Mirror, mirror, on the Wall… Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House”

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Deal Me in 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge – week 8

This week, I drew the four of spades, which led me to a ghost story, Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House,” published in 1951. (My complete roster of 2014 stories for this challenge may be viewed at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/my-2014-short-story-reading-challenge/ ) I own this one as part of the anthology, “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.” Bloch is probably best known for writing the novel “Pyscho” in 1959. Maybe you’ve seen the movie.

(Below: Robert Bloch)

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Anyway, the luck of the draw this week led me to a story which turned out to eerily complement the first story I read of DMI2014, Steven Milhauser’s “Miracle Polish.” Both involve mirrors. While Milhauser’s story has a protagonist who becomes obsessed with mirrors and his reflection in them, Bloch’s story features a house once occupied by a woman, now long dead, who shared the same affliction. Mirrors are her pathway of choice to haunt the living and perhaps influence them to “do things.”

The young couple who moves into this house is unaware of its history, but both soon (individually) notice that they’re not alone. Both hesitate to tell the other anything for fear of seeming silly, but things begin to come to a boil when the husband finds an old, locked closet full of mirrors in the attic and later when they host a party for other couples in the neighborhood, which provides their spectral roommate more people to play with. I enjoyed the story, but it was far from being the best I’ve read in the genre. I wasn’t able to find the story available anywhere online, I’m afraid. If you’re interested in reading it, I’d recommend “The Weird” anthology mentioned above – well worth purchasing for all the other great stories it contains.

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Have you read any of Robert Bloch’s works? What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

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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