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

The Card: ♣King♣ of Clubs

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

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

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

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

In Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What short stories did YOU read this week?

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“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?”

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 the 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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