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 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)

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“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?”

“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 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?

 

Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison – Selection #26 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♥5♥ Five of Hearts (image from playingcardcollector.net) Honestly, it was not intentional that I assigned this story to a “5” card, just a happy coincidence.

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “Jeffry is Five” – First published in 1977 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction thus not surprisingly included my copy of The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction volume 2.

The Author: Harlan Ellison – Born in Ohio in 1927 (on my birthday, I just discovered!) I was a little surprised to find that I had never blogged about one of his stories before. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you are familiar with some of his work. He wrote the screenplay for one of the most acclaimed (& rightly so in this blogger’s opinion) episodes of the original series: “City on the Edge of Forever” which featured a young Joan Collins as a guest star. His 1957 short story, “Soldier of Tomorrow” was adapted for the television series Outer Limits’ episode, “Soldier.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe 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 a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Jeffty is Five

“It’s a good world, all things considered. It’s much better than it used to be, in a lot of ways. People don’t die from the old diseases any more. They die from new ones, but that’s Progress, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Tell me. Somebody please tell me.”

I’ve always had a fondness for stories that play around with time. (I’m actually reading one right now – Jack Finney’s Time and Again). Vonnegut’s most famous protagonist – Billy Pilgrim if I have to tell you! – is just that because he becomes “Unstuck in Time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button puts a different spin on time, aging “backwards” after having been born an old man. There are other stories of those whose time is accelerated somehow, but what of Jeffty in this story? What’s his temporal oddity? What can we learn from a five year old about time? Pretty much, it turns out, because not only is Jeffty five. He’s always five.

We learn this from our narrator, Donny, who, though he has now grown up, was once five together with Jeffty, enjoying all that the magic of the world and the friendship of that age has to offer. Of all the characters in the story – even Jeffty’s parents – Donny is the one person who remains close to Jeffty, somehow appreciating him in spite of his oddity.

How does Jeffty remain always five? It seems this is partly achieved by his somehow being able to tune in to “live” radio shows that are no longer in production. At one point in the story Donny finds, for example, that Jeffty has a brand new decoder badge from the Captain Midnight radio program. That program has been off the air for twenty years, so how did Jeffty get this new “merch?” He simply “sent away for it,” apparently.

Alas, Donny is also a busy and successful businessman, and a stop by his television and appliance store with Jeffty on the way to the movies might spell doom…

“Nowhere… is there recognition of the ferocity the Present always brings to bear on the Past. Nowhere is there a detailed statement of how the Present lies in wait for What-Was, waiting for it to become Now-This-Moment so it can shred it with its merciless jaws.”

Have you read anything by Harlan Ellison? What other stories or works by him would you recommend? (below: from Ellison’s famous episode of ST:TOS)

“He knows, Doctor. He knows.”

♫♫ Personal notes: I became aware of this story a little more than two years ago when a “short story book club” I formed at my office was collecting story suggestions from our readers. This was one that never got picked and, perhaps not coincidentally, the member that proposed it only came to our first meeting. It has remained on my radar though, largely because on the intriguing title. In the intro to the story in my anthology, it is revealed that Ellison once “mis-heard” someone at a dinner party talking about their little boy, Jeff, saying “Oh, Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” (I love hearing these origin stories about literary works!)

“La Pulchra Nota” by Molly McNett – selection #12 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠9♠ of Spades (image at left found here).
The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”
The Selection: “La Pulchra Nota” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in issue 78 of the “Image” journal. I also just realized I own this story in two places, as it is included in the 2014 edition of Best American Short Stories. Read it online here.

The Author: Molly McNett– She says she wanted to write a story about a music teacher and student, but didn’t want it to come out sounding like “Glee,” and her solution was to set the story in another time and place. Read more about her and this story at http://northernpublicradio.org/post/niu-author-best-american-writer (where the picture above may also be found)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked! Full details maybe 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 a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

La Pulchra Nota

La Pulchra Nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows – a pause, however small – is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.”

Okay. Full disclosure. This story is my new leader for favorite Deal Me In story of 2017. I am rarely truly moved emotionally by a story and rarer still moved in multiple directions, e.g., from extreme empathy, to clear disgust, and back again, as I was in this story. I also did my traditional “drive by” online research of the story after reading, and was quite pleased to learn some of the details of its origins. (I also note with interest that, as Easter approaches, Deal Me In has dealt me up two stories in a row with a “religious” element…)

The story is the first person narration of John Fuller, who lives in the late Middle Ages – the late fourteenth century to be exact. It is a time when human life remains hard and mere survival – and accompanying happiness – likely involves healthy amounts of both faith and luck. Fuller, for example, is the youngest of twelve children of which only five survived childhood. The other seven being “called back to the fold” by the Lord.

Though Fuller lets us know that though, at the time of his narration, he “no longer has the use of his hands” and his pain “is not inconsiderable,” and that he was born with a deformity of one eye, he initially enjoyed at least some good fortune, including a fortunate marriage to a nine-years older woman, Katherine. He and his wife are “blessed” with twins, though apparently in the Middle Ages many believed that twins “must be sired by two fathers” (something I was unaware of or have forgotten) and she faced condemnation as a harlot by many.

Fuller reveals that “divine providence was pleased to take the life of our dear twins two days apart from each other” – victims of a fever that the narrator himself contracts but survives. Though he notes that “every devout man knows the great mercy He shows us in taking a child out of the world” his wife never recovers from the loss, leaving him in – to the modern eye – a hellish existence with a half-mad wife, who goes on a sort of medieval hunger strike to coerce him into going to see the “anchoress” as a solution to their grief: “John, I have given you sorrow. But the Lord has a remedy. We must go to the anchoress, declare celibacy, and I will again wear white.” John, hardly surprisingly, resists this request.

In the meantime, he continues to follow his vocation as a music teacher, which includes instruction of new young student, Olivia, who has talent far beyond what he normally sees among his pupils. Indeed, his regular lessons with this particular student serve as a kind of lifeline for some scant happiness in his life. He feels she may be capable of achieving the titular “La Pulchra Nota,” the existence of which he reveals to her then quickly regrets. “…your voice at times comes close to a moment of perfection – what Jerome has called la pulchra nota. Let us begin to listen for it. Mostly it appears with no strain whatsoever. But be attentive, for when such a note comes, if you know it, you may ever after use its sound to guide you.” He fears he may have given her false hopes, yet later, in a subsequent lesson, she does achieve la pulchra nota and knows it. This has serious consequences for both teacher and pupil…

I’ve “spoiled” the story enough already, but if you should like to read it, it’s available online at https://www.imagejournal.org/article/la-pulchra-nota/

(I don’t know if the “Jerome” referenced in the story is St. Jerome, but I though it was a safe enough assumption to include a picture of a famous painting 🙂 )

“The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger – selection #10 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♥8♥ Eight of Hearts

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” from my e-copy of the anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2, from which I am taking several stories for this year’s Deal Me In.

The Author: George Alec Effinger (pictured at left, from Goodreads.com), author of the novel What Entropy Means to Me and a series known as the “Marid Audran” books. As the intro in my anthology says, “Much of his writing is marked by his strong sense of humor, which is in full flower in “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything

“Mother ship?” I asked. “You haven’t seen it? It’s tethered on the Mall. They’re real sorry about what they did to the Washington Monument.”

After finishing this story, and looking back at my Deal Me In reading over the years, it struck me how few stories I’ve read that could truly be considered humorous. This story made up for a lot of lost time in that regard!  When I picked the story as part of my 2017 DMI reading plans, though, I knew nothing about it (there I go, picking based on a title again).

The story documents a visit to a future earth (Washington D.C. in particular) by extra terrestrials. Maybe I should say a return visit, as they had come once before, during the Eisenhower administration. The “Nuhp” – as the aliens were called – came this second time expecting the earthlings to be prepared for their visit, but they weren’t. The story the aliens were told in the ’50s was that making their presence known to an unprepared public would be disastrous.

This story is also unique, at least in my experience, in that it’s first person narrator is the President of the United States. (This was a president I wasn’t that impressed with, though.) He seems lost without his advisers, and doesn’t seem to thrilled with any responsibility that falls to him. At one point the Narrator President inquires of his aide if the aliens disclosed anything about their prior meeting with Eisenhower (which the Narrator-President was unaware of) and is told that the alien’s leader “says all they discussed with Mr. Eisenhower was his golf game. They helped correct his putting stroke.”

It soon becomes evident that these aliens, though more or less benevolent, are insufferable in their sharing of opinions about things, especially when it comes to the quality of things. Early on, they comment that though Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is beautiful, it is “certainly not his best work” (in their opinion it his his Piano Conecerto No. 5 in  E-flat major).  This is according to “very rigorous and definite critical principals” naturally. While the Narrator-President is wondering “what could this Nuhp know of what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony aroused in our human souls?” the Nuhp adds that even the Piano Concerto is not the best human musical composition (that honor apparently goes to the score from the motion picture Ben-Hur, by Miklos Rozsa(!) A good choice,I agree, but the best EVER?


The Nuhp soon immigrate to Earth in huge numbers, and quickly everyone grows fatigued by their opinions on everything.* The punchline (I guess you could call it that) of the story is that earth people begin to emigrate themselves, to other splendid worlds that the Nuhp have made them aware of, but NOT necessarily because of the attractiveness of those other worlds. Rather, they are mainly just tired of listening to the Nuhp and are fleeing their incessant and officious take on everything. What kind of places did they emigrate to? “These planets had one thing in common: they were all populated by charming, warm, intelligent, humanlike people who had left their own home worlds after being discovered by the Nuhp.”

All in all quite an entertaining story, and one that raised some interesting questions. One interesting passage, too long to quote here, was the story of a human named Barry,who was quite like the Nuhp in terms of being a self professed authority on everything and how everyone knew he was the man to go to if there was a question about something, but that no one did. Because they all hated him. 🙂
Other entries on the Nuhp’s Hall of Fame of Earth #1’s:

Best cuisine: Tex-Mex

Best U.S. president: James K. Polk

Best Movie: Grand Hotel (sorry, Ben-Hur, I guess  your great music wasn’t enough!)

Best Novelist: Alexander Dumas

Best Flowers: Hollyhocks

Best Car: 1956 Chevy Bel Air

Best Color: Powder Blue

 

“Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick – Selection #9 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card:
♠7♠ of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “Safety” from my e-copy of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. Originally published in One Story magazine.

The Author: Lydia Fitzpatrick – Currently a Los Angelean, and  a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program and a Hopwood Award winner.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe 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 a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Safety

“The children know that, for the first time, they are hiding without wanting to be found.”

I read this story on my lunch hour at work, and it held my attention better than most that fall victim to that unfortunate time slot. I found myself holding my breath during parts of it, as it was quite suspenseful.  The setting?  A school shooting, seen through the eyes of an aging gym teacher and a young student who turns out to actually know the (at first) unknown active shooter, recognizing the Saint Michael’s (patron saint of soldiers) medallion dangling from his neck.

The gym teacher protagonist isn’t named, but was easy enough to like. We learn that he “is old, has been at this school for decades, and with each passing year, the children like him more and listen to him less..” and that dripping of the shower of the locker room has become “the metronome of his days.” I liked that one. He’s in the process of leading his class of eighteen small children through the “wind-down” phase of their exercise period, when an out of place sound fractures their normal routine.  The sound reminds one boy of “the sound a baseball bat makes when it hits a baseball perfectly” and one girl thinks it is the sound of lightning – “not lightning in real life, because it is sunny out and because she can’t remember ever hearing real lightning, but like lightning on TV, when the storm comes all at once.” Only the teacher and one other boy (who has “been to the range with his father and brother”) recognize the sound.

The teacher leads the children to a hiding place in his office (within the boys locker room) where they “huddle” and where he covers them with an old blue parachute that “the children play with on Fridays.” There they hide… and listen. They hear the sound of the gunman entering the gym, then the door to the locker room. They hear footsteps moving across the floor.  One boy thinks it’s the principal “because the principal is the only one who walks through the halls when they’re empty.” Then they hear metal clang on metal (the gunman’s hitting a locker with the butt of his gun?)

I have to admit, this story got my adrenaline flowing. The topic is certainly not a pleasant one, though, as the term “school shooting” has sadly entered the language in recent years. I included this story in my Deal Me In roster at random, maybe because I was curious about the title. I didn’t know in advance where it would lead me. The author states (in the story notes in the back of the book) that she started the story just after the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, noting that she’d “just had a baby, and all of a sudden, my fears involved this new person and the safety of her current self, over which I had some control, and her future self, over which I have way less control.” These thoughts led to a good story – one good enough to make the O. Henry Prize Stories collection for 2016.

What about you? Have you ever encountered stories that – even though they were about a topic you would prefer to avoid – you found really “worked” for you? I’d have to say that was the case for me with this one.

 

 

 

The Mongerji Letters by Geetha Iyer – selection #4 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♠5♠ of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “The Mongerji Letters” from Orion magazine. As of this post’s publishing, the story is available on line at https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-mongerji-letters/  I own a copy of the story via The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016 collection.

The Author: Geetha Iyer – yet another new to me author. To quote Orion Magazine’s info on her, she “…was born in India and grew up in the United Arab Emirates, and moved to the United States to study biology. She has since become an MFA student at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing & Environment program. She writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry bent toward place-based and science writing.” She currently lives in Panama City, Panama. You may visit her website at https://geethaiyer.wordpress.com

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe 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 a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Mongerji Letters

“Since the collapse of one of the last dynasties of the common era and the subsequent end of the era itself, historians have searched for descendants of the Mongerji family, as well as descendants of the scribes who, under their employ, collected samplings of flora and fauna from around the world. The only evidence discovered thus far are the letters that follow. They are from Mr. Mongerji, his wife, Kavita, and two of the three Mongerji children, all addressed to a Mr. Chappalwala, thought to have been the last of the Mongerjis’ scribes. Archivists continue to seek Mr. Chappalwala’s side of the correspondence.”

This was a rather bizarre story. The introductory paragraph quoted above is all the grounding that the reader is given. The nature of the world in which these letters were written (“created” is probably a better word) is left primarily to our imagination. What is clear, however, is that the family whose members wrote them are in decline, probably throwbacks to an older world – i.e., the “common era” referred to in the intro. The correspondence is multi-generational, but the letters covered in this story seem to span 15 years, from “__18” to “__33” – the first two digits that would tell us the century are strategically omitted…

The letters have some kind of magical quality as the envelopes that contain them also contain somehow “compressed” examples of the flora and fauna from wherever the Chappalwalas are sending them, often resulting in near tragic events upon opening – in once case a giant tree springs out of the envelope and it is all the Mongerjis can do to get it stuffed back in.  Another time, an opened envelope floods their living room with water and a living polar bear(!)

I won’t claim I totally understood this story, but it did leave me with a vague impression of the decline or even”decay” of the natural world’s beauty due to a continued siege by humanity’s progress.  The writing was superb too, and the perspectives of the different Mongerji children of the current generation added additional layers to the story’s complexity as well.

The “magic” property of the letters is not explained, but I liked the following passage because it refers to one of my favorite creatures, discovered via a prior Bibliophilopolis read – this one for The R.I.P. Challenge – The Axolotl!

“I asked Dhidhi whether if we left the fruit outside the envelope the eggs would hatch, but she said that everything trapped inside the Chappalwala envelopes was like an axolotl — it would never really grow up.”

Below: some of the beautiful artwork from Orion Magazine where the story was originally published. Did you notice the envelopes in each picture?


Playing card image in DMI header from http://nonregistrability55.rssing.com/chan-24181537/all_p1.html

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