“Chaunt” by Joy Williams – Selection 37 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♦Jack♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For Deal Me In 2019, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ are my Suit for stories which I intended to listen to rather than read. Several of this suit are from The New Yorker, which often includes an audible file of the author herself reading the story. Sadly, for this one, my iPad was taking an inordinately long time to load the audio version, so I just read it the old-fashioned way. 🙂

The Author: Joy Williams. I know I’ve read her before, but I can’t remember what. I do know I haven’t blogged about her before.

The Story: “Chaunt” from the December 10, 2018 edition of The New Yorker magazine. I “own” it via my digital subscription to that publication. The best part is, as a digital subscriber, I have access to their short story archive going back “forever.” Me like. 🙂

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.

Chaunt

“Night was best, for, as everyone knows but does not tell, the sobbing of the earth is most audible at night. You can hear it clearly then, but the sobbing still harbors a little bit of hope, a little bit of promise that the day does not afford.”

This was a puzzling story indeed, and it was only with pointed, post-reading research that I may have finally got a handle on it. The main character, Jane Click, (probably non-accidental initials) is living in a kind of rest home-like facility, and grieving the death of her young son who, along with a friend was killed by an automobile while bicycling to the nearby “ghost town” named Chaunt.

The facility where she now lives, called The Dove, is on a barren stretch of land in a world that is deteriorating around her – perhaps the result of climate change, (The author is a noted advocate for conservation and environmental issues) but there are no details given. Those left running things are a younger generation, seemingly trying to make the best of what has been left to them by the generation of which Jane is a part.

There is also a somewhat Christ-like fellow resident of The Dove whose name is Theodore. He volunteers to drive Jane to Chaunt to see the ruins of a church where her son used to play, but – he doesn’t have a car. Her son’s friend is named Jerome – yet another name with religious overtones. Everything feels so hopeless in Jane’s existence, In spite of the faint glimmer offered by the quotation above. Since no details are given about “How did it come to this” I’m assuming the takeaway from the story for the reader is supposed to be an emotional one. One clue about the state of things is given by a brief conversation between Jane and a fellow resident of The Dove:

“There’s something we should have done and we didn’t do it is my suspicion. But life goes its merry way without us. Everything’s provisional.” “I disagree,” someone said. “I think what’s happened is permanent and not provisional at all.”

A bleak future may be in store for us and our upcoming generations, but one must have faith in human ingenuity and resilience, as I do. It’s funny that the luck of the draw for Deal Me In had me picking this story just after reading one from an anthology “Solarpunk: Ecological And Fantastical Stories In a Sustainable World” (another of my sources for #DealMeIn2019. More on that one later I hope.

What about you? Have you read any “End of the World Stories?” One such that I was reminded of when reading this one was Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night In Earth” which I once blogged about here.

(author pic from a  New York Times article; playing card image found at http://climaterevolutioin.co.uk/wp/2017/10/27/jack of diamonds)

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