On the Corner of Clerk Street by Rebecca Emin

In my Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I pick fifty-two stories at the start of the year, assign each to a card in a deck of playing cards, then draw one at random every week until I have read them all. Fifty-two cards in a deck, fifty-two weeks in a year, right? The past few years, some other bloggers have joined me in this annual project. They are listed in my sidebar of “Deal Me In 2015 Participants” if you’d like to check out some of the stories they’ve been reading. Also, in the past few years I’ve included a story from Rebecca Emin’s collection “A Knowing Look and Other Stories” in my short story deck. Since I’ve enjoyed those stories, I saw no reason to discontinue this practice in 2015.

(Image found at http://omegalpha.deviantart.com/art/The-Six-of-Hearts-208085225)

Regarding this story, I’m finding it impossible to write much about it without giving too much away, so I’ll Just say a few things and let you discover it for yourself if you’d like to buy/try it. The collection is a mere $2.99 on amazon as of this writing (kindle version)  I’ve posted about a couple of the other stories in this collection before. Here and here if you’d like to take a look.

The “Wait! What?!” Moment

Authors sometimes employ a clever technique to get you to read a story twice. I tend to think of it as the “wait! what?!” moment. They throw a big “reveal” in at the end of their story that makes you reconsider what you’ve read so far, wondering “Did I miss something?” The reading victim then goes back over the story to look for clues or “holes” in the way the author has ’set you up’ for the wait! what? moment. This happened to me with this story, and – on my second “pass” – I came to appreciate the surprising twist even more. At first I thought I had found a problem with the big reveal, thinking, “Aha! Well, if “A” is true, then how do you explain character “B” doing thing “C” on page X!?!?” Then I re-read “page X” and the next couple pages a third time and thought, “Oh, maybe thing “C” wasn’t what I thought it was either…” And so on.

This story called to mind another recent read of mine where, all through the story (or novel, in that case), the reader naturally assumes he knows the gender of one character, only to have his assumption revealed to be wrong near the end. I remember being taken aback then also, looking back through that book trying to find why I had made the assumption I did and looking for slip-ups and failing to find them. I admire authors that are able to trick me like that. There’s a well-known instance of the wait! what? moment in cinema as well in a popular Bruce Willis movie from 1999. 🙂

Can you think of any other good examples of the W!W? moment in your reading. How do YOU like being tricked in that manner?

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Deal Me In – Week 33 Wrap Up

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THIS WEEK’S DEAL ME IN POSTS:

Following are links to our group’s postings this week:

James reads Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business” and George Orwell’s essay “Marrakech” his post is at http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/13/george-orwell-vs-raymond-chandler-2/

Dale shares with us a lesser know story from the creator of Walter Mitty, posting about James Thurber’s “University Days” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/james-thurber-university-days/

Randall’s finally heads south, posting about Carson McCullers’ “Sucker” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/08/sucker-by-carson-mccullers.html

Katherine visits The Barnum Museum once more, sharing the penultimate remaining Steven Millhauser story in her deck, “Alice, Fallinghttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/deal-me-in-week-33-alice-falling/

I wrote about two stories, “Class of 1990″ by Rebecca Emin and “The Bell in the Fog” by Gertrude Atherton. I’m going to stop linking to my own posts since you can “just scroll down” and you’re already at my blog. 🙂

My use of the word “penultimate” above reminded me of one of my favorite cartoons, that I think first appeared in The New Yorker. Any excuse to share…

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IN OTHER SHORT STORY NEWS:

George R.R. Martin a short story writer? http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/game-of-thrones-author-george-rr-martin-reveals-hes-tempted-to-publish-neverbeforeseen-writing-9674262.html

Though not a Deal Me In post, regular DMI contributor James’s following entry is certainly worth a look: http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/08/15/a-short-story-review-anthology-hemingway-williams-babel-alexie-cunningham-paley-murakami-kinsella/

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (now 25) stars in the series “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” – an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/television/gail-pennington/daniel-radcliffe-wizard-poet-doctor-actor/article_cd739684-53b3-5a52-b2d0-8eb2a895152a.html

P.S. I’ll be off-line almost all of next weekend (Indianapolis Open Chess Tournament – Nerd Alert!) so my week 34 wrap up post will certainly be delayed. 🙂

Rebecca Emin’s “Class of 1990”

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It’s week 33 of the Deal Me In short story reading challenge, and the hand of fate fell down on the job a little bit this time, dealing out the five of hearts and this story only after the peak of high school and college “reunion season” (at least around here) had passed.

Worth noting is that I also read a story by this author as part of last year’s Deal Me In challenge. My post about “Tour and Duty” may be found here. Like that story, this one was quite short and would, I think, be more accurately classified as “flash fiction.” I liked this one as well – particularly its premise – but only wished there were more to it.

“The Class of 1990” is the story of four (I presume college) friends who, on their graduation day meet at a favorite restaurant. Sylvia, Clive, Kate, and Max share the standard pleasantries such an occasion warrants and one suggests that they meet there every five years to “have a catch up.” They all agree and the subsequent “chapters” each include a brief exchange of dialogue from those five-year reunions.

The gimmick of the story is that, after each character speaks a line of dialogue out loud, we are given in italics the true thoughts that are going through the character’s mind. For instance, when Sylvia says, “Im so glad we decided to come for a meal,” what we read in italics is: Let’s get this ordeal over so I can go home to my real friends.

Most of the ’true thoughts’ are what many of us have surely always suspected is going on behind the curtain at reunions, except for Max’s that is. He is the one character who is actually sincere in his dialogue AND his true feelings. Max is also the first one of the four not to show up at one of the every five year reunions. Why he is not there is the “twist” of the story.

This makes the third story from Emin’s collection “A Knowing Look and Other Stories” that I’ve read. I’ve enjoyed all three enough to finish the collection, but whether I parcel them out slowly as part of my future editions of Deal Me In, or knock them out all at once as a vacation read or something, I don’t know. The collection maybe found on Amazon (kindle version only $2.99 http://www.amazon.com/A-Knowing-Look-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B006CNB2KQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0/176-7342648-4161038 )

I found the following photo at http://playingcardcollector.net/2013/04/27/the-colour-printing-plant-nevskie-playing-cards/ which features a beautiful Russian deck of playing cards.

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“Tour and Duty” by Rebecca Emin

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This was the second story of my 2013 version of “Project: Deal Me In.” (this year, Hearts is my suit for female authors.)

I discovered this story via the book blogosphere, where I learned the book is a part of – “A Knowing Look and Other Stories.” I purchased an e-copy last spring and read the title story right away. I liked it and thought I should include one from the book in my next annual short story reading project. Randomness led me to pick the story “Tour and Duty” and when I created my deck it became the queen of hearts, which I drew this morning… (sorry I can only include a screen capture of the book here, but for some reason I was having trouble downloading a copy online)

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This story is very short, maybe the shortest one I will read this year. I don’t know if it qualifies for the term “flash fiction” but my guess would be yes.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a term that is well known in today’s world (and that hasn’t always been the case). My take on this story was that it explores some more subtle manifestations of PTSD – one needn’t be missing a limb or jumping at every loud noise to be suffering. The protagonist in the story spent time with her (and the reader doesn’t learn the sex of the protagonist at first either, which I found interesting) unit in the mountains of Afghanistan, and much of this time hiding from potential discovery by the enemy. We don’t learn how or why this situation has come about, but we do know that she escapes with her life, unlike some other comrades she muses about upon her return.

Returning home is a shock in many ways. Emin relates that it is “always a shock to the system to come back from somewhere so bleak and isolated, to the developed world with networks of roads, fully working communications and running water, not to mention electricity as well as gas.”

Though uninjured, our returning soldier has brought back some ‘baggage’ from her tour of duty. Something she dreads telling her fiancé about, but circumstances soon dictate that NOT telling him isn’t an option. I can’t really say more without a major spoiler alert, which I don’t want to include. You’ll have to read for yourself.

I generally prefer a little more ’meat’ on my short stories and am always impressed when one so short can get the job done, as is the case with this one.

(below: an Infantryman from 10th Mountain Division outside a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan, April 06, 2004. (US Army photo by SPC Gul A Alisan) (Released). From http://www.25idl.army.mil/deployment/oef%20afghanistan/deployment/12april04pictures.htm)

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If you are interested in buying this collection, it’s only $2.99 at Amazon and may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Knowing-Look-And-Other-Stories/dp/1471647943