“The Virgin of Monte Ramon” by Mia Alvar – selection 34 of #DealMeIn2019

 

The Card: ♥A♥  Ace of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors.”

The Author:  Mia Alvar – Alvar is a new favorite of mine. A Filipino-American author who’s also lived in Bahrain. I tore through her story collection “In the Country” which contained several first-rate stories

The Selection: “The Virgin of Monte Ramon” A sometimes heartbreaking story of friendship between two social outcasts. Beautiful writing made me put this on my DMI list as one of my few re-reads this year. I own it as an e-book copy of “In the Country.”

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 Virgin Of Monte Ramon

“Although I am dead, Daniel told my mother, I shall live on through my grandson. He told my mother to name me after him, her father, not after the boyfriend who would end up deserting her. Daniel Wilson would not reveal specifics, but said I would be different from other children and remind my mother every day of the family’s legacy of pride and courage. And so I arrived: with a telltale lightness to my skin, and the vague buds of feet and toes that never quite articulated themselves.”

Although this story is at times heartbreakingly sad, it can also be viewed as a paean to friendship, and how valuable friendship can truly be, especially to those who are outcasts yet somehow find each other. The story is told in first person by a disabled prep school student, Danny. He has been told all his life that his physical disability was a kind of mystical legacy from a grandfather who was a hero in World War II:

“As a soldier he helped evacuate the wooden statue of the Virgin of Monte Ramon – the gilt, gem-encrusted patroness of our town – from her church into the nearby mountains. This was to keep her safe from wartime desecration, yet strangely it was those carrying her who felt protected as they ventured deep into the forests and mountain trails.”

When Danny meets his soon to be friend, “Annelise,” it’s an encounter that readers especially can appreciate:

“…and I saw Annelise for the first time. Though a schoolgirl in uniform herself, she was unlike the others. She did not blush or chat with her classmates, or glance at us from the corners of her eyes every so often. Instead, she was reading a book.”

Annelise has physical problems of her own that I won’t go into, but both she and Danny are mercilessly teased by schoolmates who could be “violently, unimaginatively cruel.” While Danny is relatively well-off, Annelise lives in “the ravine” the poorest section of town. The story’s climax, or at least one moment of epiphany, occurs in the ravine during a heavy rainstorm at the onset of the monsoon season.

“I noticed as the children played that they were trying not to slip and fall. The care they took had slowed their movements into a kind of dance. I turned to Annelise, who said, ‘The rain has crippled everyone,’ and laughed. I laughed too.”

This was one of many great stories in the book, which I heartily recommend (a rare 5-star rating from me on goodreads) You can find out more about it at amazon

What about YOU? What short stories have “struck your fancy” lately? Tell me about them.

♫♫ Personal Notes: The name of Danny’s friend, “Annelise” reminds me of one of my all-time favorite short story characters, “Annieanlouise” from one of my all-time favorite stories, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Brushwood Boy.” I blogged about it almost eight years ago. You can find that post here.

(below from google images – a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary from the Philippines)

Statue of General MacArthur’s famous “return” at Leyte Gulf. The first person narrator’s prep school in this story is called “General Douglas MacArthur Preparatory” 🙂

“The Striding Place” by Gertrude Atherton – Selection 35 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥J♥  Jack of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and, though I haven’t read much by Atherton, the story I have read was a home run.

The Author: Gertrude Atherton – perhaps most famous for her novel, Black Oxen, published in 1923, was a prolific American author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raised by a grandfather who “insisted she be well read” she was naturally (or nurture-aly!) well equipped for a literary career!

The Selection: “The Striding Place” which I don’t own, but is available to all of us online (see link below) is a truly frightening tale of a missing person and the unique way in which he is eventually found.

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.

What about you?

While walking, perhaps in the woods, have you ever came to the barrier formed by a stream and stopped, contemplating jumping across at its narrowest point? The banks might be muddy or slippery and yet you still take a chance and “go for it” because, after all, what’s the penalty if you fail to clear it? Some muddy clothes and maybe wounded pride? Both things may be quickly remedied or forgotten. What if, however, a more formidable waterway, due to quirk of topography, also narrowed at one point to a “jumpable” width. Might such a spot become a local legend, particularly in the guise of a proving ground for the young to test their courage? This is what the titular “Strid” of this story turns out to be…

The Striding Place

“Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of those that had been done to death in the Strid. Wordsworth’s Boy of Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond. Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The spot had an ugly fascination.”

Some spoilers follow, but by all means, do read the story. It’s not that long and is available online at: https://americanliterature.com/author/gertrude-atherton/short-story/the-striding-place

Mr. Weigall is our main character and is sojourning in Yorkshire, entertaining a guest at his “country estates” for the sport of grouse shooting (I mean, what else is one to do in England in August?). But casting a pall on the occasion is a report that a “chum of Weigall’s college days,” Wyatt Gifford, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace. Some locals suggested it might be a suicide, but Weigall dismissed such nonsense, as they – along with other friends – had recently been together at a funeral of yet another acquaintance and all seemed normal with him (well, as normal as such an occasion might allow, I suppose).

Anyway, search parties have been unsuccessful in their attempts to find Gifford and we join Weigall walking near “the ‘Strid.” He muses about the danger of the place and becomes a bit mesmerized by the roar of the water and the visual motion of the rapids. Suddenly he sees a foreign object “describing a contrary motion to the rushing water, an upward backward motion” He realizes it’s a struggling hand and that “doubtless, but a moment before his arrival” a man had been swept into the current, and was now trying to resist the force of the water in order to free himself.

Weigall leaps into action in an attempt at rescue, at first mindful of his own safety – until he recognizes a french-cuffed shirt sleeve and lower arm – and cuff link – as one belonging to his very friend Wyatt. He renews his efforts at greater risk to himself and using a long stick finally frees the man from the awful current, leaving the man “liberated and flung outward” into the quieter pool downstream from the ‘Strid. Weigall believes the valiant rescue complete, knowing that “the danger from suction was over”  and that “Gifford was a fish in the water and could live under it longer than most men.”

Weigall scrambles down to the quiet pool below but doesn’t find quite what he was expecting..

This was a truly chilling story and I liked it a lot.

I found the picture above via google images. Apparently it’s a ‘strid on the “Bolton Abbey Estate”. It looks smaller and less formidable that what my imagination cooked up while reading the story, but is nonetheless a jump I wouldn’t attempt myself.

♫♫ Personal Notes:  I was surprised to find myself remembering a nearly fossilized memory from my youth when reading the story. I believe it was in 1978, and I was on a summer camping trip out west with my family and one of our stops was Zion National Park in southern Utah. We stayed in the campground, which is bordered by the Virgin River (which has sculpted the wondrous Zion Canyon over the eons). My little brother Gary and I liked to “swim” in the very shallow river which, at least at times, had a reasonably strong current. I remember one day we invented a game at a ‘strid-like narrowing of the river. One of us would man one of the miniature “Pillars of Hercules” on either side of the ‘strid, while the other would go upstream and pretend being caught in the current and sweeping downstream, thinking he would be saved by the other at the narrowing. The other would grab the floater’s arm, pretending he would rescue him, then suddenly let go and let him be swept away, cackling maniacally. Somehow we found this hilarious, and to kids our age, I guess it was!

<below (from wikipedia): grouse shooters, of course>

August-1922-m-mcdonald-a-member-of-lord-woolavingtons-house-party-a-picture-id3432611

“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!

 

My 2019 Deal Me In Stories

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(Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at https://dilettanteartiste.wordpress.com/ follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/callmemanno

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 americanliterature.com 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:

Suits:

♣♣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.

clubs

♥♥Hearts♥♥ will be my suit for favorite authors.  All but one of them come from the online resource https://americanliterature.com/100-great-short-stories, 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.

hearts

♠♠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.

spades.jpg

♦♦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 audible.com book “O. Henry: Complete Short Stories Collection” and 4) Stories from the audible.com production ” The Great American Short Story Collection.” This will be fun.

diamonds

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