Deal Me In – Week 24 Wrap Up

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I’m way behind schedule in posting this, but here are links to new posts by all the Deal Me In’ers since the last wrap-up. We’re almost at the midway point of the challenge! Note: for week 26, I’m working on a kind of “survey” about the challenge. I hope you’ll consider participating by answering a few questions, via which I hope to make improvements for DMI 2015 next year…

Dale wrote about Herman Melville’s “The Piazza” at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/herman-melville-the-piazza/

I wrote about Maxim Gorky’s “Her Lover” at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/her-lover-by-maxim-gorky/

James posted about a couple stories, Grace Paley’s “The Pale Pink Roast” and Tim Pratt’s “Our Stars, Ourselves” from the Welcome to Bordertown anthology: http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/06/10/state-history-short-stories-and-a-little-sex-or-one-of-those-catch-up-posts-with-lots-of-short-reviews/

Candiss writes about Amy Bloom’s “Silver Water” at http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/deal-me-in-challenge-story-24-silver-water-by-amy-bloom/

Returning Reader read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Arrangers of Marriage” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/short-story-24-the-arrangers-of-marriage-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie/

Katherine tackles a classic, Edgar Allan Poe’s. “The Purloined Letterhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/deal-me-in-week-24-the-purloined-letter/

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“Her Lover” by Maxim Gorky

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(Above: a contemplative Maxim Gorky)

The best authors – or at least my favorite authors – share an amazing ability to paint quite a vivid picture of their characters in just a few words. This trait is naturally very useful when writing short stories. Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind as one blessed with this faculty. I remember when the book club of The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library read “Sucker’s Portfolio” (his posthumously published collection of “new” short stories) thinking that, though the stories themselves were perhaps not up to his usual high standards, his characters were still often fully fleshed out in short, machine gun-like bursts of description.

Maxim Gorky also possessed this skill, and it is on display in his short story, “Her Lover,” which I had assigned to the ten of clubs and was the 24th story I read for my annual “Deal Me In” short story project. (See project details and my entire roster of 2014 stories here)

***Minor Spoilers follow (link to read the story online follows at the end if you’d like to read it first)***

The story’s narrator is a young student in Moscow, who occupies a garret apartment in a boarding house. His neighbor in the apartment on the other side of the attic is a woman of ill-repute:

She was a Pole, and they called her Theresa. She was a tallish, powerfully-built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a coarse face as if carved out by a hatchet – the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick base voice, her cabman-like gait and her immense muscular vigor, worthy of a fishwife, inspired me with horror.”

Over the course of the story, though, the student comes to learn more about this “mastodon in petticoats”(!) and overcomes his horror enough to grant a favor by writing a letter for his illiterate neighbor. A letter to “her lover” she has presumably left behind in Warsaw… The student’s relationship with this woman also leads him to gain some lessons that he likely isn’t being taught at school, such as how “the more a human creature has tasted of the bitter things the more it hungers after the sweet things of life.”

It also leads him to re-evaluate his judgmental attitude and quick dismissal he often feels toward others: “…I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed, somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this human being had invented a friend for herself.”

I own the story as part of my great e-book “Best Russian Short Stories” collection – a perfect component of my Deal Me In project, since it pictures a Queen of Spades on the cover (for the Pushkin story of that name). 🙂

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Have you read anything by Maxim Gorky? I’ve covered two of his stories on this blog before, One Autumn Night and Twenty-Six and One. Which authors do you think are best at writing great and short characterizations?

The story may be read for free online at http://www.online-literature.com/maxim-gorky/1653/

Up next week for Deal Me In 2014: The Two of Hearts – deuces are wild and hearts are my suit for women authors so all I can say at this point is story 25 will be one written by a woman…

(Below: Yes, it’s a mastodon. Sans petticoats.)

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“But of Tanya we never spoke ill…”

Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge 2014: Story #4

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This week I drew the King of Clubs and checking my roster of stories was led to this one. Though it’s still early in the year, Maxim Gorky’s story, “Twenty-six and One” has been my favorite of the four stories I’ve read thus far. I also read Gorky as the final story of DMI2013, and enjoyed immensely his story “One August Night.”

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I also like stories that have a somewhat mysterious title. “Twenty-six and one?” What could this be about? A successful season of Gorky’s favorite football team? No, of course not that. The twenty-six and one are people. The twenty-six being the “employees” of a bakery, who spend an existence of dull drudgery in the semi-basement workroom, kneading dough for biscuits day after day, month after month, year after year. Among of the twenty-six is also our story’s narrator. And who is the “one?” She’s a lovely sixteen year-old chambermaid who lives in the same building the houses the bakery. Every day she visits the “little prisoners” – as she affectionately refers to the workers – stepping down the four steps into their cellar and playfully demanding “give me biscuits!”

This is Tanya, the one thing that makes their dreary existence bearable. Gorky describes the situation this way: “…though our hard labor turned us into dull oxen, we nevertheless remained human beings, and like all human beings we could not live without something to worship.” It seemed to this reader that the environment which Gorky has depicted has reached something of an equilibrium. Though unhappy or even miserable, the workers would never leave their precious Tanya. In their conversations while at work, they often discuss other, “low” women in rude and disgusting terms, but “of Tanya we never spoke ill.”

This equilibrium may have lasted years. May have. A catalyst for change is introduced, however, when one of the other employees (not from the twenty-six, but in a higher, “white bread baker’s” position) is fired and his replacement turns out to be a somewhat dashing former soldier. The former soldier wears a “satin vest and a watch with a gold chain” and, though a bit of a dandy, is friendly to the twenty-six (not condescending like the other white-bread bakers). In conversation with the twenty-six the soldier admits “How lucky I am with women, eh? It is very funny. Just a wink and I have them.” One can guess in what direction this story might go, no? The soldier’s successes thus far have been with the tawdry “embroidery girls” who also work in the building. Upon listening to the soldier boast of his conquests, the baker that supervises the twenty-six’s work is foolish enough to comment to him that, “You need no great strength to fell little fir-trees, but try to throw down a pine…” Suddenly Tanya’s virtue is threatened… Whether it’s a happy ending or not I won’t say. I will say that Gorky’s depiction of the workers’ condition and their psyche rang very true.

This story is available to read on-line in many places. One is http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/TwenSix.shtml

I also enjoyed reading the biographical info about Gorky in the introduction to my copy of “Twenty-Six and One (and Other Stories)” and learned a lot about him I didn’t know. He lived a large part of his life as a “tramp” wandering from place to place, yet always “reading and studying feverishly.” It is said thatit fell to him “to write the poem of vagrancy” and that “…the introduction of tramps in literature is the great innovation of Gorky.” What about YOU? Have you read Gorky? What do you know of him,and which works would you recommend?

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“One Autumn Night” by Maxim Gorky

This morning I completed my 2013 Short Story Reading Project, “Deal Me In.” I read one short story a week choosing the order at random from having assigned each of the stories to a playing card in a standard deck, then drawing one card per week (well, more or less; I’m not saying I never fell behind). I’ll be doing it again in 2014. Would you like to join me?

Anyway, the last story in my deck was Maxim Gorky’s “One Autumn Night,” which I own in a couple of places. It’s part of my “Great Short Stories of the World” anthology and also my “Best Russian Stories” anthology. I was also amused to discover that, when I made my list of stories of 2014, I included this Maxim Gorky story as well (it didn’t sound familiar because, after all, I hadn’t read it as of then!). So I had to maintain my 2014 list a bit, replacing it with another Russian story, Andreyev’s “Lazarus.”

(Below: Maxim Gorky – on the right – with titan, Leo Tolstoy)

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Anyway, back to this week’s story. It’s a touching tale of a young man who finds himself without shelter or food on a cold “Autumn Night” in Moscow. The strong opening lines of the narrator set the stage nicely: “Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and without a night’s lodging.”

Scavenging for something to eat around the “steamship wharves,” he encounters another poor wretch, the young woman, Natasha, in similar circumstance if for different reasons. Together they scrounge a loaf of bread and take refuge from the elements (a bitterly cold, freezing rain) under an upside down skiff. Here he learns a little of her circumstances, including how her face came to be marked up, although he could probably already guess that. Her abusive husband has thrown her out, leaving her with a somewhat low opinion of the male of the species: “What wretches all you men are! I’d burn you all in an oven; I’d cut you in pieces. If any one of you was dying I’d spit in his mouth, and not pity him a bit. Mean skunks! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and it’s all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot… Miserable loafers.”

In spite of this relentless invective, Natasha doesn’t seem to hold the narrator personally responsible, and indeed comforts him with tenderness when she realizes he is also miserable. They survive the night and venture out into the dawn of the following day, “taking friendly leave” of each other. They never meet again, though the narrator admits that “for half a year I searched in every hole and corner for that kind Natasha, with whom I spent that Autumn Night just described…”

Have you read any Gorky? He was a favorite of the Soviet State, which named a huge park in Moscow after him. You might be familiar with it from the Martin Cruz Smith novel, “Gorky Park.” You also may have heard of it in the Lyrics of the Scorpions song, “Wind of Change.”

You may read the story for free online at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/13203/

Prefer a audio recording? Try here: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A0cg8-_y_ug&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DA0cg8-_y_ug

(Below: Moscow’s Gorky Park in winter, or perhaps the morning after a late Autumn Night)

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