind of horrible puppet, she even tells the narrator’s daughter that “the bones were those of her stepbrother, whom her mother had cooked up in a black-beer stew, which her stepfather ate, gnawing all the little bones clean before burying them.” The narrator continues that her daughter stopped seeing Marleen about that time.  (No kidding!)

The Vamp later runs off (or also disappears?) and Marleen takes over the farm on her own, building an extension of the house to protect the tree and the story ends with the chilling “Its apples were said to be poisonous, but birds gathered in its laden branches like twittering harpies to eat them, and, if anything, they got louder and bigger, and there were more of them than ever.”

So, what was Marleen anyway? Near the end of the story the narrator admits that “Over the years, we got used to thinking of Marleen as something eerie but mostly harmless at the edge of our lives.” In a past era of history, she would certainly be considered a witch, and possibly subjected to the fate that often befell those so designated. In this story, she has a natural affinity and “familiar”ity with animals and even speaks a kind of bird language at times. A fascinating character to be sure.

u-g-pysik20♫♫ Personal notes: This story got me thinking about those acquaintances in our lives who we only know through the eyes of our – or their – children. When I was growing up, there were a few neighborhood friends whose houses I’d occasionally visit, but it seems that most of our “playing” was outside, and those times where I got an inside glimpse of how another family lived were rather rare. Of course, upon my return home, I would be debriefed by my parents about “did you have a good time at “X”s house?” and “what did you do all afternoon?” etc. and I wonder now if my own parents were forming opinions based on the keyhole-view their child provided of the neighbors…

What short stories did YOU read this week? What memories and stories do you have of playing at friends’ houses when YOU were growing up?

 

“Hog for Sorrow” by Leopoldine Core – Selection 1 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♣9♣  Nine of Clubs. Playing card picture at left found from one of my personal decks, this one is a “Runic” deck that I purchased in Iceland in 2017. (I had the deck out since I brought it as show & tell at my short story book club since we read M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes” this month. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for “Award Winning Stories” which I’m defining for Deal Me In purposes as stories that were featured in either the O. Henry Prize Winning story anthology of 2016, or the Best American Short Stories anthology from 2017.

The Author: Leopoldine Core, who I’ve never read before. “Born & raised” in New York’s East Village, she is the author of the story collection “When Watched,” which won a Whiting Award. If Goodreads’ author profile (where the pic above was found) is current, she teaches as NYU and Columbia University.

The Selection: “Hog For Sorrow” which I own as part of my e-copy of BASS (Best American Short Stories) 2017. The author’s own notes in that volume state that the story is “actually about the construction of morality – how fixed states of virtue and evil are falsely projected onto people, much the way gender is.”

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 2019. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Hog for Sorrow

“She tried to imagine the women who loved his smell. A wife. Daughters. Possibly girlfriends. These women were lurking in the private lives of even the ugliest men she saw.”

One of the questions I’m constantly asking myself regarding my reading life is whether or not I’m becoming a more “discerning reader.” Do I have good literary taste? Do I “get it” when reading works that those “in the know” have praised? This is partly why I devoted one of my Deal Me In suits this year to “award winning stories”  – ones that, having already been vetted by someone who presumably knows more about literary merit that I do, I should be able to appreciate – IF the answer to those questions above is yes.

That’s a long way of saying I thought this was a really well written story, and I can understand why it made it into the Best American Short Stories anthology. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

There are just a handful of characters in the story: Friends Kit and Lucy, Sheila (their “boss”), Ned (a customer”) and Lucy’s dog Curtis. Curtis may be my favorite character. The story starts with minimal information. Kit and Lucy are in some kind of a waiting room. At first I wondered if it was a doctor’s office or something. Boy, was I off. They are young prostitutes, waiting to be assigned to their next “client.”

We follow the story from Kit’s perspective and, as one might guess, it is a rather jaded one. At various times in the story, she muses that “College was a lot like being a prostitute, only she never got paid.” Then, on the prospect of growing old and ugly, “It’ll be nice to be left alone.” Her friend Lucy (probably slightly more experienced in the business) advises her that “Crazy people have one tactic, to convince you that you’re crazy. So you can’t let them.”

The thing that made the story blossom for me is how the two girls become friends and how they “come to understand how rare friendship is” (as the author says in her contributor’s notes). The catalyst for their friendship is, oddly enough, the weird john, Ned (the “Hog for Sorrow” in the story’s title), whose particular fetish serves to bring them closer.

The end of the story is somehow heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time:

“‘Becoming a prostitute is like getting very sick,’ she thought. ‘You don’t want people and they don’t want you. Only she did want people. A little.'”

This story also made me wonder how many times – if any – I’ve read works where a prostitute is the main character. I haven’t come up with any yet, but I’m sure I’m forgetting something. What about YOU? Can you think of any?

♫♫ Personal/Trivia Notes: Do YOU know what the word “tribeca” refers to? You can see in the picture of my open kindle app in my iPad above that I highlighted it in blue (by my system, blue are words I looked up in the dictionary while reading that I will, presumably, try to remember the definition of when I scan through a book again). So, though I’ve heard the word before I never looked it up until reading this story. For the trivia points, can you tell me what it means? (residents of NY are ineligible for the points)

My wrong turn at the very beginning of the story, when the setting and landscape are only slowly revealed (we’re several paragraphs in before we get the phrase “considering the pleasureless nature of their business”) oddly reminded me of a phenomenon I frequently experienced back in college. A few basketball-loving friends and I would often go at odd hours to the main gym of the (small) school’s athletic facilities, and by main gym I mean our actual home court that varsity games were played on. Anyway, the big bright lights that illuminated the court were, naturally, not left on in off hours, but we would turn them on in our early morning or late night sessions. By their nature the  lights took several minutes to reach “full strength” and those few minutes always struck me as an eerie almost-altered state of consciousness. Things were revealed slowly in the cavernous building. You could “see enough to play a little” almost immediately but it was somehow disorienting during those first few minutes.

Looking back, I’m surprised we random students even had access to do this (I’m sure things would be different in today’s world), but I’m thankful that thinking about this story made me remember something I hadn’t thought about in many years. I love that reading re-opens doors to your memories like this!