“Hog for Sorrow” by Leopoldine Core – Selection 1 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♣9♣  Nine of Clubs. Playing card picture at left found from one of my personal decks, this one is a “Runic” deck that I purchased in Iceland in 2017. (I had the deck out since I brought it as show & tell at my short story book club since we read M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes” this month. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for “Award Winning Stories” which I’m defining for Deal Me In purposes as stories that were featured in either the O. Henry Prize Winning story anthology of 2016, or the Best American Short Stories anthology from 2017.

The Author: Leopoldine Core, who I’ve never read before. “Born & raised” in New York’s East Village, she is the author of the story collection “When Watched,” which won a Whiting Award. If Goodreads’ author profile (where the pic above was found) is current, she teaches as NYU and Columbia University.

The Selection: “Hog For Sorrow” which I own as part of my e-copy of BASS (Best American Short Stories) 2017. The author’s own notes in that volume state that the story is “actually about the construction of morality – how fixed states of virtue and evil are falsely projected onto people, much the way gender is.”

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 2019. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Hog for Sorrow

“She tried to imagine the women who loved his smell. A wife. Daughters. Possibly girlfriends. These women were lurking in the private lives of even the ugliest men she saw.”

One of the questions I’m constantly asking myself regarding my reading life is whether or not I’m becoming a more “discerning reader.” Do I have good literary taste? Do I “get it” when reading works that those “in the know” have praised? This is partly why I devoted one of my Deal Me In suits this year to “award winning stories”  – ones that, having already been vetted by someone who presumably knows more about literary merit that I do, I should be able to appreciate – IF the answer to those questions above is yes.

That’s a long way of saying I thought this was a really well written story, and I can understand why it made it into the Best American Short Stories anthology. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

There are just a handful of characters in the story: Friends Kit and Lucy, Sheila (their “boss”), Ned (a customer”) and Lucy’s dog Curtis. Curtis may be my favorite character. The story starts with minimal information. Kit and Lucy are in some kind of a waiting room. At first I wondered if it was a doctor’s office or something. Boy, was I off. They are young prostitutes, waiting to be assigned to their next “client.”

We follow the story from Kit’s perspective and, as one might guess, it is a rather jaded one. At various times in the story, she muses that “College was a lot like being a prostitute, only she never got paid.” Then, on the prospect of growing old and ugly, “It’ll be nice to be left alone.” Her friend Lucy (probably slightly more experienced in the business) advises her that “Crazy people have one tactic, to convince you that you’re crazy. So you can’t let them.”

The thing that made the story blossom for me is how the two girls become friends and how they “come to understand how rare friendship is” (as the author says in her contributor’s notes). The catalyst for their friendship is, oddly enough, the weird john, Ned (the “Hog for Sorrow” in the story’s title), whose particular fetish serves to bring them closer.

The end of the story is somehow heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time:

“‘Becoming a prostitute is like getting very sick,’ she thought. ‘You don’t want people and they don’t want you. Only she did want people. A little.'”

This story also made me wonder how many times – if any – I’ve read works where a prostitute is the main character. I haven’t come up with any yet, but I’m sure I’m forgetting something. What about YOU? Can you think of any?

♫♫ Personal/Trivia Notes: Do YOU know what the word “tribeca” refers to? You can see in the picture of my open kindle app in my iPad above that I highlighted it in blue (by my system, blue are words I looked up in the dictionary while reading that I will, presumably, try to remember the definition of when I scan through a book again). So, though I’ve heard the word before I never looked it up until reading this story. For the trivia points, can you tell me what it means? (residents of NY are ineligible for the points)

My wrong turn at the very beginning of the story, when the setting and landscape are only slowly revealed (we’re several paragraphs in before we get the phrase “considering the pleasureless nature of their business”) oddly reminded me of a phenomenon I frequently experienced back in college. A few basketball-loving friends and I would often go at odd hours to the main gym of the (small) school’s athletic facilities, and by main gym I mean our actual home court that varsity games were played on. Anyway, the big bright lights that illuminated the court were, naturally, not left on in off hours, but we would turn them on in our early morning or late night sessions. By their nature the  lights took several minutes to reach “full strength” and those few minutes always struck me as an eerie almost-altered state of consciousness. Things were revealed slowly in the cavernous building. You could “see enough to play a little” almost immediately but it was somehow disorienting during those first few minutes.

Looking back, I’m surprised we random students even had access to do this (I’m sure things would be different in today’s world), but I’m thankful that thinking about this story made me remember something I hadn’t thought about in many years. I love that reading re-opens doors to your memories like this!

 

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