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 (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!


“It’s the Most Wonderful Day of the Year!” Announcing the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge!

Short stories “saved my reading life” way back when I was about 30 years old. Though I’d read a lot in high school and college, somehow my reading habits had atrophied from a lack of exercise. At some point, I eased my way back into reading when I picked up a few books of short stories and thought, “Well, certainly I can find the time to regularly read short stories!” so I started doing just that. One thing led to another, and they proved a useful “gateway drug” that guided me back to being the voracious reader I’ve been ever since.

Then, once I started blogging, it only took me a year ( 🙂 ) to invent the Deal Me In Challenge and I’m very proud in the knowledge that literally THOUSANDS of short stories have been read ALL OVER THE WORLD as a result of this challenge. So I guess all that’s left to ask is….

Will YOU become part of this great tradition in 2019?  The rules of the challenge are not difficult:


Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at follow her on Twitter at

What is the goal of the challenge?

To read 52 short stories in 2019 (that’s only one per week – versions with a lesser story requirement are noted below)

What is the purpose?

To have FUN and to be exposed to new authors and stories and maybe get in the habit of reading a short story a week. Isn’t that enough?

What do I need?

1) Access to at least fifty-two short stories (don’t own any short story collections or anthologies? See links to online resources below)
2) A deck of cards
3) An average of perhaps as little as just thirty minutes of reading time each week

Where do I post* about my stories?

(*You don’t have to post about every single story, of course, – or even ANY story – but if you have something to say about the story you read any given week, your fellow participants would love to hear it.)

1) On your own blog or website if you have one.

2) If you don’t have a blog or website you may comment on any of my Deal Me In posts, sharing thoughts on your own story. Better yet, you can tweet about short stories you read using the hashtag #DealMeIn2019. In fact, I encourage everyone who does blog about the stories they read to use the hashtag (which I will link to in my sidebar in 2019) when you publish a post. Fellow DMI’ers can find them more easily and, hopefully, retweet them too.

How do I pick which stories to read?

The 52 stories themselves are totally up to you. Before you get started reading, come up with a roster of fifty-two stories (you can use any source) and assign each one to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. It can be fun to use different suits for different types of stories, but that is optional. I’ve often included one wild card for each suit too, so I can maybe read a story I’ve heard about during the year, or read another by an author I’ve discovered through this challenge. Each “week,” (if you’re like me, you may occasionally fall a story or two behind – that’s okay) you draw a card at random from your deck and that is the story you will read. There are links to many participants lists in last year’s sign up post if you want to see some examples. I’ve already posted my own 2019 roster.

What if I don’t have time to read a story every single week?

You don’t have to read your stories on a regular schedule (I almost always fall behind at least once during the year) and can catch up once a month if your prefer – OR try one of the challenge variations noted below, the Fortnight (or “payday” if you prefer) version is one story every two weeks or the “Full Moon Fever” version with just thirteen stories read or selected on seeing each full moon…

How do I sign up?

Leave a comment below with your URL, and I will link you on my home page, where I’ll eventually have a section in my sidebar for “2019 Deal Me In Participants.” I hope to occasionally publish some kind of wrap-up post, linking to other Deal Me In participants’ posts I’ve seen recently, or just giving an update on how things are going.

Late sign-ups (we always get a few) are allowed and encouraged too. If you can, I’d love you to add where in the world you’re blogging from and where or how you heard about the Deal Me In! challenge.

Some short story resources:

Classic Horror Stories: short story of the day
EastoftheWeb’s short story of the day:
The Library of America’s short story of the week archive:

Free online has a wide selection; or check here for a few more. Heck just google “free short stories on line” and you’ll have enough to last a lifetime of Deal Me In Challenges!  Check out The New Yorker too. Last I checked you could access a limited number of their published stories per month. If your local library is like mine, they’ll likely have a good collection of annual O’Henry Prize-winning volumes, or the yearly Best American Short Stories anthologies.
Looking for some really short stories? Try here If you have recommendations for other free sources of short stories, feel free to share in the comments.

Deal Me In Variations:

The Deal Me In “Fortnight Version” – just use two suits from your deck and assign a story to each card, drawing a card every two weeks. If you get paid bi-weekly, you can use that as a reminder to draw a new card (I guess this makes the fortnight variation a.k.a. The “payday version.”)

The Deal Me In “Euchre Deck Version”If you work for “one of those companies” where you only get paid twice a month on the 15th and 30th, e.g., use a euchre deck!  Note: I’ve experimented with an accelerated euchre deck version for a couple readathons, especially the 24 in 48 readathon, where, instead of trying to read 24 hours out of 48, I try to read 24 short stories in 48 hours. Also pretty challenging!

The Deal Me In “Full Moon Fever Version” – this would be the baby steps way to ease into the Deal Me In routine, basically reading just one story a month (who doesn’t have time for that?). Just use one suit or face cards only and you’re set. Seeing the full moon in the sky can also serve as a reminder – “hey, I need to read my next short story!” 🙂

Not sure when the full moons occur? Not surprisingly, that information is available in many places on line, one of which is HERE.

You could also try using the new moons, as well, or BOTH new and full moons. In the past, we’ve had a couple Deal Me In’ers have a full moon add-on in addition to their 52 stories.

Other participants in the past have added their own wrinkles: Reading a story a week for only half the year, reading two at a time and trying to find a “connection” between them, reading essays, plays, poems, or famous speeches… Feel free to twist, spindle or mutilate this challenge any way you see fit to suit your own plans – the only element that should probably remain is the use of playing cards to determine your reading order.

So, how about it?  Are you UP for a challenge? If so, Deal Me In 9.0 might just be for you!  Shall we “Deal YOU in?”

“The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs” by Kelly Jennings – Selection 50 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠K♠  King of Spades. Playing card picture at left found on pinterest. Samoyed pic from wikipedia.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for (mostly) dark/horror/sci-fi stories.  I’ve been a digital subscriber to the “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazine for some time now, and many of its short stories have found their way onto my DMI (and other readathon) reading lists.

The Author: Kelly Jennings, who I’ve never read before. She lives in Northwest Arkansas. You can find her on Twitter at @delagar and she has an active blog at

The Selection: “The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs” I own a copy as part of the May/June 2017 edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. I picked it for Deal Me In because I found the title irresistible.

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 History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs

“Resistance. That’s nearly as funny as Refugee Camp. But lots of us who survived the Camps did have the notion we could fight the invaders, especially those of us who were young and stupid.”

Okay. All those who had a dog or dogs growing up, please raise your hands. Mine’s up too, and while reading this story I remembered how family history is sometimes linked to “which dog you had at the time” a certain event happened. It’s also coincidental that I can remember five dogs: Flip, Rex, Tip, King, and Ring.  Rex was the only one we kept at, or I should say that lived his life at, my childhood home in Indianapolis. The others we bought with the foreknowledge that they would eventually handed over to my Granddad, who lived in the mountains of West Virginia, where the dogs could “roam free” and we could still visit them a couple times a year.

I think I could likely write my childhood history told in five dogs, but it would be an incomplete history. I also remember being fascinated as a kid about the concept of “dog years” vs. “human years.” I had to look up a conversion chart (shared later in this post) after reading this story to refresh my memory, as I, sadly, have not owned any dogs in my adult life. I loved how the author describes (pictured below from my kindle app) that the story came to her at a dog park in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It’s easy to see how the other dogs in the park could become “characters” in this story, just as Tolstoy’s “faces in the town square” ended up populating his endless novels. I was also reminded by the title of the sci-fi novel, “Earth Abides,” where in the new, post-apocalyptic world of that book, they give names to the years instead of numbers, and wasn’t one year known as “The Year Princess Died”? Princess being the survivors’ dog.

We don’t learn too much about the invaders in this story either (just that they are extraterrestrial and are applying their version of “terraforming” to the earth [the actual terra!], which leaves “us” with 10 months out of 12 being winter-like). Humans are outmatched and outgunned, and as our narrator says, “It’s hard to fight a civilization that’s capable of leaping across galaxies and rebuilding planets.”

It’s the nature of telling the story in five dogs that appealed to me about this one. There are five chapters and each begin “FIRST DOG,” “SECOND DOG,” etc. We learn about the breeds and names of the dogs, except  the THIRD DOG, whose brief story is a simple tragedy. They include a Weimeraner mix and a Samoyed as the final dog, where the narrator has fled to the high Rocky Mountains and has joined a survivor camp of 35 people. This compound of people also begins to wonder if they’re the last “survivors” left:

“Sometimes, when I’m standing up on Red Rock looking out across the frozen world, I think like Merle, that we should try to find these other people while we still can. I think if someone else is out there, maybe we aren’t, after all, doomed. Or at least not yet.”

Not a very upbeat story, but again, its attraction for me was the unique framing of it which I found fascinating. How about YOU? What are some of your favorite stories or books that involve dogs? (I can think of one novel my book club read where dogs were the star “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”). What about stories or novels about alien invasions? Recommend some to me, please. 🙂 Or just tell me about YOUR favorite dog.

♫♫ Personal notes: In the post invasion world of this story, some humans opt to become “adjuncts” – a kind of pet/servant for the alien invaders, this called to mind my copy of the “Classics Illustrated” version of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds, which I read over and over in my formative years. Particularly the panels pictured below.


My 2019 Deal Me In Stories


(Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at follow her on Twitter at

One of my favorite parts of “The Holiday Season” the past few years is planning out my list of 52 stories that I will read in the upcoming year. Every year I try to read one a week, with the order being randomized by a drawing of cards. Over the years I’ve accumulated a ton of sources for short story material, and it seems I am always adding more. Another thing I enjoy is trying to come up with four “suits” to fit my stories into. It seems each year I have at least one which is groundbreaking, at least for me. This year I’m really excited about my Diamonds suit.

(pictured above (and below) some of my sources. The bottom left of the lower group is a little fuzzy, I’m afraid, but it is the page, which lists a hundred free favorite short stories. A link to this page is included below.)

I should note that I am planning to “host” (using that word very loosely, here, basically I’m just going to announce) the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge on this Saturday, December 21st, which will be the “shortest” day of the year – at least for us Northern Hemispherians.  So, I thought maybe I should have a list of my own that I could point back to in order to help “get everyone started.”

Lots of new authors for me this year. And a new genre for me too (Solarpunk! – who knew about it? I didn’t until recently). Also a new reading format as you’ll see as you read further below and get to diamonds…

So, without further ado…here are my 2019 stories:


♣♣Clubs♣♣ will be my suit for “prize winning” stories. In this case, if a story is in either the O. Henry Prize Collection (2016 is the most recent one I own so for that year 🙂 ) or in the Best American Short Stories anthology (2017 in this case). I’m hoping I can relax and know all these stories will be good since they have been picked by more discerning eyes than mine. I’m especially excited in the fact that all but one of these authors are new to me. I’ve left room for a wild card as well.


♥♥Hearts♥♥ will be my suit for favorite authors.  All but one of them come from the online resource, which I hope other Deal Me In participants might check out as a possible source for their own DMI rosters. Great stories there – and all for free! I threw in a Philip K. Dick story from that site especially because I’ve recently been rewatching the superb Amazon Prime Series “The Man in the High Castle” which is based on his work.


♠♠Spades♠♠ will continue to be my suit for darker, sci-fi, ghost, and ‘alternative’-type stories. This year I’ve culled six stories each from two sources: the anthology “Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World” and the Summer issue of the magazine “Midwestern Gothic.” I’ve featured several stories from this magazine before and once attended an event at a local bookstore where several of their authors performed readings of their work.


♦♦Diamonds♦♦ will be my suit for stories that I listen to (I reserve the right to read along with the narration in cases where I have that option). I have never read a story for Deal Me In that way before so this will be a new experience for me. I have four sources for these stories: 1) Stories from The New Yorker magazine, where, as a digital subscriber, the digital edition I receive sometimes includes audio of the author reading the stories. How cool is that? 2) Stories from the podcast “Levar Burton Reads.” Several people have recommended this podcast to me so now I will finally have an excuse to explore it. 3) Stories from the book “O. Henry: Complete Short Stories Collection” and 4) Stories from the production ” The Great American Short Story Collection.” This will be fun.


These are my stories for 2019.  Have you been thinking about YOURS??? How many of these stories or authors have YOU read before? The official announcement post is coming soon. I always look forward to what my fellow DMI participants come up with in the way of twists and turns and tweaks on the challenge format. I also look forward to being introduced to new authors by my fellow participants. That’s part of the reason I leave “deuces wild” in my roster. Some stories I hear about through the blogging community sound just too enticing to wait to read!

As the year progresses, I intend to list my reading order below and post links to any stories that inspire me to write a blog post about them. (Hopefully more in 2019 than in 2018!)

Week 1: Hog for Sorrow by Leopoldine Core

Week 2: The Crabapple Tree by Robert Coover

Week 3: The Story of Keesh by Jack London

“The Lady from Monte Carlo” by Dovid Knut – Selection 47 of #DealMeIn2018

Deal Me In, Catch Me Up!

Though I haven’t been writing many blog posts this year, I have been keeping up with my reading of the stories on my Deal Me In list. I only have five to go now, and a couple recent reads were very good – or at least though-provoking – so I thought I should break my silence. I’m also beginning to think about next year’s Deal Me In chalenge. Are you? I will be posting an invitation to join post on December 21st (the “SHORT”est day of the year, of course – at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere!)

The Card: ♣3♣  Three of Clubs.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky. I’ve long been a sucker for short stories written by Russian authors, and this volume has provided several more that were memorable for me.

The Author: Dovid Knut, who I’ve never read – nor even heard of – before. He lived from 1900 – 1955 and, after the Bolshevik Revolution, spent a lot of time in Paris. He was actually born in what is now Moldova and also lived in Romania for a while. His personal bio information in Wikipedia was interesting to read through.

The Selection: “The Lady from Monte Carlo” I own this story as part of the great anthology “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.” I had no particular reason for picking this story as one of the thirteen from the volume I would read for the challenge.

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.

(below: the city of Monte Carlo today, from Forbes Travel Guide)


The Lady from Monte Carlo

“For the love of God, my dear boy. Leave this place. Go. Trust me, you must leave at once.”

I was a little confused, initially at least, as to what this story was “about.”  But eventually I decided it was about the giving of advice, and how frequently advice – particularly good advice – is ignored. I’ve been guilty of not taking good advice throughout my life and I’m sure, if you’re being honest, you’ve – at least at times – done the same.

Why do we do it, though? Our reasons may vary but the end result is usually to our detriment. Do we think we know more than the advice-giver? Do we not trust the advice-giver? Do we just not like to think we need to be told what to do or how to behave? I think I’m guilty on all of these accounts in the many instances of my being heedless. What are some other reasons?  Do we pick the advice we like the best, ignoring the rest, often because the path of following the most correct advice is more work or more difficult? What do YOU think?

Our narrator for this tale is a rather dissolute young man, and we find him in Monte Carlo at the tables. All is rosy at first, as he is having “one of those nights” noting that his ‘luck was in.’ I think the author communicates this rare state of euphoria well, as the narrator notes that “I began to feel a definite pride – the pride of a successful gambler (I was sure I was in some way worthier, more gifted, more intelligent than my neighbours at the table, whom I probably – I could now swear to this – regarded with disdain).” Of course, as with most lucky streaks, it can’t go on forever and – imagine this! – he doesn’t quit while he’s ahead.

While he’s in town (and Monte Carlo is probably not the best city to be in if you have a gambling problem!) he sees an old lady who, for reasons he initially doesn’t know, seems to take an interest in him. She tells him of her her life, which “was an essentially uncomplicated story, yet I listened intently to ‘The Lady from Monte Carlo’, never taking my eyes off her.”

He learns that she came to Monte Carlo at the age of twenty, and that she had been exceptionally beautiful. She had visited the casino “out of boredom” and – surprise! – lost all her money, deciding never to do something so foolish again. Those who have a little knowledge of gambling addiction can probably guess that she did not stick to that decision. In her own time of need, she is saved by a kindly old gentleman and now she is presumably intent on ‘paying it forward’ to this contemporary young man, who seems to be careening down the same road she took in her youth.

What I began to see emerge in the story was a kind of multi-generational cycle of advice givers, advice ignorers, and advice “acceptors.” This was a pleasing idea to me that, in the midst of this city where these temptations thrived there was a kind of “lineage” (the kindly old gentleman seems to be part of it) of those who sought to help and and spare others what they themselves had suffered.

The Lady even has a Hamlet-worthy soliloquy near the end:

“I had a beloved, a sister, interesting work, hobbies, youth, beauty, life – and I gave it all up, do you hear? All of it. Do you know what that means? All, all, all of it for this money. I turned into a machine for accumulating money. I was loved – now I am despised. By everyone. I was surrounded by people; now I am alone, or surrounded by monsters. I was once beautiful – I became ugly. I was once alive – but I very nearly became a corpse.”

I wondered while reading if there are other stories centered around gambling that an organization like Gamblers Anonymous would present as cautionary tales. Do you know of any, or even just any good stories where gambling plays a major part?

“Dethroned” by I.N. Potapenko – selection 38 of #DealMeIn2018

Yes, I’m actually posting about a short story from Deal Me In 2018!  Can you believe it? 🙂

The Card: ♣2♣ Two of Clubs – a wild card.  I stayed with the Russian theme, but looked to another volume for my wild card selection, finding one in Best Russian Short Stories that I hadn’t read before.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, BUT deuces are WILD in #DealMeIn2018, and I strayed from this volume (see above)

The Author: I.N. Potapenko, who I’ve never read – nor even heard of – before. He wrote in what is now Ukraine. I don’t know if he’s related to the former NBA Player, Vitaly Potapenko. 🙂

The Selection: “Dethroned” published in 1917.

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.


“They were two types of beauty very likely to divide the gentlemen of the regiment into two camps of admirers. But women are never content with halves.”

I didn’t know anything about this story before selecting it so, as is often the case, I only had the title as a hint about its subject matter. Would it be about some great political coup? A Tsar who has met his hostile successor? No, thrones in the ordinary world were seemingly not of interest to Potapenko – this is the story of two women who are in competition to be the proverbial “belle of the ball.”

On the one hand, we have Mrs. Zarubkin, the Captain’s wife, a schemer and the “defending champion,” and on the other we have her main challenger, Mrs. Shaldin. The former was rather plump and with “rather light” hair, while the latter was “a brunette with a pale complexion and large dark eyes.”

We see most of the story’s action through Mrs. Zarubkin’s eyes, for Mrs. Shaldin is away on some kind of “rest cure”-like vacation. Mrs. Z fears that Mrs. S will return with the latest fashions from “abroad” and that, left with her own seasoned wardrobe, she won’t be able to retain her status. She engages many others on her errands to seek intelligence on what Mrs. S’s gown might look like, and makes the only dressmaker in town swear to give her preferred customer status and to spend the last few days before an upcoming “annual ball’ working only on her gown.  She also enlists one of her household servants to spy on the the Shaldin’s house to gain information regarding Mrs. S’s return.

“…the lady’s manner toward the servant was far friendlier than toward her husband. Semyonov had it in his power to perform important services for her, while the captain had not come up to her expectations.”

In the end, it is the pretender to the throne who emerges victorious, as she has returned to town with a new “Empire”-style gown, one that the town’s dressmaker cannot or will not duplicate.  At the ball, it soon becomes clear that Mrs. Z had been dethroned:

“For in comparison with the make and style of Mrs. Shaldin’s dress, which had been bought abroad, hers was liked the botched imitation of an amateur. That was evident to everybody, though the captain’s wife had her little group of partisans, who maintained with exaggerated eagerness that she looked extraordinarily fascinating in her dress and Mrs. Shaldin still could not rival her. But there was no mistaking it, there was little justice in the contention. Everybody knew better; what was worst of all, Mrs. Zarubkin herself knew better…

I enjoyed the story a lot and also reading of “the furious resentment of a dethroned goddess” that Mrs. Z displayed. Reading it was a pleasant return to and reminder of all the great Russian Short Stories I’ve read as part of Deal Me In over the years.

Update on my weekend Readathon-ing

(above: I dealt myself a hand of Euchre with my deck of Isle of Man playing cards to determine the order of the stories I’m reading for this anthology)

I didn’t have much time to read during the official hours of the Something Wicked This Fall Comes kickoff readathon, but I did finish six of my selected 24 stories. Here are some brief thoughts on them, most of which come from the Ray Bradbury “Shadow Show” tribute anthology. I love the format of this anthology, which includes comments by the author after each story, telling of their connection to the legendary writer.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill

This was a very Bradbury-esque story (just what one would expect from this anthology!) that takes off on the American version of the Loch Ness Monster legend. Or did you not know that Lake Champlain in New York is also the reputed home of a Plesiosaur (in this case named “Champ”)? Two children are playing along the shore of the lake when one, a little girl named Gail, spots a large “rock” on the beach. Naturally, they scale to the top of it but quickly realize that “that’s no rock…” but instead the washed up body of a ‘monster’ of the lake.  Add to this a recurring foghorn-like noise (kinda reminds you of another Bradbury tale, huh? But that’s – literally – another story) that they keep hearing out on the water somewhere and the children’s wish to become rich and famous for being the ones to discover the “dinosaur” and you end up with quite a story.  I liked this one.

Little America by Dan Chaon

An author I’ve heard about frequently and who has even made an appearance in a previous year of the Deal Me In Challenge at Katherine’s blog, The Writerly Reader (see  here for her post on his story, The Bees).  This one was kind of a chilling tale – a man is traveling across the country with a young boy who we casually learn is his prisoner and may have somehow been responsible for his parents’ deaths. “You did love them, didn’t you?” the man repeated asks him for reassurance. It turns out we’re in a post-apocalyptic America with “a werewolf problem” which the “boy” is part of, being one himself. I didn’t like this story as much as the others that I’ve read thus far in the collection. My favorite part was reading the author’s comments after the story about how he wrote to Bradbury when he was a very young writer and how Bradbury encouraged him, etc. (also noted in the blog post linked above)

Roger Malvin’s Burial by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My favorite story of my weekend reading. Roger and Reuben are returning from a fierce battle with Indians on America’s colonial frontier. Both are wounded, Roger being mortally so (thus the story’s title). Add into the mix the fact that Roger is the father of Reuben’s intended, Dorcas. After much discussion, Roger convinces Reuben that he must leave him behind and, by doing so, “save himself” since his helping along the more severely wounded man is depleting his own strength to a dangerous degree. Naturally, Reuben resists this idea but eventually relents, vowing to himself to return someday and bury his comrade and would-be father-in-law. Will he? What will he tell his future wife? What kind of guilt will haunt him? Hawthorne addresses it all with heartbreaking precision.

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another fine Hawthorne story, but not up to the standards of Roger Malvin’s Burial. What’s “on tap” for the experiment in this story’s title is water from the legendary Fountain of Youth, once sought by Ponce de Leon in what is now Florida. It seems our Doctor Heidegger has somehow acquired a sufficient volume of this magical H2O and plans to share it with four of his aged friends. How will they react? Will the water’s benefits be temporary or permanent? What will they risk or do to make sure it’s the latter? An interesting commentary on human nature.

Mesmeric Revelation by Edgar Allan Poe*

Poe was apparently fascinated by hypnosis – in his day more often referred to as Mesmerism – as I have read other things by him where it is featured, most notably in the story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” which I even blogged about once. In this story, the narrator has a sick and dying friend who wishes to be mesmerized so that he may communicate certain things. It’s ending is quite similar in feeling to The Valdemar story, in speculating that discourse with an individual’s “soul” might continue even after it has quit the body. I found this one almost tedious, however, as it is also in part a lesson in Philosophy complete with the entwining language that course of study seems to require…

The Phone Call by John McNally

Another entry in the Shadow Show anthology. This one felt a little like a rip off of the film “Frequency.” The titular phone call is one the narrator is able to make to previous times in his life, trying to advise his younger self, Dougie, or his emperiled mother. What has made this special phone line possible was unclear to me, but there’s a tantalizing scene at the beginning of the story when young Dougie has had his tonsils taken out and ‘comes out of it’ in a shared hospital room where the other occupant – a Mr. Belvedere – is breathing his last.

“Over the years Doug would meet other people, strangers mostly, with remarkably similar stories, of waking up in a haze of anesthesia next to a dead person whose soul was being spirited away. Did everyone have such stories? He would wonder.”

I may have to give this story another pass…

So, pretty much failure for me as far as high volume readathon-ing goes, but I will finish this euchre deck of short stories, I promise. *I had to switch my original list since I couldn’t find my hard copy of The Mirrors collection in time to pack it for my trip out of town. I still intend to revisit that collection and give it its blogging due at some point. That’s all for now, but did YOU read any short stories over the holiday weekend (here in America anyway)? Tell me about them.

Below: from Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Foghorn. Image found via google images.


Something Wicked This Fall Comes Readathon

Okay, I need to try to do something to get back into active blogging, so maybe trying a readathon will help. Heard about this one at The Writerly Reader and it sounds like fun. I have a list of 24 stories that I will try to read, and as usual I’m going to randomize my reading order a la the Deal Me In challenge.

Here’s a link to the host page for Something Wicked This Fall Comes:

I have four books of story collections that will be my sources:

  1. The Mirrors – a horror collection from local author Nicole Cushing. I’ve read this collection before, and always wanted to blog about it but never did, so it’s time to refresh my memory and get to work on a blog post.
  2. From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Collected Works – he wrote a lot of scary stories, all but one of these will be first-time reads for me.
  3. Stories from “Shadow Show” a Ray Bradbury tribute collection. Can’t go wrong with Bradbury or those that admire him.
  4. From “Mistresses of the Macabre” an athology from “way back” in my Kindle library that I read a story from once for Deal Me In, but hadn’t gotten back to. Now I will. At least six of them.

My complete list is below. What are you reading for the season? Do Tell.

Kickoff Readathon for “Something Wicked This Fall Comes”
Stories from Nicole Cushing’s collection, “The Mirrors” (Paperback) ♦J♦ The Company Town Nicole Cushing
♦A♦ The Choir of Beasts Nicole Cushing
♦K♦ The Fourteenth Nicole Cushing
♦Q♦ The Last Kid I Scared by Lugosi Nicole Cushing
♦10♦ I Am Moonflower Nicole Cushing
♦9♦ The Orchard of Hanging Trees Nicole Cushing
Classics from Nathaniel Hawthorne (Nook) ♠J♠ The Prophetic Pictures Nathaniel Hawthorne
♠A♠ The Hollow of the Three Hills Nathaniel Hawthorne
♠K♠ The Vision of the Fountain Nathaniel Hawthorne
♠Q♠ Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment Nathaniel Hawthorne
♠10♠ Rappaccini’s Daughter Nathaniel Hawthorne
♠9♠ Roger Malvin’s Burial Nathaniel Hawthorne
Picks from Shadow Show – Ray Bradbury Tribute (Kindle) ♥J♥ Cat on a Bad Couch Lee Martin
♥A♥ By The Silver Water of Lake Champlain Joe Hill
♥K♥ Little America Dan Chaon
♥Q♥ The Phone Call John McNally
♥10♥ Young Pilgrims Joe Meno
♥9♥ Children of the Bedtime Machine Robert McCammon
Stories from Mistresses of the Macabre (Kindle) ♣J♣ Moths Magnolia Louise Erdelac
♣A♣ Playdate Dawn Napier
♣K♣ The Sadistic Chessboard Nadia Boulberhane
♣Q♣ Black Bird Nikki Hopeman
♣10♣ Weaving Tangled Webs Diane Arrelle
♣9♣ Bloodsport Alanna Belak

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)


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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