“The Truth and All Its Ugly” by Kyle Minor

I first read Kyle Minor in 2013, when I enjoyed his collection of stories “In the Devil’s Territory,” and was immediately taken with his style and black humor in the story “The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party.”   Then later I wrote a brief review of the other stories in the book.  So, after purchasing the 2014 anthology, The New Black, I was happy to see that it included a story by him and added it to my roster for Deal Me In.

Its turn came up in week 25, when I drew the Jack of Spades – a dark card for a very dark story.

Jack of spades pic found at: http://www.world-wide-art.com/Trevor_Mezak/Jack_of_Spades/vaid34034.html

If you’d like to see my entire story roster for 2015 – with links to my posts on stories I’ve read – it is here.   if you’re curious about the Deal Me In challenge, there is a passable explanation of it here.

The Truth and All Its Ugly is the story of Danny’s father/Penny’s ex-husband, who also happens to be our unnamed first person narrator. It seems he and Penny and Danny were briefly a happy little family unit, but by the time we join the story, Penny is gone (“Penny kept saying she was going to leave and stay with her sister in town. She said it enough that we stopped believing her, but the last time she said it, she did it.”) and our narrator has drifted into a life of prescription drug abuse where “the days and nights go by fast” with “little cause to tell one from another.” Their home has become ripe for a visit by Child Protective Services and was “eighteen kinds of mess, some we’d made, and some that had just kind of grown while we weren’t paying attention.”

For their situation, they conveniently blame Penny. She is, after all, absent and thus not able to defend herself. The narrator’s bitterness about Penny’s departure infects Danny as well, and when he hears that a friend knows where Penny really is, he comes up with a plot to hurt her. En route to the execution of his plans, however, he thinks of an even better way…

Based on the illustration on the story’s first page, and a couple other foreshadowing events (my favorite being when Danny & the father haul Penny’s mother’s pink-painted upright piano out into the lawn and take axes to it) made me suspect that Penny would meet a gruesome end in this story, but things got a lot more complex than that – AND I wouldn’t want to spoil things any further for anyone who wishes to read it.

Speaking of which, if you’d like to invest in the Richard Thomas-edited anthology, “The New Black,” an e-version of it may be purchased at Amazon for a bargain price of $4.99

I still have two more stories from this anthology remaining to be drawn from my 2015 deck too. Michaela Morissette’s “The Familiars” and Craig Wallwork’s “Dollhouse.” The other stories that I’ve already covered in 2015’s Deal Me In challenge are  Roxane Gay’s “How” and Benjamin Percys “Dial Tone.”

While reading, I was reminded of the infamous late-19th century American ax-murder of the Bordens allegedly by their daughter Lizzie (who WAS acquitted of the crime, by the way), which became immortal due to the following rope-skipping(!) rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.”

The piano smashing passage called to mind a favorite scene in the cult comedy classic film, “Office Space,” where Peter and crew take an offending printer out into the field and smash it to bits. “PC Load Letter?!?!”

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten New To Me Authors I read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the blog, “The Broke and The Bookish.”

Thank God for my short story reading project. Without it, I don’t think I have read ten “new to me authors” this year. About half of the following are form short story reading. Here they are, in descending order with #1 being my favorite.

10. Kevin Lynn Helmick
His novella “Driving Alone: A Love Story” was “different” and brilliant.

9. Douglas Watson
I loved his short story collection “The Era of Not Quite.” Read my post about it here.

8. Kyle Minor
His story collection “In the Devil’s Territory” was one of my favorite books of the year. I posted about it here.

7. Caitlyn Horrocks
Her short story, “The Sleep,” will be a finalist in my upcoming 2013 short story reading project awards post. See my post about it here.

6. Hugh Howey
I was spellbound by his runaway self-published hit “Wool” earlier this year. What a page-turner!

5. Henryk Sienkiewicz
The “elder statesman” on this list, his short story, “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” was wonderful.

4. Neil Gaiman
Yes, I’d never read him until this year’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” He hasn’t seen the last of me…

3. Steven Milhauser
His unique short story “Phantoms” was also among my favorites of the year. I think he also has a new story in the latest New Yorker. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s in my plans.

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2. Ruth Ozeki (above)
I just finished it, but certainly one of my favorite novels of recent years was her “A Tale for the Time Being.” I highly recommend it.

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1. Betty Smith (above)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was my other favorite novel for the year. A classic that I had somehow neglected until now. Also highly recommended.

Other new to me authors I enjoyed (“Honorable Mention” if you will): Alexander Pushkin, Rob Smales, Lori Benton, Jade Eby, R.J. Sullivan, Robert Rebein, Marissa Meyer (the Lunar Chronicles one, not the Yahoo CEO), Stephen Chbosky, Eric Garrison, Orson Scott Card, Kristal Stittle, Hagiwara Sakutar, Sam Lipsyte, Claire Keegan, Charles Beaumont, Rebecca Emin, and Alice Adams.

What a fun list to put together! Being reminded of discovering all these great, new (to me) authors made me feel good about my 2013 reading accomplishments.

What about YOU? Who were your favorite literary discoveries in 2013?

I’ve just returned from “The Devil’s Territory”

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Just where is “The Devil’s Territory?” Is it comprised of the biblical fire and brimstone hell? The landscape of complex and impossible tortures in a painting of Heironymous Bosch? Or is it possibly in a place we’re less likely to look or suspect – our everyday world and its inhabitants? From reading Kyle Minor’s story collection of that title, it seems that final option is as likely as the others.

(Below: The “hellscape” panel from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”)

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This slim volume contains only six stories, two – including the title story – are somewhat longish, but still readable in a single sitting. I’ve already written about one, The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party, but here are some glimpses at the others that I hope might make you curious enough to try this collection yourself.   ***minor spoilers may follow***

“A Day Meant to do Less”

This one deals with the hell of despair of dealing with an infirmed, demented aging parent. Reverend Jack Wenderoth usually leaves the care of his mother to his wife, but circumstances leave him to fend for himself with her. Little does he realize that, as he tries to cope with the psychological difficulty of preparing to bathe her, in her own addled mind she mistakes him for a murdering molester with whom she survived a childhood encounter. Chilling stuff.

“A Love Story”

This one relates the life a “sexually confused” man whose career path includes being a student at a bible college and later settling into a “traditional” marriage, only later encountering his former college roommate, leading to predictable marital distress.

“Goodbye Hills, Hello Night”

The most overtly violent of the stories begins with the line “Here’s the truth of it. I never killed no one,” and proceeds to document a spree of “rousting” by young men that results in a death. The matter-of-fact-ness of how the men react to the situation they’re now in may indicate they’ve spent some time in The Devil’s Territory too.

“The Navy Man”

The collection strays a little off the track with this modern nod to the famous Anton Chekhov story, “The Lady With the Pet Dog.” It’s not a bad story, but why would an author go there? Minor notes in a kind of subtitle that the story is “After Chekhov.” I wouldn’t complain, but the author himself invites the comparison, and even the most respectful reader is likely to think of a famous exchange between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle in 1988… one almost wants to say, “I’ve read Anton Chekhov.  Anton Chekhov is a favorite of mine…” etc., etc. 🙂

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“In the Devil’s Territory”

The Last (and the title story) of the collection is the best, as far as I’m concerned. It stayed with me for a few days, and whenever a story does that, it earns high marks from me. And yet, I can’t say that I fully understood the story, which roughly follows the life of a woman who, when younger, heroically leads her fugitive family to freedom – out of East Berlin and from behind the Iron Curtain. For sheer narrative, this art of the story was well done and quite gripping.

Suddenly, though – *poof* – we’re in Florida in 1970. The reader knows he is still in the same story, but is not clued in immediately as to how this new narrative relates to the one that started the story. We are suddenly in the story of High School Student Wayne Adams. We leap again to 1978, with Wayne a young man, wishing to escape from behind the “iron curtain” of his own family’s type of life and plans for him. We leap again to 1986, and it is Wayne’s son who is a fifth grader with behavior problems – or at least is viewed as such by his teacher at a strictly religious school – a teacher famous for her heroic escape from East Berlin a quarter century ago… Alas, she has become a petty tyrant at the school and her struggles with and against Wayne’s son, Ronald, dominate the latter parts of the story.

“Measure my words,” she said, “I’ve lived under the Nazis and I’ve lived under the Communists in East Germany, and now I suffer a hundred indignities in the godless West, and I’m still proud to be an American, but not when I see your messy desk, your crayons and pencils and erasers I say in disarray, I say in a state of shame like you bring me, like you bring my classroom, your classmates. A state of shame like you bring yourself.” Is her tyranny a faint echo caused by her sufferings form years ago, or is the propensity for a tyrant-victim relationship a natural order of things that civilization settles into? One of several questions this story made me ponder..

Ronald’s situation with his teacher becomes intolerable and, as urged by his dad, he takes drastic measures to “ruin” her. The final leap the story makes is to the present (or “Now” – as the heading of the chapter states), and Ronald is not without guilt about sabotaging his former teacher’s position at the school. He even tells his wife about her and that “…she escaped from East Berlin, made her daring rescue, her hero’s journey three times across the River Spree, so that she could make her way to West Palm Beach, Florida and ruin the lives of fifth grade boys.” His attempts to track down his former teacher (“she must be in her late eighties, or even nineties by now”) do not come to fruition.

If you’re looking for something fresh and different, you might want to give this collection of stories a try.

Find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

Just Started: “In the Devil’s Territory” by Kyle Minor

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This book is a collection of short stories. I read the first one this morning.

“I begin to catalog my selfishness, and the list is long and unyielding.”

So thinks the first-person narrator of the short story “The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party.” He is an overmatched young husband with a three year-old son and an extremely pregnant wife who has been confined to “bed rest” for weeks. Add to the cast of characters his visiting parents who have travelled eighteen hundred miles in order to be with the family and help them through this difficult situation. The mother has recently survived a serious surgery herself and is probably not the best choice as a comforting influence at this time. The father? Well, he’s more sympathetic to his son’s challenges, but also continues to follow a life-long policy of always taking his wife’s side in any argument with their son. The piece de resistance? It’s also almost Christmas, a holiday that the narrator doesn’t like due to the excessive (and premature) celebration of it throughout his childhood.

The story is not without humor, though – as one might suspect from the title. The narrator’s often feeble efforts to cope with his situation climax in his decision to have a party to celebrate the first football game of the Bowl Game Season. (“I am a person who cannot get excited about Christmas but who can get excited about Texas Christian and Northern Illinois and a sham of a bowl game.”)

Does the narrator grow during the story? Perhaps a bit. He and his dad spend the last page or two pondering ’the meaning of life’ as they watch his son play with legos during the second quarter…

I’ll give the story a thumbs up and will look forward to reading the rest on this collection, which was on my personal top ten books to be read this summer list.  I first learned about it via the blog of The Missouri Review.  What about you?  Are you familiar with this author? What are some good short stories or short story collections you’ve read lately?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top of The Summer To Be Read List

Each Tuesday, the book blog “The Broke and the Bookish” hosts a “Top Ten Tuesday” meme. Hundreds of fellow book bloggers participate. It’s a great way to discover and connect with new blogs and bloggers. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Books at the Top of My Summer To Be Read List.” Here are mine, not in any particular order:

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1. The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I count Murakami as one of the great “discoveries” resulting from my joining the book blogging community over three years ago. I’ve wholly enjoyed everything I’ve read by him thus far. This is one of his most acclaimed books. I just bought it and can’t wait to get started.

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2. St. Patrick’s Batallion by James Alexander Thom

This will be my second Thom read of the year, after finishing the wonderful “Panther in the Sky” (fictional biography of Tecumseh) in January. I was already aware of this title (published in 2006) but became further intrigued a couple Fridays ago when the author was at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which had a “birthday party” for him and his wife Dark Rain Thom. The book covers a little known story from the Mexican American War.

3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Recommended by many, set in the American Southwest, and by another new favorite author. How could I go wrong with this one?

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4. Driving Alone: A Love Story by Kevin Lynn Helmick

Not generally well-known, but I read about this one in the New York times book pages. Sounded really good. More of a novella at just over 100 pages, it only has 12 reviews so far on Goodreads…

5. The Daylight War by Peter Brett

I wrote about Peter Brett’s “Demon Cycle” books quite awhile back.  Not my normal genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, as have many of my reading friends. Shout out to the Borough of Books blog too, where I first learned of them.

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6. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Long on my list, I finally obtained a copy this year. Tonight at the last meeting of the season of my Great Books Foundation reading group, I’ll propose this as a candidate for our summer novel to read before the next meeting in September. I’ll still read it either way…

7. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Heard of this book through a coworker, Jeri, and have since seen it mentioned on many other book blogs. An intriguing premise with the 2011 Tsunami as a backdrop, it sounds irresistible.

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8. Who Owns the Future? by John Lanier

This non-fiction book will likely be one that causes me to lose some sleep. About the digital revolution and its consequences, it’s another one I first heard about via The New York Times.

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9. The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante

A friend has been nudging at me to read this for awhile now, even gifting me his second-hand copy. This summer will be the time I get it read.

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10. In The Devil’s Territory by Kyle Minor

This one will satisfy my short story sweet tooth. Highly acclaimed, I’m really looking forward to reading these. I learned of this book through the blog of The Missouri Review

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11. The Shift Omnibus – Hugh Howey

Prequel to the self-published e-book blockbuster, “Wool” (which I read and thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year), this may be the one I’m most looking forward to. You better not disappoint me, Mr. Howey… 🙂

Sorry, I guess that’s eleven. I must have mis-counted in my prep work. I don’t want to bump any of these, though. 🙂  Is it too nerdy to say that just coming up with this list makes me want to take the day off and start reading NOW?  I hope not.  I can’t do that anyway… <sigh>

What about YOU? What’s on your list? Will we be reading any of the same books this summer? Tell me all about it. 🙂