Deal Me in 2014 weekly wrap up (and my selection, “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser)

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As I noted in the sign-up post, I’ll be posting a weekly update for the Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I’ll try to do these regularly on sunday evenings, and will include links to what others have posted since the last update.

I’d also like to thank Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste for upgrading our unofficial logo (pictured above) for this challenge.  I love it! Feel free to use it in your weekly posts if you’d like.

So, What are other Deal Me In 2014 participants reading this week? See the following:

Dale at Mirror With Clouds on Saki’s “The Recessional”

The Returning Reader ‘walks into Omelas’ for the Ursula K. LeGuin Classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 shares her thoughts on Steven Milhauser’s “Thirteen Wives”

Katherine at Writerly Reader read the classic M.R. James ghost story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”

These are the posts I found as I went to press with this post.  If you finished a post on another story for your week one, you can also link to it in the comments to this post.

So, we’re off and running with DMI2014! As I said I’ll be doing a kind of round up post on Sundays.  We’re a small enough group I can probably just manually do these posts with the links.  If you’re a regular reader who’s not taking part in the challenge, please consider visiting some of these other blogs written by fellow fans of the short story.

Now for my week 1 entry:

“Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser

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Story #1 of my fourth annual “Deal Me In” Short Story Reading Project (see here for details on the project). This week I drew the Jack of Spades, which I had assigned to this short story – first published in The November 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker – from Steven Milhauser. I first discovered Milhauser via his excellent short story, “Phantoms,” which was part of my project last year. I own “Miracle Polish” as part of The Best American Short Stories 2012 anthology. As of this writing, it can be read for free online here

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“Miracle Polish” is the story of an unnamed narrator who, against his better judgment, allows a traveling salesman admittance to his house. The salesman sells bottles of a mirror cleanser called “Miracle Polish.” Milhauser’s skills and attention to detail are on display in the opening of the story, especially in his descriptions of the salesman. How carrying his heavy suitcase has “pulled him a little to the side, so that one of his jacket cuffs was higher than the other…” Pitying the salesman, he resolves to buy a bottle. The stranger seemed “surprised, even suspicious, when I said I’d take one, as if he wandered the earth for years with the same case filled to bursting with unsold bottles.”

Though the narrator is by all accounts a fully rational man (“I wasn’t the kind of man who looked at himself in mirrors. I was the kind of man who spent as little time as possible in front of mirrors, the kind of man who had a brisk and practical relation to his reflection.”) he notices something strange when he first uses the polish to clean a smudge on a mirror. Realizing that now the REST of the mirror looks dull, he cleans the whole thing. That’s when the fun begins.

Something “magical” happens to the reflection of the narrator. His “new” reflection is clearly him, yet a different him, full of potential and promise. A “man who believed in things.” He begins to become obsessed with mirrors, buying one after another and treating them with the miracle polish. His relationship with his girlfriend, whose image is also enhanced by the miracle polish-treated mirrors, is affected. Concerned with his seeming obsession, she even goes so far as to say “You know, sometimes I think you like me better there (pointing to a mirror) than here (pointing to herself)”

Predictably, things cannot go on this way,and the story reaches a disturbing(?) climax. At least I thought it did. Others may feel differently. I also got the feeling while reading that the story would be easily adapted into a script for the old Twilight Zone series.

In the “Contributor’s Notes” section of my book, Milhauser himself says of this story: “I was seized by the desire to write a mirror story, but that was as far as things went. Every possibility seemed boring or frivolous. I turned my attention to something else. One day it came to me: the mirror shouldn’t be a gateway to a fantastic world, but should behave very quietly. This thought, or instinct, propelled me to this story.” Nice.

What about you? Have you read anything by Steven Milhauser? What do you think of him? What short stories have YOU read lately.

For another great “mirror story” try Haruki Murakami’s “The Mirror,” which I wrote briefly about in 2012

Would you like to join the “Deal Me In 2014” short story reading challenge? “Late-joining” is allowed! 🙂 See the challenge home page

Some other bloggers’ thoughts that I found on this story:
http://sloopie72.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/bass-2012-steven-millhauser-miracle-polish-from-the-new-yorker-111411/

http://perpetualfolly.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-yorker-miracle-polish-by-steven.html

http://www.ann-graham.com/2013/02/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish.html

http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2011/11/11/steven-millhauser-miracle-polish/

(below: Will NOT cause supernatural results)

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(Below: MAY cause supernatural results)

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M.R. James’s: “Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance”

Okay, very little of this post is related to the story in the title, but I’m using it as an excuse to write about my day last Thursday…

Last Thursday, I got an opportunity to go on a day trip with the Indiana State Museum volunteers.  The trips are a semi-annual perk for the many volunteer workers that are part of the museum’s staff. My mom is one of them, and usually invites me to come along.  This time, we went to the town of Wabash, IN, known for being the first town in the world to be electrically lighted.

Our first stop was at the very recently renovated Charley Creek Inn.  Manager Kathryn MacMillan took us on a 45 minute tour of the building, which is in downtown Wabash and was originally opened in 1920.  I must say they have done a tremendous job in the restoration and the hotel is definitely someplace I would enjoy staying at overnight.

From a news video, see here:

For a video by the architects, see here:

Next, we went to see the Charley Creek Gardens

Their website is here:
It was the best time of year to visit as many of the flowers were in full bloom (azalea’s especially).  I also learned the ‘difference’ between the words “labyrinth” and “maze.”   There is a small hedge maze on the property.  I have been interested in hedge mazes ever since reading the M.R. James ‘ghost’ story, “Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance,” which prominently features a hedge maze.  You may find this story to read at http://arthursclassicnovels.com/jamesmr/humphriesin10.html

The difference between the two words, which are used somewhat interchangeably by most (me included, but I’ll try to do better in the future), is given below (lifted from amazeingart.com)

What is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth today?
Today people think of mazes as tricky and confusing puzzles, with false passages and dead ends. Examples include the Dole Pineapple Plantation maze, cornfield mazes, or the art from the Amazeing Art book. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are thought to have a single path that winds into center, and are often (but not always) circular. The best-known labyrinths are Church labyrinths, such as at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco or Chartres Cathedral in France.

Our guide at the gardens also  pointed out that their labyrinth is used as a ‘healing,’ meditative type of practice for some people – apparently as you navigate toward the center of the labyrinth you visualize yourself shedding your worries or troubles, and by the time you are done, you have healed yourself somewhat.  I had never heard of this practice before.  Below is the Labyrinth at Charley Creek Gardens.

Dr. James Ford historic home.

After a quick lunch at the gardens, we made what was probably my favorite stop at the Dr. James Ford historic home.  Ford served as a doctor during the Civil War (fitting right in with my reading project for 2010), and lived to a ripe old age.  The website for the home maybe be found here.

http://www.jamesfordmuseum.org/

As is my habit, I asked one of the caretakers of the home if there were any associated ghost stories, but – alas – she said “no,” mentioning that she had spent a lot of time in the house alone and “never noticed anything.”

One other item related to my reading this year was that the chairs in the dining room of the Dr. James home were the same chairs used in the movie Gone With the Wind to furnish Aunt Pittypat’s parlor.  The caretaker said many people want to know “which one Clark Gable sat in”…

I took a picture of some of the books on display in the doctor’s ’operating room’ in the house (complete with life-size model patient) which I used as the first photograph in this post.

Our fourth stop was at the Wabash County Museum, which currently features an in-depth exhibit about Stephen Douglass (of the Lincoln-Douglass debates fame) – another appropriate tie-in for my 2010 Civil War reading project.  Most of us were also held spellbound by a rather large model train set-up in another part of the museum.

Our final stop was at The Honeywell House, one of the region’s more opulent homes and the former residence of Mrs. Mark C. Honeywell.  The house also serves as a bed & breakfast from time to time – but only to a limited clientele (I think you have to ’know somebody’ to book a night’s stay there).  A beautiful house, though, and we were served a delicious dinner there as well.

That was it, except for the 105-minute bus ride home.  (One would think I could’ve gotten some reading done during the travel time on this trip, but I must sadly report, that I only read a few pages… )