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 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)

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“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?

“Rue Rachel” by David Ebenbach – Selection 6 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦4♦ 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: “Rue Rachel” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. I know some French, so knew this meant “Rachel Street” but that’s about it.

The Author: David Ebenbach, born and raised in Philadelphia, currently teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. He says he wrote this story after a seeing a similar young woman on a train, “traveling to see a sketchy boyfriend.”

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.

Rue Rachel

“She looked over at Adrien’s face. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. She hated him. She was going to get on a train early in the morning and leave him here with all his problems and his friends. It didn’t matter to her whether he was in trouble or not. She could never marry a man like that.”

We’ve all been there. Been part of a random, impromptu human fellowship by way of either waiting in line at the BMV, at a Doctor’s office, or – as it happened in the genesis of this story – “trapped” on a train, or other form of public transportation. If you haven’t brought along your own e-reader or other preferred diversion, there is a danger you will get caught up speculating about these strangers you find yourself cast with. You know what you’re doing there but what are their stories? Author David Enenbach was travelling by train when he met a young woman…

“her strange stories and her slippery-life philosophy and her shoes and her dubious immediate future all stayed in my head.”

And so the story “Rue Rachel” was born. Told in third person, but from the young woman Rachel’s perspective. She’s heading to Montreal via train to visit her boyfriend because she is “worried about him.” After meeting him later, there appears to be good reason for this, but I found myself also worrying about Rachel herself, who seems angry with the world and for whom happiness does not seem a likely destination.

It’s not going to end well for this couple, that much is clear even if I didn’t already spoil it with my lead in quotation above. Her boyfriend Adrien does manage to do one sweet thing in the story, however, as he points out to her a street sign “Rue Rachel.”

“‘See that?’ he said. She did see that. It was kind of nice. Unexpected.”

Not my favorite story among this year’s selections so far, but one worth reading. I also noted the (likely intentional) double meaning of the word, rue. Sure, it means “street” in French, but in English it means regret or sorrow. Something the Rachel – or “Rue Rachel” of this story has her share of.

What about YOU? What did you read for #DealMeIn2018 this week?  Do you like it when authors share with you the “story behind the story” and tell you how they came to write them? I do. Stephen King, for one, often shares this with readers, and the anthology this story was from also includes a section with info about the authors and their comments about their stories.

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“…after all the blank whiteness of upstate New York, the lights of Montreal finally made their little show outside the window.”

Are you remembering to use the #DealMeIn2018 hashtag in any tweets about your post or others you’ve read? My sidebar includes a link to the hashtag on Twitter, which can serve as a kind of one-stop shopping if you’d like to see what the others are reading and writing about for Deal Me In. I’ve been trying to tweet links to the ones I see and encourage others to “support the cause” of their fellow Deal-Me-In-ers and do the same.

 

“Unseen – Unfeared” by Francis Stevens – Selection 5 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Ace♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Spades♠ to stories featuring horror, sci-fi or fantasy.

The Selection: “Unseen – Unfeared,” from the awesome, Jeff VanderMeer anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. I’ve been working my way through the 110stories in this anthology for years now. I’ll be sad when I’ve exhausted them.

The Author: Francis Stevens, the nom de plume of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, an early pioneer for women writers of fantasy and science fiction. I was intrigued when during my research I found that she wrote an early dystopian novel in 1919 called “The Heads of Cerberus.” I will definitely have to look for that one! Stevens is the second “New-to-me Author” that I’ve been introduced to already in Deal Me In this year.

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.

Unseen – Unfeared

“Yet I tell you there are beings intangible to our physical sense, yet whose presence is felt by the spirit, and invisible to our eyes merely because those organs are not attuned to the light as reflected from their bodies.”“Everywhere I looked they were – centipedish things, with yard-long bodies, detestable, furry spiders that lurked in shadows, and sausage-shaped translucent horrors that moved – and floated through the air.“

Have you ever encountered something that was not easily explained by your intellect but, later, when some “plausible explanation” is found – even if only via quite a stretch – you clung to that explanation like grim death because to believe “something else” was more than you could bear? Yeah, me neither. 🙂 BUT, I think it is in our nature to do this as a kind of defense mechanism, which is just such a path that our narrator of this story chooses.

The narrator of the story has just finished dining with an “ever-interesting friend” who also happens to be a detective and thus sets the tone of the story as one of mystery. On his way home, through a neighborhood where the people are “mostly bareheaded, unkempt and generally unhygienic in appearance,” he realizes that “They were all humans, and I, too, was human. Some way I did not like the idea.” In other words, he’s in the perfect mood for a detour into … the Twilight Zone… Well, that’s what he would be if this were a television show in the late 50s or early 60s, but this is a short story of 1919!

With “a sense of evil in the air” he comes upon a drug store with an advertisement shouting “SEE THE GREAT UNSEEN! Come in! This Means You! FREE TO ALL!” He finds this irresistible, and with the mindset that the “there is only one way to deal with an imaginative temperament like mine – conquer its vagaries,” he knocks on the door…

If there are indeed such creatures as described in the lead-in quotation above, where might they come from? How might they be seen? The latter is achieved in this story by viewing them in a strange, green light, produced by looking through a “membrane” from South America(!) Where they come from however, is why we choose to leave them unseen and thus… “Unfeared” as the title suggests.

“Out of the ether – out of the omnipresent ether from whose intangible substance the mind of God made the planets, all living things, and man – man has made these! By his evil thoughts, his selfish panics, by his lusts and his interminable, never-ending hate he has made them, and they are everywhere!”

I almost “liked” (not the right word, but anyway) the disgusting feeling this story invoked regarding the faults of our species, and perhaps its impact on me was similar to that upon the narrator who actually beheld these creatures. I also had not heard of the author before, about whom the introduction to her story in my anthology says she was “the first major American female writer of fantasy and science fiction.” How had I not known about her before?! I think I will look for a copy of her novel “The Heads of Cerberus” and give her some attention she deserves.

♪♪ Personal notes: The author’s descriptions of the creatures in this story kept reminding me of a “toy” we had growing up (pictured below). “Creepy Crawlers” was a set of molds of various creepy crawling insects, arthropods, or arachnids, and using them – and different colored “liquid rubber” you could make your own playthings. How we never managed to burn the house down using the “thingmaker” and its heating element remains a mystery. Maybe other kids did, though, and that’s why they stopped selling them? I also like that there’s a little girl pictured on the box “enjoying” the results! This would never happen in my neighborhood!  I also remember my brothers and I had a box full of our “creations,” most of which would not have been out of place in this story…

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What about YOU? What did you read for Deal Me In this week? Are you old enough to remember “Creepy Crawlers?”

My Plans for #24in48 Readathon

It has become my personal tradition to try to read 24 stories in 48 hours during the #24in48 Readathons.  (since I always fell short when I tried to read for 24 hours) I doubt I’ll get that many finished this weekend as I already have a pretty  full schedule, but I will try. 🙂 My reading list is pictured below.

I’ve only read two of the authors before, so I am looking forward to meeting a lot of new writers. I’m particularly interested to see what the Welcome to the Greenhouse anthology (stories about climate change) will serve up. W.W. Jacobs has been a favorite of mine ever since I read The Monkey’s Paw. I think all but one of these stories are new to me. The O. Henry Prize-winners anthology provided some great stories for me for Deal Me In 2017, but I have several “leftovers” to heat up and consume from that volume.

What are your #24in48 Readathon Plans?

24in48 readlist pic

The Hill Bachelors by William Trevor – Selection 4 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Eight♠ 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: The Hill Bachelors – 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.

The Hill Bachelors

“It might not have been noticed that these days the bachelors of the hills found it difficult to attract a wife to the modest farms they inherited.”

This was a quietly powerful story. The patriarch of a family has died, and the five children return home for the funeral & cetera. We follow the story through the perspective of the youngest – and only bachelor – son, Paulie. Probably few of us have not experienced the bittersweet reunions that such occasions create. As someone who has,  I can say that Trevor’s descriptions and summary of the events that follow hit very close to the target.

Paulie’s mother is of an age where she will be too old to manage the farm herself, even with the help of neighbors, which she argues would be enough to sustain her without one of her children (Paulie, being a bachelor and “only” having a job that would be easy to quit, being the only candidate) moving back to help her.  He tells her that she’d “be dependent,” but she argues that “You have your own life, Paulie,” to which he replies “You have what there is.” A touching exchange – indeed much of the story is quite touching. There are logistics to be worked out regarding leaving his current job and other sundry tasks related to a death in the family, but, finally,

“He’d taken over. She could feel he’d taken over, the way he’d gone out to see were the heifers all right, the way it was he who remembered, last evening and this morning, that there was the bit of milking to do, that he’d done it without a word.”

Paulie doesn’t mind “taking over” but sadness creeps into the story when we realize that he will not be able to find a wife in the neighborhood. (He’s left behind a girl in the town where he worked, who he thought might be “the one.”) He doesn’t even resent that though (although it pains his mother):

“Paulie harboured no resentment, not being a person who easily did: going back to the farmhouse was not the end of the world. The end of the world had been to hear, in Meagher’s back bar, that life on a farm did not attract Patsy Finucane.”

Another great story from Trevor.

What about YOU? How did your Deal Me In reading go this week?

“Gods, Fate, and Fractals” by William Leisner – Selection 3 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠♠♠Jack♠♠♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ to to dark/horror/sci-fi stories.

The Selection: Gods, Fate, and Fractals, from “Strange New Worlds II” an anthology of stories from the Star Trek universe. I learned of this series when a local writer tweeted that he had submitted something for consideration in one of the future volumes. Now, I’m not a rabid “trekkie” or anything, but I have enjoyed all the series and (most of) the films immensely. I grew up watching re-runs of The Original Series, and can even remember that one local news station’s evening news team would end their broadcast by “beaming up” as the reruns of the show followed their half-hour every weeknight. I wasn’t very old at the time either and frankly am a bit surprised that my parents would let me stay up “that late” on school nights. Clearly, though, they appreciated the edifying capabilities of such a quality program… 🙂

The Author: William Leisner. (my 2nd “William” in a row for Deal Me In, though with a whole suit devoted to William Trevor I don’t think I can get away with labeling it a coincidence) The author is totally new to me. The ‘about the authors’ section of this collection tells us that he “lives in Rochester, NY, where he is manager of the book department of a multimedia superstore.” I wonder what that could be…  Find out more about him here.

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 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.

Gods, Fate, and Fractals

“Yes, we knew the old joke, a joke as old as the D.T.I. itself (one hundred two years, ten months, twenty-nine days). The joke was, “All temporal investigations lead, eventually, to the U.S.S. Enterprise.”

This was a fun read for me. As I mentioned in the header, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek in all its forms ever since I was old enough to watch television. To this day, I still feel compelled to watch any reruns of The Original Series when they are broadcast on my local cable network (though I – almost literally – have those episodes all memorized). This story was in the ST:TNG (That’s Star Trek: The Next Generation for any uninitiated) section of anthology, and takes as its “kernel of truth” an episode titled “Journey’s End” from the seventh season of that show’s run.

This story features two operatives, Lucsly and Dulmer of the Federation’s Department of Temporal Investigations (or the “DTI,” like the FBI, you know, though I’m pretty sure they don’t wear windbreakers with DTI in big block letters) who are trying to track down the source of the latest disruption to the correct time line, i.e. the time line they know. How do they know something is “wrong?” The “Maquis” a resistance group fighting against the Cardassians, has been eliminated from history. As a sidebar, I didn’t know until reading this story that the Maquis are a real historical group in our history – part of the French Resistance during World War II’s German occupation. If you’ve watched Star Trek: Voyager, you’ll know that part of that ship’s crew is made up of ex-Maquis members stranded in “The Delta Quadrant.” I realize all this will sound like Greek to non-ST fans, but those who are fans now have a foothold in this story’s setting I hope.

(below: bonus trivia points if you can name all four of these Maquis characters from Star Trek: Voyager. Go!)

Anyway, they eventually track down the “anomaly” to acts of former Enterprise Ensign Wesley Crusher. The two investigators “re interview” Jean-Luc Picard about the incident in the “Journey’s End”episode and are shocked by what he tells them.

“Had Picard used a phrase like “planes of existence” in an official log, the D.T.I. would have been on him like blue on an Andorian.”

Ha! Like Blue on an Andorian! love all the inside jokes in this story that I know only fans of the show will appreciate! I also love some other things that are consistent with the various traditions established by the various versions of the show, 220px-JourneyBabele.g. naming a starship in Star Trek universe is something I suspect writers take very seriously. In this one, we have the U.S.S. Lakota, which goes well with a “U.S.S. Crazy Horse” mentioned in another ST:TNG episode. Another ship in this story is captained by a “Captain Benteen” (I kinda see a pattern here, do you?).

Anyway, the story leads the agents to encounter Wesley Crusher and “The Traveler,” who has a couple appearances in ST:TNG, and confusing time anomalies and paradoxes and philosophical temporal mechanics ensue, etc. As I said, a fun story to read. I would read more Star Trek fiction by this author.

The Deal Me In coincidence this week? Well, there’s a local public “book club” (Books, Booze & Brains) that is meeting at the end of the month to cover the book, “Ready Player One” which I bought the audible.com version of to listen to during my commutes this month. At the start of the audio book, I heard the words, “read by Wil Wheaton…” (the actor who portrayed Wesley Crusher in Star Trek, not to mention portraying himself in a recurring role on the popular series, The Big Bang). I groaned internally as I am not particularly a fan of his work, BUT I must say that, at about 2.5 hours in, he’s doing an excellent job.

(below: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher in season one of ST:TNG – the first time he and “The Traveler” appeared together on the show.)

Is Wesley Crusher the most disliked ST character ever?  In another DMI coincidence, guess what came up in my Twitter feed on the same day I wrote this blog post…  https://screenrant.com/worst-characters-in-star-trek/?utm_source=SR-TW&utm_medium=Social-Distribution&utm_campaign=SR-TW&view=list

How did YOUR Deal Me In 2018 reading go this week?  What? Not participating?  Well it’s never too late to start. You only need to read a few short stories to be “all caught up.” 🙂

Solitude by William Trevor – Selection 2 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♥Ace♥ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ to stories by Irish writer William Trevor, a widely acknowledged titan of the short story form. He passed away last year; how sad that there will be no more new stories from his pen.

The Selection: Solitude, from William Trevor: Selected Stories. I selected it solely because of the title, for I am among those who often enjoy solitude. 🙂

The Author: William Trevor. I became acquainted with Trevor through his collection, “After Rain,” which I acquired back in 2010. 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.

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 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.

Solitude

“In the hotel where I live, in Bordighera’s Regina Palace, my friends are the dining-room waiters, and the porters in the hall, and the bedroom maids; I do not turn away such friendship and I have myself for company too. Yet when my face is there in the glass of my compact, or reflected in shop windows when the sun is right, or glimpsed in public mirrors, I often think I do not know that woman. I wonder when I gaze for a moment longer if what I see is the illusion imposed by my imagination upon the shadow a child became, if somehow I do not entirely exist. I know that this is not so, yet still it seems to be.“

This story is the first person account of a girl named Villana told from when she was a little girl of undisclosed age (though young enough to still have imaginary friends) to being a teenager, to being fifty-three years old and living on after the death of her parents. It’s the evolution of her relationship with the parents across the decades that makes this story worth reading.

When Villana is in her youth, her father is often absent (he’s a kind of “wanna be Egyptologist”) which leads her mother to find a new (male) “friend.” While they are certainly not the first family to encounter such “difficulties,” their case is made especially painful due to the mother & friend’s careless lack of discretion, which leads to Villana witnessing something “no child ever should.”

How this “secret” effects Villana then, and at different stages of her life is the engine that drives the story, which takes some twists and turns – including a real shocker that is thrown in, if only by implication. Her later life seems a sad and incomplete one, as the quotation shared above no doubt let’s you know. Perhaps it is her parents’ “normalizing” the past indiscretion – or at least not making a “big deal” out of it, which contributes most to her life of solitude.

“There is no regret on my mother’s part that I can tell, nor is there bitterness on his; I never heard a quarrel.”

Maybe if there had been a standard “row” about it there would have been closure for her, and she would have led a more normal life. Certainly a sad story, but one well told.

Two down and fifty to go! How did your #DealMeIn2018 reading go this week?

 

The Fish of Lijiang by Chen Qiufan – selection #1 of Deal Me In 2018

img_1299The Card: ♠8♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for horror, sci-fi, or fantasy stories

The Selection: The Fish of Lijiang, from the anthology “Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese a Science Fiction in Translation.” I’ve become interested in Chinese Sci-fi of late, mostly due to the astounding Li Cixin Novel, “The Three Body Problem” translated by Ken Liu, who also did the translation for the stories this anthology. He has also made a Deal Me In appearance in the past, with his story The Paper Menagerie. As of the time of this blog post, the story is available to read online, thanks to Clarksworld Magazine.

The Author: Chen Qiufan – A new-to-me author, he wrote his much-praised debut novel, “The Waste Tide” in 2013. (Pic above from his twitter account). There were three of his stories in “Invisible Planets” and this one was easily my favorite.

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 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 Fish of Lijiang

“Ten years ago, I had nothing and no cares. Ten years ago, Lijiang was a paradise for those who liked to exile themselves from civilization.”

And right out of the gate in Deal Me In 2018 I already have a candidate for favorite story of the year! I’ve read a few other stories over the years that gave me a similar feel to this one, most notably, Premendra Mitra’s “The Discovery of Telenapota,” which I read during a 2016 Readathon. Both tell of a city benighted by fantastic imagery and events. Our protagonist in this story is a businessman who to falls victim to his company’s “damned mandatory physical exam” which leaves him diagnosed as “PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II).” The prescribed cure? A getaway sojourn in the town of Lijiang.

After “drifting around” following his arrival in Lijiang, he begins to wonder, “Is this how you get better? Without any physical therapy, medication, special diet, yoga, yin-yang dynamics, or any other kind of professional care?” Eventually, though, he meets a woman. A very interesting woman. It turns out she’s a “special care nurse,” in town for her own rehabilitation. After getting acquainted they begin to explore the town together, though they have been there before. Both lament how the town has changed and lost its magic, with nothing being “real” anymore but instead soaked in a feel of consumerism.

Only the schools of red fish that live in Lijiang’s waterways retain the magic of the old Lijiang.

“Whether it’s dawn, dusk, or midnight, you can see them hovering in the water, facing the same direction, lined up like soldiers on a parade ground, ready for inspection. But if you look closer, you’ll see that they aren’t really still. In fact, they’re struggling against the current in order to maintain their position.”

I don’t think I can say too much more without “revealing” the whole story, but when it turned really interesting for me is when we learn that both “patients” are suffering from a “time-related” illness, but not the same illness. Maybe they can help each other? Read the story for yourself at the link in the header for this post.

So, how was YOUR first story of Deal Me In 2018? Will it be among your favorites?

(Below: Lijiang is a “real” place in the world. It looks quite beautiful, and it’s easy to see how it could inspire a story…)

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Another Reading Challenge!? Introducing “The Frankenslam!” – a 2018 Frankenstein Bicentennial Reading Challenge

2018 is the Bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. In honor of this occasion, I created for myself a reading challenge and – upon further reflection – decided to “make it public,” so here goes.

Just what is a “Frankenslam?” Well, when I first read Shelley’s novel – maybe 25 years ago – I remember being struck by how articulate and literate the “monster” was. Do you know how this came to be? If you haven’t read the book you won’t know, but even if you have you may have since forgotten. At a certain point in the novel, the monster is heading back to his “hovel” in the woods and stumbles upon someone’s lost “leathern portmanteau” which contains three books – a volume of Plutarch’s Lives (he doesn’t say specifically other than it contained the lives of the first leaders of the ancient republics,  so maybe that can be intuited(?) – extra credit available there!)  The second is Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther (a.k.a. “The Sorrows of Young Werther”) and the third is John Milton’s Paradise Lost. My challenge to myself is to read all three of these in 2018, thus acquiring a similar ‘base knowledge’ to that of Frankenstein’s monster.  Who’s with me??

To complete a Frankenslam, participants will need to accumulate One Billion (say these last two words like Dr. Evil if you want) Volts (according to nationalgeographic.com each bolt of lightning can contain up to a billion votes – get it?). How do you accumulate volts? By reading the three books, each having a value in volts:

Paradise Lost 375 million volts; Plutarch’s Lives – 350 million volts; The Sufferings of Young Werther – 275 million volts.  If you can finish those three then, congratulations, you have completed a Frankenslam! Ideally, I and other Frankenslammers would also love to read a blog post describing your reaction to these three books (50 million volts) and how they helped shape the “monster,” but the most important thing is to READ them all.

Maybe you are more ambitious than that, though.  If so, there’s also a ‘double secret’ level, the Frankenslam Dunk!  Which you can earn if you also read the original Frankenstein novel itself (200 million volts) and watch the iconic 1931 film version (100 million volts) for a total of 1.3 Billion volts.

If you’re less ambitious, you can try The Frankenlay-up. Reading just one or two of the three books from the leathern portmanteau.

Universal Frankenstein - angry mob

If you don’t have time to do so much reading, do a light-hearted Villagers with Pitchforks and Torches level and maybe just read the Classics Illustrated Comic Book 51wPPHD6o+L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_version of the novel (50 million volts), eat a bowl of Frankenberry cereal (10 million volts – I hope this is still around(?)), watch Young Frankenstein (25 million volts), watch The Bride of Frankenstein (25 million volts) and maybe a few episodes of The Munsters (5 million volts each). Watch an episode or two of the animated Milton the Monster series (for 4 million volts each).

Other ways to accumulate points, er volts:

Convince your book club to read Frankenstein (100 million volts); Go to Geneva Switzerland, the “birthplace” of the novel (100 million volts). Discuss the novel with a reading friend who has read it (25 million volts; limit 4 friends). Buy a leathern portmanteau yourself to proudly carry evidence of your completing a Frankenslam.

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So, have I got everyone “charged up” about this challenge?! You can follow your progress with the convenient scorecard below:

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Okay, so yes, this really is kind of a tongue in cheek challenge, but seriously, wouldn’t it be worthy to have these three famous books under your belt?  Do you know any readers in your circle who have read all three? I’d bet the number of people out there who have is a relatively small number.  I suppose that Mary Shelley herself had read them so as to be able to include them effectively in her novel, but who else?? The only one I’ve read completely is The Sufferings of Young Werther. I’ve tried Paradise Lost before but without success. I’ve read a few individual lives of Plutarch but not a “volume” so I have a lot of reading to do.

Won’t you join me in this unique challenge for 2018? Leave a comment below and I’ll link to you on my sidebar. I’ll also post a “quarterly report” with my progress and updated scorecard.

 

From Chapter 15 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

“One night, during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood, where I collected my own food, and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize, and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.

“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors, and with the wants which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sunk deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.

“As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathised with, and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. ‘The path of my departure was free’; and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

“The volume of Plutarch’s Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter’s imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.

“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from, beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.

 

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