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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The Hill Bachelors by William Trevor – Selection 4 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Eight♠ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Hearts♠ to the stories of William Trevor, a personal favorite author of mine who passed away in 2017.

The Selection: The Hill Bachelors – from the collection “William Trevor: Selected Stories” which I own via an e-copy

The Author: William Trevor. A “KBE” (Knight of the British Empire), Trevor is widely acknowledged as one of the best contemporary writers of short stories. I was first introduced to him via the “Ana the Imp” blog (sadly, no longer active) whereafter I read through his great collection “After Rain.” The title story of that volume after rainremains one of my all time favorites. I blogged about it here. There are a couple other stories of his that I’ve blogged about before, Gilbert’s Mother and Lost Ground. “I’m very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people,” – William Trevor (as quoted by Publishers Weekly in 1983)

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

The Hill Bachelors

“It might not have been noticed that these days the bachelors of the hills found it difficult to attract a wife to the modest farms they inherited.”

This was a quietly powerful story. The patriarch of a family has died, and the five children return home for the funeral & cetera. We follow the story through the perspective of the youngest – and only bachelor – son, Paulie. Probably few of us have not experienced the bittersweet reunions that such occasions create. As someone who has,  I can say that Trevor’s descriptions and summary of the events that follow hit very close to the target.

Paulie’s mother is of an age where she will be too old to manage the farm herself, even with the help of neighbors, which she argues would be enough to sustain her without one of her children (Paulie, being a bachelor and “only” having a job that would be easy to quit, being the only candidate) moving back to help her.  He tells her that she’d “be dependent,” but she argues that “You have your own life, Paulie,” to which he replies “You have what there is.” A touching exchange – indeed much of the story is quite touching. There are logistics to be worked out regarding leaving his current job and other sundry tasks related to a death in the family, but, finally,

“He’d taken over. She could feel he’d taken over, the way he’d gone out to see were the heifers all right, the way it was he who remembered, last evening and this morning, that there was the bit of milking to do, that he’d done it without a word.”

Paulie doesn’t mind “taking over” but sadness creeps into the story when we realize that he will not be able to find a wife in the neighborhood. (He’s left behind a girl in the town where he worked, who he thought might be “the one.”) He doesn’t even resent that though (although it pains his mother):

“Paulie harboured no resentment, not being a person who easily did: going back to the farmhouse was not the end of the world. The end of the world had been to hear, in Meagher’s back bar, that life on a farm did not attract Patsy Finucane.”

Another great story from Trevor.

What about YOU? How did your Deal Me In reading go this week?