The Story of Keesh by Jack London – selection 3 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥3♥  Three of Hearts. Playing card image found on Pinterest from the “Undertale Souls” deck of cards. I thought it would be appropriate to have a card featuring snow since the story involves the Inuit People of Alaska. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and London certainly qualifies. I – and other Deal Me In participants – have written about many London stories over the years.

The Author: Jack London, one of the Titans of American Literature. I’ve posted about several of his works before, including Before Adam, Negore the CowardA Relic of the Pliocene, and Moon Face, to name a few.

The Selection: “The Story of Keesh” which I own as part of my e-copy of The Complete Works of Jack London. The story is in the public domain and may be read for free online in many places, like the link at the bottom of this post.It was first published in 1907.

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 Story of Keesh

“Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men.”

***spoilers follow*** This one was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. At least compared to other Jack London stories I’ve read. There just wasn’t enough to it for me. It’s basically an old folktale of a young boy (he has only seen “thirteen suns” – after each winter of no sunlight, when the sun returns, that counts as one year, so he is…13) who rises to a place of respect in his “igloo village” due to his crafty method of hunting polar bears.

It all starts out when he speaks up at a council one night, because, since his father has died (in the act of slaying a large bear to provide food for the village) he and his widowed mother’s meat apportioned to them by the tribe is “ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.” The men of the tribe, brave hunters all (just ask them), are neglecting their duty to provide for the rest of the village fair shares of the “community” meat.

The men react harshly to this upstart and Keesh vows never to return to the council but sets out on his own with arrows and his father’s spear. He’s gone a very long time and his mother and her comforters fear the worst, but he shows up with – lo and behold! – a big hunk of bear meat and directs the other hunters in the tribe that the rest of his kill may be found and returned if they take their sleds along the path he has come. Naturally, Keesh makes sure that everyone in the village from “the least old woman and the last old man” receive a fair portion of the meat.

With Keesh being so young, the men of the tribe suspect some trickery and even suggest that “witchcraft” might be involved, and that he “hunts with evil spirits.”  Such is the way with any who are ignorant of how something extraordinary is achieved, isn’t it? Keesh, when questioned, puts them straight and says, “It be headcraft, not witchcraft.” His method of bringing down the bears was quite original, I must say.

So, an easy read, but too short to sate my story hunger for one week. A better story, with more “meat on its bones” if you will, featuring the natives of the far north is London’s tale “Negore the Coward” which I’ve wrote about before and linked to in the header of this post.

What short stories did YOU read this week? What is your favorite of Jack London’s many short stories?

You can read the story online here: https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/the-story-of-keesh

 

Advertisements

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 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/12/crabapple-tree (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?

 

My 2019 Deal Me In Stories

IMG_5345-0

(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

“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.

Dethroned

“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, 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 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.

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)

de4f90d2689fb4ee6367ae948e4ef37e

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?’

 

“Mr. Templar” by Jason Sizemore – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Seven♠ of Spades

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Jason Sizemore https://jason-sizemore.com I’ve featured a couple of his stories before in prior iterations of Deal Me In, notably “Yellow Warblers” and “The Sleeping Quartet”

The Selection: “Mr. Templar,” which I own as part of the author’s collection, “Irredeemable”

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.

Mr. Templar

“In eight centuries, Mr. Templar had never fully grasped the true desolate nature of the Earth. However, riding at high speeds two hundred meters in the air, seeing the same grey, dusty landscapes hour after hour, he began to appreciate the total annihilation of the humans’ nuclear bombs.”

First things first, The title character, Mr. Templar, is an Android. There are no humans left on Earth at the time of this story. And the androids that are left are running out of fuel. They roam a desolate landscape several hundred years after humanity has fled the nuclear wasteland of an uninhabitable world they created.

Mr. Templar’s search for fuel leads him to meet another android, who he calls Mr. Ruby (Ruby can’t remember his own name as his memory has been compromised by “data flies” – the reigning pest in this post-apocalyptic world). Ruby has picked up a signal from orbit and believes it to mean that their human “masters” are returning. How will they react? Wishing to reunite with the humans, together they head off to search for jet packs when Mr. Ruby shares that he knows where are cache of them are stored – in a bunker two hundred feet beneath Cape Canaveral.

What struck me about this story was that, in the absence of human stewardship of Earth, the technological life that now remains begins to exhibit some very human characteristics. Those that remain are embroiled in bitter competition for dwindling resources. Sound familiar? It’s every man – er, Android- for himself in this world. The remaining “life” forms also deteriorate into their own form of racism too: When Mr. Templar first encounters Mr. Ruby, he scoffs, “Only robots speak the old language. You must be a worthless robot.”

A good story, on a ♪personal note♪, the abandoned androids reminded me of an old Star Trek (The Original Series) episode (titled “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) where Kirk and the gang encounter a certain Dr. Corby, off on a remote planet making androids with the help of “Ruk” (portrayed by Ted Cassady of “The Addams Family” fame!). Ruk, too, was an Android who was left behind by his creators…

“Yes. The Old Ones… The ones who built us!”

Rose Wept by William Trevor – Selection 9 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card♠Ten♠ 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: Rose Wept – 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.

Rose Wept

“She wept for his silent suffering, for his having to accept a distressing invitation because of her mother’s innocent insistence… She wept for the brittle surface of her mother’s good-sort laughter and her father’s jolliness, and Jason’s (her older brother) settling into a niche. She wept for all her young life before her, and other glimpses and other betrayals.”

Rose Dakin is a marginal student, one on the cusp of being admitted to a good university. What do well-meaning parents do when their child is in that situation?  Well, if you’re the Dakins, you hire a tutor to ensure a successful move for your child up the next rung of the latter.

The occasion of the story is a dinner party to celebrate Rose having been admitted to university and, since the tutor, Mr. Bouverie, was instrumental in her success, he and his wife were invited. His wife “can’t make it” and therein is the introduction of the gist of the story, the whole of which takes place at the dinner, but, through flashbacks, we learn “The Rest of the Story” about Mr. (& Mrs.) Bouverie. Seems all this time – a year of Thursdays – whenever Rose would visit him, Mr. Bouverie’s wife would use the time to entertain a special male “guest,” a certain “Mr. Azam.”

When she realizes what is going on, Rose at first feels terrible for Mr. Bouverie, yet indelicately shares the knowledge with her gaggle of young friends. Later, to her increased horror, she realize that Mr. Bouverie is aware that this is going on. As one of her friends says “When a husband knows, he’s not so much a cuckold as complaisant.”

During the dinner Rose imagines what hell the life of Mr. Bouverie must be, and regrets not being there for him as some kind of confidant, but “had betrayed him” (by telling her friends) even before he offered any confidences.

A sad and bitter story which left me wondering how Rose would “do” at University – and indeed for the rest of her life. If I were a betting man, I’d say her parents “won’t be much help.”  It’s as if this one dinner laid bare all the pitiable features of her life – and Life with a capital L as well. I hope she makes it.

♫♫ Personal Note:  I did learn a new “word” while reading this story.  Do you know what a “Gooseberry Fool” is?  It’s an English Dessert made by “folding pureed stewed fruit (normally Gooseberries) in sweet custard”  (or whipped cream). According to Wikipedia, ROSE water may be added as a flavouring agent, so there’s my Deal Me In coincidence of the week.  P.S. Looks delicious!

What short stories did YOU read this week? Are you enjoying the “8th Annual” Deal Me In challenge?

Visiting Chairman Mao by Jocelyn Cullity – Selection 8 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Seven♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Diamonds to stories from the anthology, “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet.”

The Selection: “Visiting Chairman Mao” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. The author says the story “came to her” after teaching in China in the 1990’s.

The Author: Jocelyn Cullity, a native of Australia, she grew up in Canada and has spent time in other countries before now living in the United States. She had a novel published last fall, Amah and the Silk Winged Pigeons . Learn more about her at her website https://www.jocelyncullity.com

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

(below: old postcard of the throngs of people going to “visit Mao” in his mausoleum)

Visiting Chairman Mao

“‘So many followers, even after all that tragedy. Such respect. Astonishing.’ She spoke too loudly. Li labored with the purpose of her statements. ‘We have an official saying,’ Li said. ‘Chairman Mao was sixty percent right and forty percent wrong.”

The title of this story intrigued me, which is probably why it found its way onto my 2018 DMI list. I admit I was somewhat disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be reading a story with Mao as one of the characters, though. Visiting him, in this case, only meant going to view his embalmed body in his grand mausoleum.

The story describes a brief incident where an earnest young woman, Li, working as a tourist guide, takes her (also young) American charge, Claire, to view the legendary Chairman Mao. Both seem unassuming at first, though with Li, who  “…couldn’t get used to her informality,” continually worrying about Claire not knowing when to keep quiet and how to show proper respect.  “At the entrance to the second room, the viewing hall, a guard put up his hand and the line slowed. There would be positively no talking inside the chamber.”

It turns out Claire has other plans and ends up staging a scene of some kind and “shrieking something about democracy” Li becomes “collateral damage” in Claire’s haphazard protest and is forced to leave Beijing, but not before Claire, while being led away by the police, hands Li her bandanna as a gift. At the end of the story, back home, Li decides she will keep it close at hand:

“She would use it as she thought Claire should have used it – to wipe away the fog on her classroom windows when she wanted to really look at the world outside.”

Nice.

This was my eighth story read so far this year for #DealMeIn2018.  Are you also participating in the challenge?  What have been some of your favorite stories so far?

(Below: Mao wasn’t the only one cultivating a Cult of Personality: clockwise from upper left – Stalin, Koreans Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, Ho Chi Minh, and, well, the band who sang about it in the ’90s)

“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?

“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…

ca975c38fff384a6bec9ac2ebb400706--antique-toys-vintage-toys

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

« Older entries