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.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon!

Hi all!

I had originally planned to be traveling this weekend, but – guess what? – I canceled those plans and am now free to participate in this biannual readathon for the first time in a while. Woohoo! Find out more details about the readathon here.

What are my plans? For the most part, I’ll be reading John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down” and catching up on my woefully behind #DealMeIn2018 short story reading. I also have a couple other books going that I may hit – “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté and “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. I’ve also recently started a multi-year project of reading the Arabian Nights ALL THE WAY THROUGH (I’m giving myself “A Thousand and One” days to finish – ha ha) . Wish me luck on that one.

Turtles-All-the-Way-Down_Main-1

Since I don’t like ‘just sitting around the house,’ I’ll also plan on doing some reading “on the road” at coffee shops or maybe sitting at the bar for lunch or dinner, or maybe the Indiana State Library which is one of my favorite haunts for “public reading”

Are you “Dew”ing the readathon this time around? What are your reading plans? What are your favorite reading spaces when you’re “readathoning?”

No, Not Binge-Watching, Binge-READING

“Binge-watching” has become quite common in today’s world – both the compound verb and the act itself. I myself have enjoyed a few watching binges. But this past weekend, I maxresdefaultspent a lot of my time binge-reading. Yes, at first one wouldn’t think there could easily be such a thing, as books take so much longer to read than episodes of your favorite tv series. Well, the solution is obvious: short stories can be binge-read. (“…and we’re just the guys to do it!”)

Back in late January, I mapped out 24 short stories to read during the 24 in 48 readathon and, as often is the case, failed to complete my mission. I didn’t even blog about the stories I read then, only tweeting updates to the #24in48 hashtag. The remaining stories had been kind of rotting on my TBR vine ever since, but I didn’t want to forget them and this past weekend I resolved to just “knock out” the rest of them. The exercise felt similar, emotionally, to the more common form of tv show binge-watching. As usual when I read through a batch of stories, I discovered some real gems, and I’d like to tell you about a few of my favorites:

“Irises” by Elizabeth Genovise, found in the 2016 edition of “The O. Henry Prize Stories” anthology. Uniquely told by an unborn baby narrator (!!) it provided poignant insight into a love affair.  “I am not yet a daughter but rather a subtle shift in the taste and color of her world, unfurling at the edges of her consciousness as the autumn does just before it erupts into deep reds and yellows.” Why is the narrator’s mother “ready” to have an affair? She’s an artist, specifically a ballet dancer, and he is a well-intentioned but “unfeeling” brute. “He has never known immersion in an art, never taken the artist’s gamble, and so the sheer foreignness of my mother’s commitment to dancing baffles him.” This was truly a great story with some of my favorite writing that I’ve encountered lately. I recommend you pick up a copy and read it for yourself. You can find out more about this author at https://www.elizabethgenovisefiction.org/

“A List of Forty-Nine Lies” by Steven Fischer from the Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. A very effective format for a story about a “suicide-bomber-like” revolutionary of the future, in opposition to the ruling dystopian society called The New Dawn. A very short story, only forty-nine sentences long, and each one of them is a lie. If you weren’t aware of the title of the story, whether or not the sentences are lies, would not be immediately obvious, but by the end of the story, no knowledge of the title would be necessary. Bravo. The entire piece of flash fiction – at least the first draft – was written during a tedious lecture on medical statistics (the author is described as a fourth-year medical student in the story’s intro)

“Train to Harbin by Asako Serizawa, also from the 2016 edition of “The O. Henry Prize Stories” anthology. A hard-hitting story on a difficult subject – the World War II era war crimes of Japan in using Chinese prisoners for medical experiments. Told by one of the doctors/perpetrators who is, naturally, struggling with his role though he was – as the cliche goes – “only following orders.” A powerful story.

“You see, you must understand something: We had always meant to preserve lives. A few thousand enemies to save hundreds of thousands of our own? In that sense, I hardly think our logic was so remarkable or unique.”

“The Equationist” by J.D. Moyer, also from the Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Rare among short stories in that it follows almost the entire life of the protagonist who, as a precocious young math student, decides that people can be understood as equations. Some linear, some circular, some exponential. One he can’t figure out is his classmate crush, Emily Lessard – “A chaos function, maybe. I’m just learning about those.”

I also read four stories from W.W. Jacobs’ collection “The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales,” all of which were good, but none as extraordinary as the four I list above (and none were as good as the two I’d already read during #24in48 – “The Lost Ship and “The Castaway”). Additionally, I enjoyed three more stories from the Welcome to the Greenhouse anthology (stories featuring – you guessed it – climate change)

I enjoyed my weekend binge-reading so much, I plan to make it a regular habit whenever I have a weekend largely free of other responsibilities. Maybe once or twice a season? As usual, I will randomize my reading order and have stories from four different sources; I’m assigning each to a card in a euchre deck to fit my “Deal Me In” challenge methodology.  For this batch, I’m continuing on in several of the sources I started for the Readathon, while adding a new source, that being the short stories found in recent issues of The New Yorker, to which I am a digital subscriber.

What about YOU? Have you ever binge-read? Have you ever binge-watched? I’m much more interested in binge-reading, but I’d like to hear about either, frankly. 🙂

spring 2018 deck

The Boy With Fire in His Mouth by William Kelley Woolfitt – Selection 10 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Three♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♦Diamonds♦ to stories from the anthology “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet,” Edited by Clifford Garstang and published by Press 53. More details about this book may be found  at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O4GETQM/.

The Selection: The Boy With Fire in His Mouth – since this anthology includes stories from “all over the world,” when making my selections for Deal Me In 2018, I tried to pick ones from somewhere I didn’t know too much about. This one was set in Uganda, which I have only touched in my reading history via The Queen of Katwe, the story of the unlikely chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, later made into a feature film by Disney.

The Author:  William Kelley Woolfitt. According to the contributors section of the book, Woolfitt is currently a professor at Lee College in Tennessee. You may find a little more about him at his page on goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7834595.William_Kelley_Woolfitt

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.

The Boy With Fire in His Mouth

“She said she had been given a treasure, the knowledge of how to let everything go.”

This is one of the shorter stories I’ve ever read for the Deal Me In Challenge over the years, checking in at just about a thousand words. We hit the ground running with our unnamed narrator receiving a call from his father that his mother had died (“in her sleep, unexpectedly but peacefully”) and thus he flies off to “the country of his birth,” Uganda.

His father reacts to his mother’s death almost as if he is happy to now be free to do whatever he wants: “…now he could eat, drink, and make merry.” The narrator laments that he hadn’t seen his mother again and thus “given her a final chance to tell me if there was anything I could do to make her happy, anything that was within my powers. Though she did’t believe she should be happy, or that I had any useful skills. She considered me a selfish middle-aged nobody, no wife, no child, no spine, no guts.”

Sadly, the narrator’s father dies too, only a week later, and largely from the excesses of his “newly unrestrained” lifestyle. Our narrator, perhaps is some mild form of shock, wanders Kampala, drinking waragi (a new word I learned this week), visiting the Kasubi Tombs and the marketplace – the latter where he sees the performer of the story’s title, “The Boy With Fire in His Mouth.” He also meets a woman with many children who he tries to help. She makes greeting cards and he goes through a mental inventory of all the things his mother would have done to help her. He thinks of the performer boy, whose lips he has seen to contain sores from his “art.” He wants to give the boy some petroleum jelly to help with the sores.

And that’s about all there is to it. In the contributor’s notes section of the book, the author talks about how Meredith Sue Willis advises writers to cut a third of the words from a first full draft because “trimming intensifies expression.” Woolfitt notes that his first draft of this story was about 2,300 words long, and included “more details about the narrators rakish father and austere mother.”  He concludes that that draft seemed like “a blabbermouth party guest, yammering for attention.”

His trimming of the story left me with more questions than answers. I can certainly understand that the death of just one parent would leave one reeling, and both- well that would seem to – at least – double the impact. I’m not sure what the narrator will “learn” or take away from this sad “homecoming,” but hopefully he will rise above the low expectations that his mother held where he was concerned. We don’t learn in the story where the narrator currently makes his home, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Below: The Kasubi Tombs in Kampala

kasubi tombs

Rose Wept by William Trevor – Selection 9 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card♠Ten♠ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Hearts♠ to the stories of William Trevor, a personal favorite author of mine who passed away in 2017.

The Selection: Rose Wept – from the collection “William Trevor: Selected Stories” which I own via an e-copy

The Author: William Trevor. A “KBE” (Knight of the British Empire), Trevor is widely acknowledged as one of the best contemporary writers of short stories. I was first introduced to him via the “Ana the Imp” blog (sadly, no longer active) whereafter I read through his great collection “After Rain.” The title story of that volume after rainremains one of my all time favorites. I blogged about it here. There are a couple other stories of his that I’ve blogged about before, Gilbert’s Mother and Lost Ground. “I’m very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people,” – William Trevor (as quoted by Publishers Weekly in 1983)

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.

Rose Wept

“She wept for his silent suffering, for his having to accept a distressing invitation because of her mother’s innocent insistence… She wept for the brittle surface of her mother’s good-sort laughter and her father’s jolliness, and Jason’s (her older brother) settling into a niche. She wept for all her young life before her, and other glimpses and other betrayals.”

Rose Dakin is a marginal student, one on the cusp of being admitted to a good university. What do well-meaning parents do when their child is in that situation?  Well, if you’re the Dakins, you hire a tutor to ensure a successful move for your child up the next rung of the latter.

The occasion of the story is a dinner party to celebrate Rose having been admitted to university and, since the tutor, Mr. Bouverie, was instrumental in her success, he and his wife were invited. His wife “can’t make it” and therein is the introduction of the gist of the story, the whole of which takes place at the dinner, but, through flashbacks, we learn “The Rest of the Story” about Mr. (& Mrs.) Bouverie. Seems all this time – a year of Thursdays – whenever Rose would visit him, Mr. Bouverie’s wife would use the time to entertain a special male “guest,” a certain “Mr. Azam.”

When she realizes what is going on, Rose at first feels terrible for Mr. Bouverie, yet indelicately shares the knowledge with her gaggle of young friends. Later, to her increased horror, she realize that Mr. Bouverie is aware that this is going on. As one of her friends says “When a husband knows, he’s not so much a cuckold as complaisant.”

During the dinner Rose imagines what hell the life of Mr. Bouverie must be, and regrets not being there for him as some kind of confidant, but “had betrayed him” (by telling her friends) even before he offered any confidences.

A sad and bitter story which left me wondering how Rose would “do” at University – and indeed for the rest of her life. If I were a betting man, I’d say her parents “won’t be much help.”  It’s as if this one dinner laid bare all the pitiable features of her life – and Life with a capital L as well. I hope she makes it.

♫♫ Personal Note:  I did learn a new “word” while reading this story.  Do you know what a “Gooseberry Fool” is?  It’s an English Dessert made by “folding pureed stewed fruit (normally Gooseberries) in sweet custard”  (or whipped cream). According to Wikipedia, ROSE water may be added as a flavouring agent, so there’s my Deal Me In coincidence of the week.  P.S. Looks delicious!

What short stories did YOU read this week? Are you enjoying the “8th Annual” Deal Me In challenge?

Visiting Chairman Mao by Jocelyn Cullity – Selection 8 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Seven♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Diamonds to stories from the anthology, “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet.”

The Selection: “Visiting Chairman Mao” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. The author says the story “came to her” after teaching in China in the 1990’s.

The Author: Jocelyn Cullity, a native of Australia, she grew up in Canada and has spent time in other countries before now living in the United States. She had a novel published last fall, Amah and the Silk Winged Pigeons . Learn more about her at her website https://www.jocelyncullity.com

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that 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.

(below: old postcard of the throngs of people going to “visit Mao” in his mausoleum)

Visiting Chairman Mao

“‘So many followers, even after all that tragedy. Such respect. Astonishing.’ She spoke too loudly. Li labored with the purpose of her statements. ‘We have an official saying,’ Li said. ‘Chairman Mao was sixty percent right and forty percent wrong.”

The title of this story intrigued me, which is probably why it found its way onto my 2018 DMI list. I admit I was somewhat disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be reading a story with Mao as one of the characters, though. Visiting him, in this case, only meant going to view his embalmed body in his grand mausoleum.

The story describes a brief incident where an earnest young woman, Li, working as a tourist guide, takes her (also young) American charge, Claire, to view the legendary Chairman Mao. Both seem unassuming at first, though with Li, who  “…couldn’t get used to her informality,” continually worrying about Claire not knowing when to keep quiet and how to show proper respect.  “At the entrance to the second room, the viewing hall, a guard put up his hand and the line slowed. There would be positively no talking inside the chamber.”

It turns out Claire has other plans and ends up staging a scene of some kind and “shrieking something about democracy” Li becomes “collateral damage” in Claire’s haphazard protest and is forced to leave Beijing, but not before Claire, while being led away by the police, hands Li her bandanna as a gift. At the end of the story, back home, Li decides she will keep it close at hand:

“She would use it as she thought Claire should have used it – to wipe away the fog on her classroom windows when she wanted to really look at the world outside.”

Nice.

This was my eighth story read so far this year for #DealMeIn2018.  Are you also participating in the challenge?  What have been some of your favorite stories so far?

(Below: Mao wasn’t the only one cultivating a Cult of Personality: clockwise from upper left – Stalin, Koreans Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, Ho Chi Minh, and, well, the band who sang about it in the ’90s)

“In Paris” by Ivan Bunin – Selection #7 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♣King♣ of Clubs

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Clubs to stories from the anthology, “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.”

The Selection: “In Paris” – from “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.” In a prior year’s iteration of Deal Me In, I devoted Clubs to stories by Russian authors, and almost every one was a “home run” for me. Hoping to recapture that magic in 2018’s edition! 🙂

The Author: Ivan Bunin – the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was awarded to him in 1933 “for following through and developing with chastity and artfulness the traditions of Russian classic prose.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that 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.

In Paris

 “…from year to year, from day to day, in our heart of hearts there’s only one thing we wait for – a meeting that will bring happiness and love.”

‘Nikolai Platonych.’ Is a middle-aged Russian man in Paris. I’m not sure of the year in which the story is set, but I guessed it was sometime not long after the end of the second World War. We don’t know a lot about Nikolai other than “Many people knew that his wife had left him long ago, back in Constantinople, and that ever since then he had lived with a wound in his soul.”

Dining in a small Russian restaurant on one of the dark side streets near Passy, he is charmed by a waitress. She seems sophisticated beyond what her current employment would ordinarily suggest. He reasons that she must have some “ami” (a French “sugar daddy!”) who keeps her in such fine clothes, etc., and he finds himself jealous.

“How could she afford those good-quality, expensive shoes? There must be some well-to-do, middle-aged ami. It was a long time since he had felt as animated as he did this evening – thanks to her – and the thought of this ami was rather annoying.”

I liked that part about it having been a long time since he had felt so “animated.” It reminded me of how sometimes I will experience a feeling of (initially) unaccounted for happiness which, after I question myself “why am I in such a good mood today?” can usually, eventually be traced back to a personal encounter of some kind that elevated me. Why I have a “delayed” reaction, though, that’s for the psychiatrists to say.

Undaunted by his insecurity – and the fact that the waitress, Olga Alexandrovna, is married with an absent husband (working in Yugoslavia), the two make a “love connection” nonetheless.

I also enjoyed a quotation in French that the story shared:

“Rien n’est plus difficile que de reconnaitre un bon melon et une femme de bien.”

Or, “there’s nothing harder than picking out a good melon or a decent woman.” Ha ha ha. Anyway, it was a short if bittersweet story and I enjoyed the style of this author. I’d read him again.

Playing card coincidence/trivia: I’ve pointed out before that the four kings in a standard deck of cards are alleged to represent four actual historical ‘kings’, David, Alexander, Caesar, and Charlemagne, with Alexander being the King of Clubs, i.e., the card I drew this week. Our female character in this story’s patronymic is “Alexandrovna” which if I’m not mistaken means “daughter of Alexander.” How about that?

What short stories did YOU read this week?

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