Update on my weekend Readathon-ing

(above: I dealt myself a hand of Euchre with my deck of Isle of Man playing cards to determine the order of the stories I’m reading for this anthology)

I didn’t have much time to read during the official hours of the Something Wicked This Fall Comes kickoff readathon, but I did finish six of my selected 24 stories. Here are some brief thoughts on them, most of which come from the Ray Bradbury “Shadow Show” tribute anthology. I love the format of this anthology, which includes comments by the author after each story, telling of their connection to the legendary writer.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill

This was a very Bradbury-esque story (just what one would expect from this anthology!) that takes off on the American version of the Loch Ness Monster legend. Or did you not know that Lake Champlain in New York is also the reputed home of a Plesiosaur (in this case named “Champ”)? Two children are playing along the shore of the lake when one, a little girl named Gail, spots a large “rock” on the beach. Naturally, they scale to the top of it but quickly realize that “that’s no rock…” but instead the washed up body of a ‘monster’ of the lake.  Add to this a recurring foghorn-like noise (kinda reminds you of another Bradbury tale, huh? But that’s – literally – another story) that they keep hearing out on the water somewhere and the children’s wish to become rich and famous for being the ones to discover the “dinosaur” and you end up with quite a story.  I liked this one.

Little America by Dan Chaon

An author I’ve heard about frequently and who has even made an appearance in a previous year of the Deal Me In Challenge at Katherine’s blog, The Writerly Reader (see  here for her post on his story, The Bees).  This one was kind of a chilling tale – a man is traveling across the country with a young boy who we casually learn is his prisoner and may have somehow been responsible for his parents’ deaths. “You did love them, didn’t you?” the man repeated asks him for reassurance. It turns out we’re in a post-apocalyptic America with “a werewolf problem” which the “boy” is part of, being one himself. I didn’t like this story as much as the others that I’ve read thus far in the collection. My favorite part was reading the author’s comments after the story about how he wrote to Bradbury when he was a very young writer and how Bradbury encouraged him, etc. (also noted in the blog post linked above)

Roger Malvin’s Burial by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My favorite story of my weekend reading. Roger and Reuben are returning from a fierce battle with Indians on America’s colonial frontier. Both are wounded, Roger being mortally so (thus the story’s title). Add into the mix the fact that Roger is the father of Reuben’s intended, Dorcas. After much discussion, Roger convinces Reuben that he must leave him behind and, by doing so, “save himself” since his helping along the more severely wounded man is depleting his own strength to a dangerous degree. Naturally, Reuben resists this idea but eventually relents, vowing to himself to return someday and bury his comrade and would-be father-in-law. Will he? What will he tell his future wife? What kind of guilt will haunt him? Hawthorne addresses it all with heartbreaking precision.

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another fine Hawthorne story, but not up to the standards of Roger Malvin’s Burial. What’s “on tap” for the experiment in this story’s title is water from the legendary Fountain of Youth, once sought by Ponce de Leon in what is now Florida. It seems our Doctor Heidegger has somehow acquired a sufficient volume of this magical H2O and plans to share it with four of his aged friends. How will they react? Will the water’s benefits be temporary or permanent? What will they risk or do to make sure it’s the latter? An interesting commentary on human nature.

Mesmeric Revelation by Edgar Allan Poe*

Poe was apparently fascinated by hypnosis – in his day more often referred to as Mesmerism – as I have read other things by him where it is featured, most notably in the story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” which I even blogged about once. In this story, the narrator has a sick and dying friend who wishes to be mesmerized so that he may communicate certain things. It’s ending is quite similar in feeling to The Valdemar story, in speculating that discourse with an individual’s “soul” might continue even after it has quit the body. I found this one almost tedious, however, as it is also in part a lesson in Philosophy complete with the entwining language that course of study seems to require…

The Phone Call by John McNally

Another entry in the Shadow Show anthology. This one felt a little like a rip off of the film “Frequency.” The titular phone call is one the narrator is able to make to previous times in his life, trying to advise his younger self, Dougie, or his emperiled mother. What has made this special phone line possible was unclear to me, but there’s a tantalizing scene at the beginning of the story when young Dougie has had his tonsils taken out and ‘comes out of it’ in a shared hospital room where the other occupant – a Mr. Belvedere – is breathing his last.

“Over the years Doug would meet other people, strangers mostly, with remarkably similar stories, of waking up in a haze of anesthesia next to a dead person whose soul was being spirited away. Did everyone have such stories? He would wonder.”

I may have to give this story another pass…

So, pretty much failure for me as far as high volume readathon-ing goes, but I will finish this euchre deck of short stories, I promise. *I had to switch my original list since I couldn’t find my hard copy of The Mirrors collection in time to pack it for my trip out of town. I still intend to revisit that collection and give it its blogging due at some point. That’s all for now, but did YOU read any short stories over the holiday weekend (here in America anyway)? Tell me about them.

Below: from Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Foghorn. Image found via google images.

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24in48 Final Update

I don’t exactly how many hours of the weekend I spent reading, but I did complete my goal of reading 24 short stories in the 48 hours. Barely. I finished at about 10 p.m. last night. My stories ranged from a short 8 pages to a longish 44 pages. If I had to guess, I’d say I got between 450 and 500 pages read – a very good total for a slow reader like me.

I have to admit that even this “lighter” version of 24in48 was much more challenging than I expected. I mean, I don’t care if they’re only short stories. Twenty-four is a LOT of them to read. I liked the randomized order of reading though, as I have come to enjoy in the years I’ve been doing the Deal Me In challenge. Sometimes a story was a neat “complement” to the last one I read (and sometimes not, of course). I ’discovered’ some great new literature (Stevenson’s “The Suicide Club” Poe’s “The Imp of the Perverse”), met some authors for the first time (Clive Barker, Octavia Butler, Ramsey Campbell, and Hugh Walpole), and reinforced my favorable opinion of some others (Poe, Atwood, Oates, Irving, Munro, etc.). All in all a great reading weekend.

If you saw my prior posts, you know I’m applying the Deal Me In method to this challenge, having picked in advance the 24 stories to read and assigning them to the cards in a euchre deck. I draw one at a time and re-shuffle afterward, randomizing my order. (& I guess if you didn’t see my prior posts, you know now.) 🙂

Below are brief comments on stories 13 thru 24: (I’m rating the stories according to the trump suit in a game of euchre Highest = Jack of the suit [right bower], followed by Jack of same color [left bower], then Ace, King, Queen, Ten, Nine)

#13 “The Freeze-Dried Groom” by Margaret Atwood: What would you do if you were the winning bidder on the contents of an “abandoned” storage unit and discovered a body within? I guess it depends on the kind of person you are to begin with, doesn’t it? 🙂 My rating: King

#14 “The Brood” by Ramsey Campbell: My first reading of this well-known horror author. Pretty decent creepiness factor, especially the ending, but I was hoping for more with this one. My rating: King

#15 “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James: This was my only re-read of the weekend and it was worth it (heck, I confess I remembered almost nothing about it since the first time I read it was so long ago). An alchemist, rejected by the scientific community, has a unique method of dealing with rejections. This story led me to do a little on-line research into the Runic alphabet. Of course there’s a website that will translate English characters into Runic. Did you expect there wouldn’t be? My rating: Ace

#16 “Free Radicals” by Alice Munro: Kind of ‘a Joyce Carol Oates story meets The Misfit from Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is a Hard to Find”‘ but with a happier outcome. Very well done and a tidy ending. My rating: Ace

#17 “The Imp of the Perverse” by Edgar Allen Poe: How I had missed this story in my previous Poe reading I don’t know. This is another first person account of how things went wrong in the life of an unfortunate protagonist. Poe is the master of this, and I love the idea of their being an” Imp of the Perverse.” Explains a lot. 🙂 My rating: Left Bower

#18 “The Angel of the Odd” by Edgar Allen Poe. I didn’t like this one as much as the previous and suspect it was one that Poe wrote leaning heavily on his personal experience with being heavily intoxicated. My rating: King

#19 “Family” by Joyce Carol Oates: No one does dark like JCO. She doesn’t waste any time in this one explaining a back story. The reader just finds himself in a post-civilization collapse world where the horrors just keep piling up. This was even more disturbing than Atwood’s “Torching the Dusties” that I read on day one of 24in48. My rating: Ace

#20 “The Enchanted Island” by Washington Irving: actually this ’story’ is an introduction to another Irving story, but was still charming and thought provoking. This one would also be a good companion piece to Poe’s The Domain of Arnheim, which I read on Saturday. My rating: King

#21 “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” by Margaret Atwood: the characters from Atwood’s novel,”The Robber Bride” reunite many years later and recall their misadventures with Zenia from that novel. This was my most anticipated story of the 24, but as so often happens my high expectations left me disappointed. My rating: King

#22 “The Tarn” by Hugh Walpole: My first reading of this author. If you liked Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” you’ll like The Tarn. Walpole’s Foster and Fenwick could be compared to Poe’s Fortunato and Montressor. What’s a Tarn? A deep mountain lake..  My rating: Ace

#23 “Tale of the Ragged Mountains” by Edgar Allen Poe: The Ragged Mountains really exist here in the United States. I doubt if you hiked into them you would encounter similar sights to those that Poe’s character did, however. My Rating: Ace

#24 “Ligeia” by Edgar Allen Poe: interesting that my random selection brought me my six Poe stories in pairs. What are the odds? Anyway, I’d heard of this story when I read Ackroyd’s excellent Poe biography a couple years ago. This story also makes a good companion piece to Chekhov’s “The Beauties” as much of its text is a paean to the lovely Ligeia. My rating: King

How did YOU do with the 24in48 Readathon? What were your favorite reads?