Deal Me In – Week 47 Wrap Up

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Greetings to all. Here are some new Deal Me In posts to tide you over through the Thanksgiving Holiday Week:

Randall read one of the short story masters this week, O. Henry. His post on “A Double-Dyed Deceiver” may be found here: http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-double-dyed-deceiver-by-o-henry.html

James is now on to his second deck of Deal Me In, but I’ll continue to include links to any new Deal Me In posts of his here. This week it was Ken Liu’s story “The Gods Will not be Chained” and William Roughead’s essay, “The Ardlamont Mysteryhttp://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/11/19/ken-lui-vs-william-roughead-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/

Dale paid another visit to Father Brown, reading G.K. Cheaterton’s story “The Ghost of Gideon Wisehttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/g-k-chesterton-the-ghost-of-gideon-wise/

Returning Reader posted about a couple stories, Tunisian writer Rachida el-Charni’s “Street of the House of Wondershttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/short-story-39-street-of-the-house-of-wonders-rachida-el-charni/ and Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Babyhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/short-story-40-desirees-baby-kate-chopin/

I read French writer Prosper Merimee’s story “Mateo Falconehttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/mateo-falcone-by-prosper-merimee/

Katherine continues to browse the exhibits in Steven Millhauser’s Barnum Museum, this time taking a look at “The Invention of Robert Herendeenhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/deal-me-in-week-47-the-invention-of-robert-herendeen/

Five weeks to go in Deal Me In 2014! I think I can see the finish line from here! I hope everyone has a pleasant Thanksgiving. Safe travels to all who are on the road for the holiday.

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Deal Me In – Week 40 Wrap Up

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A lot of great stories and posts this week. Check out the links below.

Candiss is back, and with a “doubleheader” covering Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Anton Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/deal-me-in-challenge-stories-39-40-an-unexpected-relationship-between-chekhov-and-le-guin/

Dale brings us Dorothy Parker’s “The Waltz” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/dorothy-parker-the-waltz/

It’s the Ace of Spades at Time Enough at Last which means Randall shares with us “February 1999: Ylla” by Ray Bradbury http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/10/february-1999-ylla-by-ray-bradbury.html

Katherine drew the King of Clubs and reviews “A Cascade of Lies” by Steve Rasnic Tem http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/deal-me-in-week-40-a-cascade-of-lies/

At two stories a “pop”, James is down to just four cards in his deck after reading Grace Paley’s “In Time Which Made a Monkey of us All” and “A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Ayala Dawn Johnson http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/10/05/grace-paley-vs-alaya-dawn-johnson/

My story was so short, I almost felt like I had the week off, but Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” was, pound for pound, one of the best I’ve read recently. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/kate-chopins-story-of-an-hour/

Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour”

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This week I drew the ace of diamonds from my “stories recommended by others” suit. Tip of the cap to Megan, a longtime reader and “honored citizen” of Bibliophilopolis, who recommended this story to me when I was building my short story roster for Deal Me In 2014 late last year.

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An awful lot can happen in “just an hour” can’t it? One thing that could happen is that someone could read this story about ten or fifteen times. It’s that short. This story, published in 1894, packs quite a wallop nonetheless.

A young wife with a heart condition learns from her sister and friend that they have received news her husband was killed in an accident while traveling. She reacts in a completely understandable grief-stricken way and then retires to her bedroom to “be alone.” She sinks into an armchair in front of an open window and experiences something of an epiphany. “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.”

It is only then that the reader learns something more about what kind of married life this woman had, one where she often felt oppressed. She begins to see a “silver lining” in the dire news she has received, thinking that no longer “…would (a) powerful will (be) bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.” She begins to think of herself as “Free! Body and soul free!” which she keeps whispering to herself. What will the rest of her new life be like now? It isn’t long before the reader finds out…

If you would like to read the story for yourself, it’s available on line in many places, one of them here

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The logo for the TV show “Sixty Minutes.” (i.e, an hour 🙂 ) It was quite familiar to me when I was growing up – not because I watched the program, but because it came on after the late afternoon Sunday football games on CBS, during which we were frequently reminded that – since games usually ran late – it could “be seen in its entirety” following the conclusion of the football broadcast. Anyone else remember that?

“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

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(Above: Kate Chopin)
Though I’ve been meaning to for years, it was only this week that I finally got around to reading this perfectly titled classic novel. I found it to be, though not a “happy” novel, both brilliant and beautifully written. The Awakening is the story of Edna Pontellier, the Kentucky-born wife of a New Orleans businessman “on the rise” named Leonce Pontellier. It takes place spanning the course of a summer through early winter in New Orleans and the “rich people’s retreat” of Grand Isle (see the bottom center of the map below).

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In her late twenties, Edna is coming to the realization that the future life that stretches before her will be an unhappy, or at least unfulfilling, one. She is merely filling a role that society expects of her and is losing her own independent existence. Enter the charming Robert Lebrun, who is one of many catalysts for Edna’s “awakening.” Other catalysts come together in chapter 10 of the novel, which consists of 5-6 pages of the best writing I’ve encountered this year. The other catalysts? Edna, who has all her life struggled to learn to swim, finally “gets it” and is able to swim out further from shore than she has ever dared to venture:

“That night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realises its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly, and with over-confidence.”

Another catalyst is Edna’s having listened to a piano performance earlier in the day by Mademoiselle Reisz:

“I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing moved me tonight, I wonder if any night on earth will ever again be like this one. It is like a night in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings. There must be spirits abroad tonight.”

The theme of spirits or other strange forces being “abroad” recurs several times during the novel. In this case, young Robert describes her fate by making up (I assume he makes it up) a strange legend about the 28th of August, the date of her swim and, ostensibly, her awakening:

“On the twenty-eighth of August, at the hour of midnight, and if the moon is shining – the moon must be shining – a spirit that has haunted these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf. With its own penetrating vision the spirit seeks someone mortal worthy to hold him company, worthy of being exalted for a few hours into realms of the semi-celestials. His search has always hitherto been fruitless, and he has sunk back, dishearted, into the sea. But tonight he found Mrs. Pontellier. Perhaps he will never wholly release her from the spell. Perhaps she will never again suffer a poor, unworthy earthling to walk in the shadow of her divine presence.”

Now, young Robert is just unwittingly being his usual, charming self, and doesn’t realize that something very like what he has playfully described really HAS happened to Edna that day and night, and the rest of the novel unfolds as she works out the consequences of being “awakened.”

I learned after reading that Chopin’s work was censored and suppressed by her contemporaries, and that it was only in the 1960’s that she resurfaced and became celebrated as a pioneer of feminist fiction. One might think that a reader like myself, a middle-aged man, might not have much to gain by reading works like “The Awakening.” Not so. For my part, the story of a soul’s (ANY soul’s) struggle to free itself from artificial confinement and become what it may is worthy reading for any person – man or woman, young or old, rich or poor.

Have you read Chopin? What did you think of her? I’d previously only read her short story, A Shameful Affair a few years ago (part of a former book club’s “short story month” and, truth be told, picked by a member only because of it’s brevity and the seeming promise of salaciousness in the title). I own The Awakening as part of a volume that contains other stories of hers. I’ve already read one (“Wiser than a God”) which I also thought was very good.

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“Stories Time!”

Tonight is my book club’s annual “Short Story Month” (where instead of reading a single book, we read short stories; each member picks a story for the group to read); this year we had eight of our nine members suggest a short story. I finished reading the last of them last night and… I liked them all! A few brief thoughts follow:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

This story was totally NOT what I was expecting. I guess I should’ve known that Fitzgerald was capable of a story like this since we read his “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” a couple of years ago, but this one blew me away. The protagonist is a young man sent off to prep school where he disappointedly marvels at the “exceeding sameness” of his classmates. He does bond with one of them however, and is invited to spend a holiday with the family at their home out west. His new friend Percy brags that his father is the richest man in the whole world and owns a diamond “as big as the a Ritz Carlton” hotel. The visit leads him to a kind of domestic Shangri-La which Percy’s father stops at nothing to protect. A fantastical story which I enjoyed quite a bit. I also discovered on YouTube a copy of an old radio theater adaptation of the story which I listened to with amusement. I’ll try to add a link to that when I find it again.

Jack London’s “A Piece of Steak”

This one was my pick. I read it during one of my favorite high school English classes. It’s a classic story of the age old struggle between youth and experience. Dramatically taking the form of a wily old prizefighter’s bout against an “up and coming” contender who has strength but not experience. London’s descriptions of the characters are extremely well done. Sadly, I’m reaching the age where this theme is of more interest to me than I’d like to admit…

Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

This was probably the third or fourth time I’ve read this story, which is found in many anthologies. Taking place during the American Civil War, it deals with the execution – by hanging – of a man who tried to sabotage the bridge in the title of the story. What the reader is treated to is a Twilight Zone-esque tale with a twist of an ending. Good stuff.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

I haven’t read Kipling in awhile, but he did happen to write one of my all-time favorite stories, “The Brushwood Boy.” <insert goosebumps> This particular story deals with the time honored, proverbial fight between a Cobra and a Mongoose, and is set in colonial India. It reads a bit like a children’s tale but, I believe, still makes great reading for adults. It called to mind for me a book I read one summer during my college years that dealt with the history of The British East India Company and all the exotic lands it controlled. Sadly, looking back today, I can recall almost nothing of the details of that book. 😦

“Casey at the Bat” – a poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Short and sweet. This famous poem is not dissimilar from the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable where overconfidence meets its comeuppance. Today’s readers can scarcely know how popular this poem was in its day, and how deeply woven into the public consciousness it was.  My dad would frequently quote from it (a favorite taunt of his during any kind of game where he held the advantage was “it’s looking dark in Mudville…”) and I suspect it was well known in his family when he was growing up. This poem, like several of our stories this month, touches on a classic theme too – in this case the “hubris” of “The Mighty Casey.”

“A Shameful Affair” by Kate Chopin

This one may have been the least memorable of this group, and I’m not sure I like the ending, where the readers kind of left to speculate about just what has happened. I think I know, but am also anxious to hear what my fellow club members think tonight. The story, in a nutshell, is about a bored “aristocratic” girl who has a dalliance with a rough around the edges farmhand (who is an eminently more likable character than she is) and the consequences that follow.

Alice Hoffman’s “The Conjurer’s Notebook”

This author may be the “discovery” of this year’s Short Story Month for me. It certainly wins the Oscar for “Best Character” in the form of the female character, Dorey, who lived (by her wits) through the holocaust, marries an American soldier and returns to America, where she meets his possessive grandmother, Violet. I loved this story and am eager to read more by this author. As Hoffman describes, Dorey is one of those people who “knew how to deal with what happened to them in this world” while “others do not.”

A.M. Burrage’s “Smee”

I’ve read this story many times. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories ever, and I’ve written about it here on this blog before, so I’ll just refer you my previous post.

Links to most of these stories are posted at my book club’s website (see blogroll to the left) if you’d like to read some of them for free.

What about you, do you have experience with any of these authors or stories? Are any of them among your favorites? Would you recommend other stories by them?

“Bumper Crop”

 

Without fail it’s my favorite book club meeting each year:  “Short Story Month!”  We’ve been doing this every July now, starting with 2008.  Each of our nine members picks a short story for the members to read.  Most of them pick a ‘famous’ story that’s available in the public domain and thus on the internet, while a couple share an actual copy or copied pages from a book.  I love the variety and the change of pace from our normal meetings.  And there are always a few previously unknown gems discovered (at least by me, anyway.)

This time around, we even have a couple repeat stories.  With some member turnover since inception, a couple stories that have been picked before were picked again (well, one was a short story picked during our “Ghost Story Month” – another favorite meeting of mine), but we decided to just read them again anyway.  Some members hadn’t read them the first time, or weren’t part of the club the first time, and heck, they’re just darn good stories too.

So far, we’ve heard from all but one member (come on, Carla! 🙂 ), and here’s what we’ve got so far:

F. Scott Fitzgerald – “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

Kate Chopin – “A Shameful Affair”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer – “Casey at the Bat”

Jack London – “A Piece of Steak”

Rudyard Kipling – “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

Ambrose Bierce – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Alice Hoffman – “The Conjurer’s Handbook”

A.M. Burrage – “Smee”

I consider this a bumper crop of stories.  Yeah, yeah, I know Casey at the Bat is a poem (the member who picked that one is a chronic troublemaker…  🙂 ).  Also the member who selected An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge described it as “a dark story that keeps you hanging until the end.”  If you’ve read that story before, you may appreciate the humor in that description…  Chopin, Thayer, and Hoffman are all new authors for the club, whereas for some of the others we’ve read novels, and some are making their second appearance in Short Story Month.

What about you?  Have you read any of these stories?  Have you ever participated in a book club that read short stories (either every now and then, or exclusively)?  I’d love to hear about it…