“Happy Trails” a Sherman Alexie short story

I drew the ace of clubs from my short story deck, and thus this was my week 50 pick for 2015’s Deal Me In short story reading challenge. In 2015, Clubs were my suit assigned to “stories from The New Yorker” of which I’ve enjoyed many. I’ve read Alexie before and own his story collection “War Dances.” He has also been featured by other participants in the Deal Me In challenge the last couple years. Mr. Alexie was in the news earlier this year when he cancelled some appearances in Indiana amid the national “outrage” about my state’s passing of a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” – legislation for which I (among many) didn’t believe we had any need.  Politics aside, I found Alexie’s response disappointing in that it punished the wrong people (like me, or those who would attend his events – one of which was in honor of Banned Books Week(!) – and make no real impact other than publicity-wise). What did end up prompting an amendment to the law was a feared ECONOMIC impact (surprise!) to the state. For a moment, I considered removing Alexie’s story from my roster in a “ha! how do you like them apples?” tit for tat, but I thought it better to take the high road and not censor art based on political activity.

Ugh, I feel dirtied by even mentioning politics on this blog, so let’s get on with this story, which was first published in The New Yorker magazine in 2013. It’s narrated by a Native American member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe of the U.S. Northwest, a man who had a favorite uncle disappear some forty years ago. Our narrator decides he wants to hold a memorial for this uncle, now presumed dead (saying at one point “…we need to make the dead better people than they were, because it makes us look better for loving them.”), and the story follows his musings about how the uncle may have died (it is presumed that he would have contacted his family at some point over the years if he was still living – he “wasn’t the kind of person” not to do that. It also provides the opportunity for him to comment on the modern day world and conditions that the Coeur d’Alene live in.

It’s an eminently sad story, and perhaps the narrator has some self-loathing of his people too, hinted at when he refers to the uncle as a “half-assed warrior” of whom he speculates at the end of the story that:

Maybe he thought he could kill the world and instead learned that the world is undefeated.”

I loved that line. Have you read anything by Sherman Alexie? Perhaps his most famous work is “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” which has itself been the subject of multiple book banning incidents.

This story is available online at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/10/happy-trails (I believe the New Yorker allows a limited number of views per month for non-subscribers)

This picture of Alexie was taken in 2008 (from Wikipedia)

“Between the Lines” – a short story by Ben Winters

Read for:  Week 40 of the 2015 Deal Me In Challenge

Card Drawn: Ace of Diamonds

My Source for the story:  The “Indy Writes Books” anthology

My other experience with this author:  His short story “Man on the Monon” and his book “The Last Policeman

This story is the lead-off hitter in the Indy Writes Books anthology that was published late last year. It’s a kind of Gift of the Magi meets a Steve Jobs Product Launch meets the Twilight Zone. Well, Gift of the Magi may not be totally appropriate, although like that story the twist of this one is the result of only the best intentions. Experienced readers know, however, that good intentions are not necessarily an effective vaccine against protagonist woe…


We’ve become an increasingly a gadget-addicted society in the past decade or two. Things are speeding up too, as new products are coming at a fast and furious pace. Winters highlights this trend with the very first sentence of the story: “When the company announced that they would be making an announcement, everybody flipped out.” Sound familiar? Speculation follows about what the new gadget might be this time. When the announcement finally comes we learn that the new device is one “that allowed human beings to enter into works of fiction.” The name of the device appropriately gives this story its title.
Of course, for consumers, buying a “Between the Lines” device is not where it ends. To use the device, you also need to buy an “OpenBook” to insert into the device. Neither are cheap in the imagined (probably not too distant) future of the story. In spite of the expense, the Sutters – a simple wage-earning couple (not poor, but one that can’t often afford luxuries) have a daughter Caitlin who has always loved to read and who is also approaching her twelfth birthday so they decide to buy her one… Let the scrimping and saving begin! Mr. Sutter begins walking to work instead of buying a “transit card” meals are skipped at the office, purchases of new clothes are put on hold and finally the day comes when he arrives at the “Wolcott & Lombe” bookstore armed with more than enough to buy a Between the Lines and an OpenBook to go with it (he had over-saved in fear of an unexpected price increase). The OpenBook they’ve decided to purchase for Caitlyn is none other than “Alice in Wonderland.” How sweet.

Like any good parent, Mr. Sutter is concerned whether or not there are safety issues with such a device. “Is there any danger?” he asks. The salesperson gives him a well-rehearsed reply that he’s likely given thousands of time since the product came out. “There is no danger in any of these books, sir. That’s the whole point. You go into the book and you experience the book, but you can’t change the story, and the story can’t change you. But the memories? The memories last a lifetime.”

The last sentence there provides a bit of foreshadowing for the direction the story goes. Mr. Sutter decides to use his excess of saved cash to buy a second OpenBook for him and his wife to enjoy and excitedly heads home with his purchases. I’m afraid I have to stop here since I don’t want to have to write “MAJOR spoiler alert” preceding this post.

I liked the story a lot, particularly how effectively Winters captures the essence of our gadget obsessed culture. There’s also a section where he discusses the early days of Between the Lines’ release – which OpenBooks are most popular and with what demographics, and also about how, for a time anyway, the Between the Lines phenomenon leads to a resurgence in the bookstore business. He even notes that some authors “righteously opted out of the licensing deals” noting that there would be no OpenBook edition of “The Corrections” at Jonathan Franzen’s “irritated insistence.” (heh heh. Well played, Mr. Winters)
If you’d like to read this story – and the others in this fine anthology – you may purchase a copy at Indy Reads Books bookstore in downtown Indianapolis. Proceeds from its sales go to support local literacy initiatives, so it’s a win-win purchase for you.:-) You can also find info at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/

I’ve posted about several of the other stories from this book as part of my annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. Links to some of my favorites are below.

Your Book: A Novel in Stories – Cathy Day

Small Planes, Flying Low – Victoria Barrett

El Estocada – John David Anderson

Finding Eudora – Amy Sorrells

Anna’s Wings – Angela Jackson- Brown

(“Picture if you will… a hard-working young couple saves their money to buy their daughter a new OpenBook device that allows her to step into a beloved novel – or perhaps maybe… intoThe Twilight Zone…”)

Ace of Diamonds image used for this post found here

“Dollhouse” – a short story by Craig Wallwork

spades-4-1I read this story for week 39 of the 2015 Deal Me In Challenge. I drew the four of spades, which I had assigned to this story from the excellent ‘Neo-Noir’ anthology “The New Black.” Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about thus far, may be found here.

Holy crap; this was a scary and disturbing story!

“Fear never exploited Darcy’s mind, for as her father contested on many occasions, all things can be explained. The low thundering rumble that tore a hole in the night was not that of a monster pushing its way from one world to the next, but the nightly groans from the heifers keeping warm in the farmer’s bard across the field. The unexpected squeak of a floorboard was not the heels of a ghost, but instead the yawning of wood as it waned under the heat of water pipes. The illusory evil that supposedly cowered in shadows, or became the cold breath of night that followed her from room to room, was only a mischievous current of air that fussed its way around the dank old cottage.  All could be explained. Everything that is, except the dollhouse.”


As kids grow up, they begin to learn the falsity of the boogey-man and his sundry companions.  Parents, as Darcy’s do in this story, vanquish these fears one by one with rational explanations until, one day, they are finally overcome and can no longer manifest themselves.  Of course, this holds true only if the fears really are imaginary

One night, Darcy, just a young girl of eight – almost nine, is awakened by a “large bang.”  Her investigations lead her to the attic of her family’s cottage.  Within the attic she sees that a large object is covered under a dust sheet in the corner of the room.  Knowing that, when it comes to secreting away Christmas or birthday presents, the attic is a favorite hiding place for her parents, and remembering that her birthday is just weeks away, Darcy can’t resist taking a peek. What she finds is a dollhouse that is a perfect miniature of her own family’s cottage.  Every detail is replicated.  She is enthralled and revisits the attic every night as her birthday approaches, since the dollhouse seems to also be a work in progress.  New developments in her actual cottage are reflected in the dollhouse. Tiny wooden figures of her parents and herself also appear, accurate to the smallest detail. Then the figures appear to begin reflecting the actual location of their real-life counterparts at the time she views them, and she sees her own figurine in the attic of the dollhouse, kneeling in front of a miniature dollhouse, which we can only imagine, were her eyes capable of seeing into the microscopic range, would contain smaller and smaller figures in an infinite regression.

Surely all this “could be explained” though?  Even when she, one night, finds the figurines of her parents in peril…

I really liked this story, even if it did give me goosebumps.  It was my first time reading this author, who hails from West Yorkshire, England.  He is the author of a short story collection “Quintessence of Dust” which I may now just have to find and buy to provide me with fodder for the 2016 edition of the Deal Me In Challenge.

What’s the scariest story YOU have read lately?

Below: from goodreads.com – author Craig Wallwork


“The Magic of the Loons” by Paula Cappa

 (above: I found an image of playing cards featuring a loon!)

For week 38 of the 2015 Deal Me In challenge, I drew the five of hearts. Hearts are my suit dedicated to female authors and I had assigned this card to Paula Cappa’s story, The Magic of the Loons. I’ve been following Paula’s excellent blog for more than a couple years now, and it’s one I recommend, especially for those who like their stories a little on the dark side. (I featured another story of hers for this year’s Deal Me In challenge, “Beyond Castle Frankenstein.”) I own this particular story via an e-copy of Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine ( http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Gothic-Resurrected-Magazine-Fall/dp/1502460343 ). This story is also available as a Kindle Single for just 99 cents.

Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about thus far, may be found here.

“Web-footed, Red-crested Lake Loons*?” Uh, not exactly…

Jackson and Kai are involved in an adulterous affair. Kai claims to love being married but – at least in her case – “cleary monogamy begat monotony” and here she is on the floor of a vacation cabin with Jackson. In the particular tryst this story relates, Kai has donned some kind of ‘nature girl’ garb to role-play her part as “his Loon Woman.” Jackson doesn’t care about all these ’trimmings’ but will go along with anything that leads him to, well, you know.

Jackson is a pilot, and this at least partly explains Kai’s attraction to him. She murmurs, between his kisses, “I love that you fly jet planes every day.” In spite of the somewhat creepy presence of half a dozen loon skulls circling the bed, and a carpet embroidered with the poem, “When Women Were Birds” and ringed with images of sirens, sea-nymphs, and harpies (I think many would call it a day when faced with this level of oddness from a lover, but not our hero!), things are going quite well for Jackson. Until the sound of tires grinding on gravel outside the cabin makes the lovers realize that Kai’s husband (assumed to be in Cleveland), Blix, is approaching…

This was a great story of infidelity gone wrong and the confrontation between Blix and Jackson – and its supernatural aftermath – had me on the edge of my seat…

I’m an amateur birdwatcher, and I do occasionally see loons in these parts. They seem to like the waters in Eagle Creek Park, for example. The kind I see are the “Common Loon” (pictured below), which are indeed a beautiful species worthy of admiration, just maybe not to the extreme that Kai revered them.

*And – to this day – whenever I hear the word “loon” I am reminded of a favorite episode of The Andy Griffith Show where, when Barney and Gomer get lost on a camping trip for Opie and his friends, Andy –  in one of his countless schemes over the seasons to help Barney save face or avoid ridicule – invents the call of the “Lake Loon” to lead Barney & Gomer back to their “misplaced” lakeside campsite, whereupon his deputy is praised for his frontiersman skills. Suddenly, he pretends to have known what he was doing all along and the invented lake loon becomes a “web-footed red-crested lake loon.” (sniff)

(below: “Frontiersman” Barney basking in the adulation)


Deal Me In 2015 – Week 37 Update

Greetings all! Below are links to new Deal Me In posts since the last update.

Dale at Mirror With Clouds wrote about the J.F. Powers story “Death of a Favoritehttps://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/j-f-powers-death-of-a-favorite/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader posted about “Knock, Knock, Knock” by Ivan Turgenev https://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/deal-me-in-week-37-knock-knock-knock/

“o” at Behold the Stars read Franz Kafka’s famous story, “Metamorphosis” but once again went on and “read the other stories in the book” too see http://beholdthestars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/metamorphosis-and-other-stories-by.html to take a look.

Jay at abibliophilopolis (me!) read Alice Munro’s story “Amundsen” see https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/amundsen-by-alice-munro/ or just scroll down to read.

Also – not technically a Deal Me In entry, but Dale’s “Bradbury of the Month” has rolled again and he shares his thoughts on the Ray Bradbury story “I See You Neverhttps://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/bradbury-of-the-month-september-i-see-you-never/

See you next week!

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 36 Wrap Up

Below are links to the latest post by those doing the Deal Me In challenge this year.

“o” at Behold the Stars posted about Samuel Johnson’s poem “The Vanity of Human Wisheshttp://beholdthestars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/the-vanity-of-human-wishes-by-samuel.html

Dale at Mirror With Clouds read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Wives of the Deadhttps://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/09/02/nathaniel-hawthorne-the-wives-of-the-dead/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader shares Michael Chabon’s “The Martian Agenthttps://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/deal-me-in-week-36-the-martian-agent/

Lastly, Jay at Bibliophilopolis (that’s me!) posted about Josh Green’s “Axis of Symmetryhttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/axis-of-symmetry-by-josh-green/

See you next. Week!

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 35 Wrap Up

Hello! Below are links to new posts by the Deal Me In crew since the last update.

Katherine at The Writerly Reader posts about the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic, “Rappaccini’s Daughterhttps://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/deal-me-in-week-35-rappaccinis-daighter/

Dale at Mirror With Clouds read Steven Millhauser’s story from the Best American Short Stories of 2013, “A Voice in the Nighthttps://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/steven-millhauser-a-voice-in-the-night/
Katherine also wrote about her lunar option story, Daphne DuMaurier’s short story, “The Birds” (perhaps you’ve seen the movie?) https://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/deal-me-in-lunar-extra-the-birds/

“o” at Behold the Stars read Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Revenge” and liked it so much she read the whole book! Check out http://beholdthestars.blogspot.com/2015/08/essays-by-francis-bacon.html

I wrote about the Alice McDermott story “These Dark, Cold Days” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/alice-mcdermotts-short-story-these-short-dark-days/
Thats’s it for this time. See you next week!

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 34 Wrap Up

Below are links to new posts I found since the last update. If you’d like to see what the DMI crew has read recently, try the links below.

Dale at Mirror With Clouds posted about Ann Beattie’s Story “Janus” https://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/ann-beattie-janus/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader read the story “Flash” by Loren D. Estleman https://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/deal-me-in-week-34-flash/

“o” at Behold the Stars read the John Keats poem “Lamiahttp://beholdthestars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/lamia-by-john-keats.html

Jay at Bibliophilopolis (hey, that’s me!) Wrote about Daniel Alarcon‘s “City of Clownshttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/city-of-clowns-by-daniel-alarcon/

What short stories did you read this week?

“City of Clowns” by Daniel Alarcon

For week 34 of Deal Me in 2015, I drew the Queen of Spades, which I had assigned to the story “City of Clowns” from Daniel Alarcon’s acclaimed collection “War by Candlelight”. Now in its fifth year, Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about, may be found here.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that WHEN you read a particular story or book can have a huge impact on how much you like it. Some works of fiction are best if struck when the iron is hot. Either the iron was hot when I read Daniel Alarcon’s story “City of Clowns” this week, or Alarcon may just be a really great writer. Probably both are true. I found myself transported from my workaday, rat-race mood to the country of Peru, which I’ve never visited but have read about often. I remember being fascinated by the Inca civilization when I was a young history student, and I still want to see Machu Picchu. Maybe someday…

Alarcon names a ton of places and things that I’m hearing of for the first time, and yet somehow a sense of home is communicated to me by reading. Amazing. The story takes place against the backdrop of a crumbling Peruvian government that Oscar, our narrator, is privileged to know the circumstances of because he works in the press. In these already troubled times he also learns of the death of his estranged father, who he has more or less disowned for many reasons, one of which was when he learned the father was leading a double life, with another woman with whom he even fathered other children. (It seems hookers are morally okay with Oscar – who made use of them – but not an “entire affair” like his father running off with this Carmela.)

Queen of spades image from: https://store.stoneycreek.com/mystic-stitch-c312.aspx

The death of his father doesn’t immediately effect him that much – after all he hadn’t been a part of the narrator’s life for many years. But so what? He was once a major part of it and naturally also had a major role in shaping the kind of man he was to become. Sent to interview street performing clowns by his paper, the absurdity of the “story” Oscar is working on strangely tugs at him and he experiences a catharthis regarding his father’s passing.

“…the idea of it made me sad: clowns with their absurd and artless smiles, their shabby, outlandish clothes. I’d walked only a few blocks when I felt inexplicably assaulted by loss. In the insistent noise of the streets, in the cackling voice of a DJ on the radio, in the glare of the summer sun, it was as if Lima were mocking me, ignoring me, thrusting her indifference at me. A heavyset woman sold red and blond wigs from a wooden cart. A tired clown rested on the curb, cigarette between his lips, and asked me for a light. I didn’t have the heart to interview him. The sun seemed to pass straight through me.”

That last sentence really nailed it for me. Later, he recalls when his family moved to Lima how he witnessed a gang of kids attack (with water balloons!) a lone clown sitting on a sidewalk. As part of his research for his story on the clowns of Lima, he even “goes undercover” and works with a couple real clowns to experience their day. He finds that he is able to observe the city in new ways hiding behind this disguise.

“Exactly zero (people) recognized me. I was forgetting myself too, patrolling the city, spying on my own life.”

A really good story and one of my favorites of Deal Me In 2015.

One of my favorite aspects of Deal Me In is discovering new favorite authors, and I know already that Alarcon (pictured below) will be one of them. I have one other story of his (“A Science for being Alone”) in my 2015 Deal Me In roster and am now eagerly looking forward to when that card turns up. What about you? Are you familiar with this author? Am I late to the game – as is often the case with me?

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 32 & 33 Wrap Up

Doubling up on the wrap up this time since I was on vacation last week. Below find links to new Deal Me In posts since the last update.

Dale at Mirror With Clouds wrote about Edith Wharton’s “The Journey” https://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/edith-wharton-the-journey/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader posted about “In the Cart” by Anton Chekhov https://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/deal-me-in-week-32-in-the-cart/

Katherine also posted her latest “full moon add-on” entry, which I failed to catch in week 31’s wrap up. She posted about “Death and the Woman” by Gertrude Atherton https://katenread.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/deal-me-in-lunar-extra-death-and-the-woman/

“o” at Behold the Stars shares her thoughts on Samuel Johnson’s “London” http://beholdthestars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/london-1738-by-samuel-johnson.html

I posted about two stories, Cathy Day’s “Your Book: A Novel in Stories” and Barbara Swander Miller’s “More Than the Game” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/deal-me-in-doubleheader-weeks-31-32-your-book-a-novel-in-stories-by-cathy-day-and-more-than-the-game-by-barbara-swander-miller/

Dale also posted about James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mittyhttps://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/james-thurber-the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty/

“o” at Behold the Stars also covered Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: http://beholdthestars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow-by.html
You might also be interested in reading about Dale’s “Bradbury of the Month” where he examines that author’s story “The Exiles” (also a favorite of mine!) https://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/bradbury-of-the-month-august-the-exiles/

That’s it for now. We’ll see you next week with another update.

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