Deal Me In – Week 51 Wrap Up

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The Penultimate round of Deal Me In yielded the following posts:

Dale wrote about Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/ring-lardner-alibi-ike/

Katherine wrote about Charles de Lint’s “The Invisibles” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/deal-me-in-week-51-the-invisibles/

Candiss posted about the John Cheever story “Goodbye, My Brother” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/deal-me-in-challenge-story-51-goodbye-my-brother-by-john-cheever/

Randall covers “The Bris” by Eileen Pollack http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-bris-by-eileen-pollack.html

I read the Jerome Bixby short story, “It’s a Good Lifehttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/its-a-good-life-by-jerome-bixby/

I should also mention that we’ve had another participant, Susan  at Avid Series Reader, (who I’ve shared links to before on occasion but have not been good about looking for new updates since they were somewhat infrequent) who posts her reviews on Shelfari.  Peeking at her website today, I see she’s updated her roster with links to all of her reviews for 2014.  It’s at http://avidseriesreader.blogspot.com/2014/01/2014-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge.html  if you’d like to take a look.

One more week to go. Thanks to everyone who has joined me in Deal Me In this year, whether for the whole year or for parts of the year. You’ve really helped make it a fun challenge for me.

AND If you’re dealing yourself in again for DMI 2015, please take a moment and comment on the sign up post https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/its-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year-deal-me-in-2015-sign-up/ with a link to your roster, if you’ve finalized one already, or even to just say that you’re in. Also please consider helping spread the word about Deal Me In. We have three new participants already for next year, and there’s always room for more. 🙂

 

A Few More Short Stories I Read in September

Three more short stories…

I’ve already posted this month about a couple of short stories that I read for my annual project, those being “Reunion” by Maya Angelou and “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut by” J.D. Salinger. My habitual short story schedule is to pick and read one each Saturday morning. There were five Saturdays in September, so what were my other three stories? I’m glad you asked…

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First, I read Margaret Atwood’s “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother.” Originally published as part of her collection “Bluebeard’s Egg and other Stories,” this was probably my favorite of the three. It reminded me a lot of Marilynne Robinson’s novel, “Gilead,” which I have also read recently. The narrator recalls stories told to her by her mother, and admits that, as a child, she hadn’t yet realized “that she (her mother) never put in the long stretches of uneventful time that must have made up much of her life: the stories were just the punctuation.” I loved that. Aren’t we all, armed with our own stories, just like that as well? I found Atwood’s writing beautiful, and her attempts to explain the difficulty of writing about a past age ring so true. She says, “It is possible to reconstruct the facts of this world – the furniture, the clothing, the ornaments on the mantelpiece, the jugs and basins and even the chamber pots in the bedrooms, but not the emotions, not with the same exactness. So much that is now known and felt must be excluded.” I found this story in my anthology “The World of Fiction” edited by David Madden. A great collection of close to one hundred stories.

(below: Margaret Atwood)

Second, I read a Flannery O’Connor story titled, “Parker’s Back.” What could this story title mean? Some sort of ‘prodigal son returns’ theme I assumed, with Parker being the star. Well, knowing O’Connor I should have known it would be a dark tale, and it was, though not as “bad” as others of hers that I’ve read. We meet O.E. Parker in the midst of a domestic squabble with his wife. I liked the opening sentence: “Parker’s wife was sitting on the front porch floor, snapping beans.” I’ve done that! Several times in my youth while visiting grandparents, a batch of green beans straight from the garden would be distributed amongst us kids to begin preparing them by breaking them into ‘bite size’ units. A great memory and one that made me feel at home in this story immediately. Of course, that was the only part of the world spun by O’Connor in this story that was comfortable.

(below: Flannery O’Connor)

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The title of the story comes from the fact that Parker is covered in tattoos, but only on his front, his back remains untouched. Self-centered at his core, he has no interest in tattoos on his body that HE can’t see. He came by his obsession by seeing, when a child, a tattooed man at a carnival whose varied tattoos created a beautifully artistic “arabesque” wrapping his body. Parker’s tattoos are less artful: “Whenever a decent-sized mirror was available, he would get in front of it and study his overall look. The effect was not of one intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched.”

Flashbacks tell us the story of how he met his strictly religious wife (she thinks of his tattoos as “Vanity of vanities”) and at the end of the story he finally decides to get a tattoo to cover his back. A tattoo that could not help but please his wife, he thinks. If you’ve read much Flannery O’Connor, you know this won’t turn out well… I found this story in another anthology, The Norton Anthology. One benefit of this anthology is that each story is followed by a handful of ‘discussion questions.’ The one’s following this story weren’t the greatest though, but one did touch on the handling of chronology in the story – how do the glimpses back into the prior lives of the characters add to the story, etc.

The third, which I just finished, from my “Short Story Masterpieces” anthology, was John Cheever’s “Torch Song.” A famous title, and one that I’d certainly heard of, but I had remained ignorant of the work of Cheever (with whom I share the same initials and – I just learned today – birthday) until I read his great short story, “The Swimmer” earlier this year. I really liked this story for the most part, but it turned dark in – I thought – an unpleasant way toward the end. It follows the lives of two friends, Jack and Joan, two New York residents who came there from the same home town in Ohio. I understand the term “torch song” to refer to a love song that laments an unrequited or lost love and perhaps this is indeed the meaning in this story. Jack and Joan were never lovers, yet they crossed paths often in their lives and, as a reader, even though they always seemed married or involved with someone else when they met, I kept thinking, “C’mon, Jack, you should find a way to get together with this girl.” In fact, I was a little reminded by their relationship of the characters Jake and Brett from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, for whom I had a similar feeling. I was disappointed with the direction that “Torch Song” took, however, and though I found Cheever’s writing to be great (as it was in “The Swimmer”) I didn’t like this story as much as the other two.

(John Cheever)

So, that about wraps up my short story reading in September; only twelve more for me to “deal” with this year now. What short fiction did you consume this month? I’d love to know…

(I participate in The Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy at Simple Clockwork. If you are a regular – or even occasional – reader of short stories, please check out her site and share with the rest of us what you’ve read.)

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(Pictured below: three of my many short story anthologies; they were already somewhat battered when I bought them second-hand, but some of their condition is due to my frequent use as well…)

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“The Chekhov of the Suburbs”

John Cheever’s short story, “The Swimmer”

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I had a day off yesterday, so in addition to knocking off almost 200(!) more pages of “A Clash of Kings” I drew another card from my deck to pick a short story, and I got the Jack of Clubs, leading me to John Cheever’s famous short story, “The Swimmer.” (and today’s ’coincidence’ is that John Cheever, the Jack of Clubs, and I all share the same “initials.”)  🙂

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Though first published in the magazine, The New Yorker, in 1964 (cover of this issue pictured above – note the 25 cents price) , I acquired this short story in my anthology buying spree of the early/mid-90s when I purchased the hefty “World of Fiction.” It’s one of those ultra thick books with dictionary-like “tissue paper” pages, allowing over 1200 pages even though it’s less than two inches thick (my copy is pictured below, sorry the cover of the book is almost the same color as my table at Panera this morning…). That number of pages allows it to include about 90 short stories, and for $5.98 at Half Price Books, that comes out to about seven cents a story. Entertainment on the cheap!

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I had never read this story before, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read any Cheever either, although I was certainly aware of him. I didn’t know what to expect, and – even a few pages in – I was still trying to understand what was going on…

***MINOR spoilers follow***
It starts simply enough, a group of apparently well-to-do couples spending a languid Sunday morning by the pool, all a bit hungover. The protagonist, Neddy Merrill, a man who “…had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools,” hatches the idea that he might be able to make the eight-mile trip home “by water” (not entirely of course, but cutting through private and public swimming pools along the way). Well, this guy’s a bit nuts, I immediately think. He has an imagined map in his mind of the route he will take, and has even named it “The Lucinda River” after his wife. He starts off with youthful vigor and he is infused with a strange energy: “Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends along the way.”

He does well at first, but soon begins to tire and finds that the attitudes of his friends and acquaintances along the way are changing. He faces a difficult “portage” at Route 424, where he presents a strange sight to passing travelers, “standing barefoot in the deposits of the highway – beer cans, rags, and blowout patches – exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful.” Not too far into the journey even a reader who is sometimes slow on the up-take (like me) realizes that the swimmer’s journey must be allegorical. I won’t spoil the meaning or denouement of this story (partly because I’m not sure I know the former) – but you can read it online for free at: http://shortstoryclassics.50megs.com/cheeverswimmer.html

I did a little On-line research after finishing it, which is when I found out that Cheever was sometimes referred to as “The Chekhov of the Suburbs” (high praise indeed, considering Chekhov’s fame as a master of the short story). I also learned that the story was made into a motion picture with Burt Lancaster (pictured below) starring as The Swimmer.

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I’ll leave you with a quotation of Cheever’s I found to be quite amusing:

(From an interview with Annette Grant)
“The legend that characters run away from their authors — taking up drugs, having sex operations, and becoming President — implies that the writer is a fool with no knowledge or mastery of his craft… The idea of authors running around helplessly behind their cretinous inventions is contemptible.” 🙂

What are your thoughts on Cheever? Any favorite stories? (I still have one, “Torch Song,” yet to be drawn in this year’s Project: Deal Me In.)