Sunday, August 31, 2014

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) IX

After taking some baby steps along the lines of getting this blog up and running again, rolling through my version of the Deal Me In short story challenge, and successfully completing the Beat the Heat Readathon, I think I am ready to embark on a reading challenge that is one of the longer-running and more entertaining ones out there.  I am speaking, of course, about the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) challenge, now in its ninth year.  It's hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, and it's a veritable institution this time of year.  When the days start to grow shorter, and the temperatures start to moderate (I would say "cooler" but I do live in south Mississippi, after all, and we don't really start to get much cooler weather until the end of October or the beginning of November, if even then) -- when autumn starts to make its presence felt, one naturally feels drawn to reading that reflects the season.  In other words, spooky, eerie, unsettling stories and novels become part of the bill of fare.

The R.I.P. challenge runs from September 1 to October 31, and Carl has a number of ways readers can participate.  I've decided to tackle "Peril the First," which involves reading four books.  I plan to include The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson as one of these four (see below) so maybe that won't be too bad, killing four birds with three stones, I guess (?).

So the four books I will be reading for R.I.P. this year are:
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (review)
2. Joyland by Stephen King (review)
3. Horns by Joe Hill (review)
4. Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon (review)

The Jackson is a two-for-one read, as previously mentioned.  The King and Hill I thought would be interesting as a father-son dual read.  And the Tryon has been on my Kindle for some time and needs to be read -- and what better time than Autumn??

What spoke to me even more strongly, however, given my recent foray into the Deal Me In challenge, was this:

Yes, friends and neighbors, there's a peril just for readers of short stories, and there are no rules or limitations on how many can/should be read.  I definitely plan to do this one, AND I am going to do it in true Deal Me In fashion.  How? you may ask.  LIKE THIS:

These playing cards will fit the bill nicely, and I've already ordered a set (from Amazon -- you can get your own set here).  I'm pretty excited about using these cards to select the short stories I will be reading for R.I.P. IX.  The plan is to read one a week in September (because I will still be doing Deal Me In as well as one of the other Perils), and then two a week in October, as we get close to the big day of Halloween.  The calendar cooperates very nicely as well, because this means I will be reading THIRTEEN stories, a great number for this kind of challenge, plus of course it's the number of cards in a suit.  I want to see what the cards look like when I get them in a few days, but I think I will be using spades as the suit for selecting my stories.  It's usually the suit that Jay at Bibliophilopolis uses for "darker" stories.

No matter which suit I use, here is the list of stories I plan to read, culled from a variety of spooky/creepy/weird anthologies which I have always gravitated towards anyway:

Ace: “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells (review)
2: “How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery” by E.F. Benson (review)
3: “The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde (review)
4: “Pay the Ghost” by Tim Lebbon (review)
5: “Lusus Naturae” by Margaret Atwood (review)
6: “What You Do Not Know You Want” by David Mitchell (review)
7: “Reports of Certain Events in London” by China Mieville (review)
8: “The Trick” by Ramsey Campbell (review)
9: “Orchestra” by Stephen Mark Rainey (review)
10: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (review)
J: “Shut a Final Door” by Truman Capote (review)
Q: “A Teacher’s Rewards” by Robert Phillips (review)
K: “Warm” by Robert Sheckley (review)

A couple of these are stories I have read before (such as the Hawthorne) but they all should be interesting.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure I want going to do this too:

Fall is just a great time for reading, and I simply cannot resist stuff like this!

UPDATE: Since I am clearly a glutton for punishment, I am going to make my Peril the First even more perilous, with the addition of this readalong at Castle Macabre:

Yes, #5 on my list of books is going to be The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (review).  It will go well with "Rappaccini's Daughter" on my short story list, and it's another of those books I feel like I should have already read.  Whether I finish all this reading or not, I have a feeling it's going to be an exciting Fall!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beat the Heat Readathon - Finished!

Here I am with a long-overdue update on my progress for the 2nd Annual Beat the Heat Readathon (hosted by Jessi at Novel Heartbeat and Reanna at Phantasmic Reads) which I finished as of today.  Speaking of beating the heat, our summer so far has been mild to say the least for South Mississippi.  Granted, it is still officially August (for one more day!), but we have not actually had any 100 degree or hotter days this summer yet.  We even get a break from the oppressive humidity at times.

All of which is to say, I don't know that there has been much heat to beat around here during this readathon.  But I plugged away at it, regardless.

To recap my books for the readathon, I had two to read.  The first one was Summer's Lease by John Mortimer, which I finished a couple of days ago, and it was a great choice of book for the readathon.  First of all, unbeknownst to me when I chose it, this novel is set in the dog days of August, when an English family named the Pargeters is on holiday in Italy.  Now I was not on holiday in Italy myself (and likely never will be), but I could certainly sympathize with the August part.  And there's something cool to me about reading a story set in the season in which I am reading it.

Molly Pargeter is an Englishwoman who has secured the lease of an Italian villa for the two weeks of her family's summer vacation.  She, her husband Hugh, their three daughters, and her philandering father move into "La Felicita" for the vacation, but from the start there's something not quite right.  What appears at first to be some harmless idiosyncratic rules of the villa's owner (only a family with three daughters can rent the villa; the family must have dinner by candlelight outside on the villa's terrace every night) turn out to be signs of something more ominous, and the story quickly turns into a wonderful mystery.  I suppose I should have expected this, since Mortimer is better known for his character Rumpole of the Bailey, but I didn't make the connection at first.  There is a lot of humor in this story as well.  The characters were so interesting and the mystery was so -- um, mysterious -- that it was one of those rare books where I sank into it and did not want to get out of it.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good "cozy" mystery.

The other book I read for the readathon was 50 Things To Do When You Turn 50, edited by Ronnie Sellers.  This book was given to me by a couple of very dear friends on the occasion of my 50th birthday a few weeks ago.  However, it was a book that I ended up forcing myself to read and actually I skimmed through quite a lot of it.  I just lost patience with it, and much of the advice on things to do now that I am 50 were not applicable to me at all.  For example, I sailed right past the suggestion to learn to belly dance.  My belly dances sometimes, it is true, but it's not because I want it to.

I mentioned I lost patience with the book, and that's because some of the advice in the book was frankly contradictory.  I know a book like this has to appeal to the widest possible audience to be successful, but honestly: one piece of advice was to "Stop obsessing about your flaws," and then IMMEDIATELY AFTER IT was another piece of advice to "Put your best face forward" (TRANSLATION: Why Not Try Some Plastic Surgery Now That You're 50?).  Which one do you want me to do, guys?  I need to know.  Actually I don't, because I probably will not follow either of those pieces of advice.

I'm being a little hard on this book, but these kinds of books are never my favorites, and if it had not been a gift, this is a book I never would have read.  The "advice" in these kinds of books is typically trite, unrealistic, or plainly self-evident boilerplate.  (For those of you who are curious what other kinds of advice I'm not taking from this book, I have no plans to "Embrace my inner Trump," "Play golf in Scotland," "Throw a slow-dance party," or "Drive a race car.")

So that's it for the Beat the Heat Readathon!  I suppose I should have posted daily pages read or stuff like that, but that kind of thing is probably never going to happen on my blog.  I just enjoy the reading too much (usually) to keep up with a lot of statistics on how I am going with it.

"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker

Deal Me In Lite, Week 9: "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker

This week the three of diamonds sends us back down south, to the Growing Up in the South anthology and a story by Alice Walker, of The Color Purple fame.  I actually have never read anything by Alice Walker, so I was very interested to read this story, and it did not disappoint.

The narrator of the story, an older, hard-working black woman who never reveals her name, lives in the country with her daughter Maggie under the most basic of conditions.  They are clearly poor, but it is a condition that suits her and Maggie because they farm and have simple lives with all of their basic needs met, and they seem generally happy.  The narrator has another daughter, Dee, who was never satisfied with their lifestyle in the country and was always wanting something better, to break away from her rural existence.  The narrator makes it clear that Dee was essentially ashamed of the family and where she came from.  She even looked on in glee as their family home burned to the ground when she was a child, even though Maggie was seriously burned in the fire.

Now, however, when the story opens, Dee is coming back to her home for a visit as an adult, and everything has been made as nice as it possibly can be to welcome her.  The narrator longs to obtain her daughter Dee's approval, but it is never to be.  When Dee finally shows up, she has a man in tow, clearly a boyfriend or maybe even a husband -- the narrator cannot bring herself to ask.  And Dee has finally broken away from her roots with a complete metamorphosis of herself into an African princess, with flowing robes, jewelry, hair, and even a new name:

"Well," I say.  "Dee."

"No, Mama," she says.  "Not 'Dee,' Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!"

"What happened to 'Dee'?" I wanted to know.

"She's dead," Wangero said.  "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me."

After they have supper, Dee ironically begins to roam around the house, poking in cabinets and chests, looking for family mementos she can take away with her.  However, she regards them as "folk art," priceless items that her mother and Maggie can't appreciate and can't be trusted with.  She happens upon some heirloom quilts that were quilted by her grandmother and she wants them.  The narrator tells her they were meant for Maggie, and Dee is shocked, saying that Maggie can't possibly appreciate them, that she would just end up putting them to everyday use (hence the title of the story) as opposed to Dee, who could appreciate these items as they deserve -- rather in the fashion of putting them into a museum.  The narrator resists telling Dee that she had been offered one of the quilts when she went off to college but she had turned her nose up at the quilts then, saying they were old-fashioned and out of style.

I won't spoil any more of the story for you because you really should read it for yourself, but I will say that the story ends positively, not with redemption or reconciliation necessarily, but definitely on a satisfying note for the reader.

This is a simple but powerful story containing many themes -- love, family, shame, heritage -- and I enjoyed it very much.  Have you read this story or anything else by Alice Walker?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Who Do You Think Did It?" by Stephen Leacock

Deal Me In Lite, Week 8: “Who Do You Think Did It?” by Stephen Leacock

This week we go back to the humorous short stories with the six of hearts and a story by the famous Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock.  His style of humor is definitely in the vein of Robert Benchley’s works, and in fact Leacock is said to have greatly admired Benchley.  Among famous admirers of Leacock’s humor were Jack Benny and Groucho Marx, to name two, so if you are unfamiliar with his writings, that should give you some idea of his style – dry wit, with a penchant for wordplay and absurd situations and ideas.

A little about Leacock: he was born in England but went to college in Canada and basically ended up in Canada for the majority of his life.  One thing I did not know was that he earned a doctorate in political science and political economy from the University of Chicago, and spent most of his career at McGill University where he held an endowed chair in political economy.

Before I read “Who Do You Think Did It?” just about the only Leacock story I was familiar with was “Gertrude the Governess.”  It’s very funny and I think has probably been widely anthologized.  The present story, as the title implies, is Leacock’s send-up of the typical murder mystery.  It’s not a “knee-slapper,” as the saying goes, but it is humorous in a dry, understated way.

For example, Leacock lampoons the classic murder mystery way of gathering clues:

“Now, then,” continued Kent, “what about tracks, footmarks? Had you thought of them?”

“Yes, first thing. The whole lawn is covered with them, all stamped down. Look at these, for instance. These are the tracks of a man with a wooden leg”—Kent nodded—“in all probability a sailor, newly landed from Java, carrying a Singapore walking-stick, and with a tin-whistle tied round his belt.”

“Yes, I see that,” said Kent thoughtfully. “The weight of the whistle weighs him down a little on the right side.”

And it gets even better:

“I must try in another direction,” said Kent. “Let me reconstruct the whole thing. I must weave a chain of analysis. Kivas Kelly was a bachelor, was he not?”

“He was. He lived alone here.”

“Very good, I suppose he had in his employ a butler who had been with him for twenty years—” Edwards nodded. “I suppose you’ve arrested him?”

“At once,” said the Inspector. “We always arrest the butler, Mr. Kent. They expect it. In fact, this man, Williams, gave himself up at once.”

“And let me see,” continued the Investigator. “I presume there was a housekeeper who lived on the top floor, and who had been stone deaf for ten years?”


“She had heard nothing during the murder?”

“Not a thing. But this may have been on account of her deafness.”

“True, true,” murmured Kent. “And I suppose there was a coachman, a thoroughly reliable man, who lived with his wife at the back of the house—”

“But who had taken his wife over to see a relation on the night of the murder, and who did not return until an advanced hour. Mr. Kent, we’ve been all over that. There’s nothing in it.”

The plot of this story hardly matters because it borders on the absurd.  Suffice it to say that everything gets wrapped up in a completely implausible way, adding to the ridiculousness of the plot.  I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this kind of story, but as an occasional respite from more serious types of stories, it was very welcome.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Sucker" by Carson McCullers

Deal Me In Lite, Week 7: “Sucker” by Carson McCullers

This week my deck of cards finally decided to go south, with the presentation of the two of diamonds, and a selection from Growing Up in the South.

The two of diamonds corresponds to “Sucker” by Carson McCullers.  McCullers is one of the more famous “Southern” authors in the pantheon, but I put Southern in quotes because, as Wikipedia notes, she wrote all of her works after she left the South.  So whether or not her works are uniquely southern, or perhaps more universal, is a point that seems to be debatable.

Wikipedia also says of McCullers’ writing: “Her eccentric characters suffer from loneliness that is interpreted with deep empathy,” and I definitely found that to be true of her short story “Sucker.”  The story is narrated by a 16-year-old named Pete, who shares his home and his room with his 12-year-old cousin Richard, who is nicknamed Sucker because of his extreme gullibility.  Not only is Sucker gullible, but he looks up to Pete and wants nothing more than to be treated like his very own brother.  It strikes me that this is probably the sole source of Sucker’s gullibility – he obviously worships the ground Pete walks on, and would do anything for him.  However, Pete has no real feelings for Sucker in that way; rather, he more or less despises Sucker for his neediness.

However, the story is actually Pete’s attempt to sort out a complicated life lesson:

There is one thing I have learned, but it makes me feel guilty and is hard to figure out.  If a person admires you a lot you despise him and don’t care – and it is the person who doesn’t notice you that you are apt to admire.

In the same way that Sucker runs after Pete like a little lost puppy, Pete runs after a girl named Maybelle in his class, with whom he is smitten.  He gradually works up the nerve to ask her out and even succeeds in taking her places such as the movies.  As his relationship improves with Maybelle, his relationship also improves with Sucker, and he begins to feel like he could treat Sucker as his kid brother, which is of course Sucker’s fondest and deepest desire.  But the relationship with Maybelle soon sours and she tells him she never cared anything about him.  In like fashion, one day soon after the breakup with Maybelle, Pete decides he feels the same way about Sucker, and pushes him away in an incredibly cruel fashion which permanently alienates them.

This is the first thing by Carson McCullers I have ever read, to my knowledge, and I enjoyed the story.  I am eager to read more of her stuff.  She has a unique turn of phrase and a writing style that pulls the reader along.  One of my favorite sentences from this story that just leapt out from the page at me was this description of Sucker: “He didn’t have many boys in the neighborhood to buddy with and his face had the look of a kid who is watching a game and waiting to be asked to play.”  There are many other examples in the story that struck me as excellent examples of the “show, don’t tell” rule that aspiring writers are constantly reminded to follow.

All in all, a successful trip “south,” and I am looking forward to more!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Birthday and a Project

Today is my birthday.  As it so happens, it is my 50th birthday.  One cannot reach such a milestone without wanting to mark it in some special way, or by launching some special project.  Hence, this post.

Several years ago I became aware of the Harvard Classics.  For those who may be unfamiliar with these, they are a set of 51 volumes of some of the world's greatest or most important writing.  They were first published in the early 1900's as a project inspired by the then-president of Harvard University, Dr. Charles Eliot.

Dr. Eliot had been heard to say on many occasions that the foundation of a complete liberal arts education could be easily achieved by the reading and study of the books that would fill a five-foot shelf.  The concept of Dr. Eliot's "five-foot shelf" and what exactly would go on it (and the marketing possibilities therein) soon attracted the attention of the P.F. Collier & Son Publishing Corporation, who convinced Dr. Eliot to put his money where his mouth was, and to select the books that should go in this collection.  The books would then be published under the aegis of the "Harvard Classics," since, indeed, Dr. Eliot recruited the expertise of many of the professors from Harvard in his selection process.

So, after learning about this set, I decided I wanted to acquire it, with the intention of reading it one day.  The Harvard Classics, at least up until a few years ago at least, was still in print, albeit usually in fine leather-bound editions that are not meant so much for reading as for decoration.  I knew I definitely couldn't afford a set like that, nor could I afford a complete vintage set.  Although they go for pretty much a song on eBay because of the hundreds of thousands of copies that have been printed over the last 100 years, these sets are still pretty pricey, going for upwards of $200-$300.

A quick perusal of the riches of eBay uncovers something else, however -- the multitude of sellers who are offering odd volumes of the Harvard Classics from every imaginable set that was ever printed.  Cloth-bound, bonded leather, genuine leather -- one can generally have one's pick if one is willing to look long and hard enough.  While these odd volumes usually cost more than if they were purchased as part of a vintage set, they had two immediate and irresistible advantages to me:

1) The cost of a complete set of Harvard Classics could easily be amortized over a number of months or even years, and my wallet would probably hardly even notice the expense; and

2) By buying the set in this way, I would end up with a funky and fun mismatched set that would look very cool on my own "five-foot shelf."

My complete collection, so far...

A close-up of my mismatched-on-purpose Harvard Classics

By my reckoning, I still need 14 volumes to complete my set, but right now, instead of buying any more, I figure I should go ahead and maybe start actually reading some of them.

So today, on this first day of my 51st year on the planet (and no, that doesn't make me feel old AT ALL, why do you ask?), I am going to officially embark on the reading of the first of the 51 volumes of the Harvard Classics.  Hopefully it will not take me the next 50 years, although it might.

The first volume contains Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, the Journal of John Woolman, and William Penn's Fruits of Solitude.  Very Colonial, it seems.  The Franklin is of course one of those enduring works that has stood the test of time, and evidently the other two seemed important back in the early 1900's.  I wonder if they will still be worth reading?  I don't imagine this is going to be a terribly quick process, so I will from time to time post updates on how my Harvard Classics journey is going (or if I have given it up altogether).  Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Dimension" by Alice Munro

Deal Me In Lite, Week 6: “Dimension” by Alice Munro

This week my half-deck of cards sent me back to The Best American Short Stories 2007 with the five of clubs, which mainly tells me that I must truly suck at shuffling cards.  However, I got an intriguing and enthralling story to read in return for my poor shuffling abilities.

This story, originally published in The New Yorker,  tells the tale of Doree, a young woman who works as a housekeeper in a motel.  As the story opens, she is traveling to meet someone at a “facility.”  Via some very expert foreshadowing on Munro’s part, we quickly realize that this is not going to be a very happy story.  We soon find out that she is going to see her husband, Lloyd, who is locked away in an institution for the criminally insane.  He is much older than Doree, and they married after Doree’s mother died.  Lloyd was her mother’s orderly in the hospital during her illness.  After Lloyd and Doree get together, they quickly have three children because Lloyd doesn’t believe in birth control.  Or bottle-feeding of babies, or public education, or letting his wife have any friends.  He is a controlling husband who believes in keeping his wife “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” as the saying goes.  Lloyd seems to be especially upset at Doree’s friendship with Maggie, another homeschooling mom who Lloyd (irrationally) thinks is trying to drive a wedge between him and Doree.

They argue about these and many other things, until one evening Doree makes the bold move of walking out on Lloyd and going to Maggie’s house for comfort and advice.  While she is there, Lloyd murders their three children.

So we pick up the story on the bus with Doree going to visit Lloyd.  She has already been several times, and after one visit where he begins to reconnect with Doree, Lloyd sends her a long, rambling letter telling her that he has seen and talked with their children, who are happy and alive, living in another dimension.  He doesn’t think it is Heaven, he’s not that religious a man anyway, but he has seen them.  Of course Doree does not know what to do with this information.  What eventually happens on this (as it turns out) last trip to see Lloyd brings the story to a conclusion that will make the reader sit and think about the story for a long time afterwards (or maybe that was just me).

I enjoyed this story by Alice Munro, I think the first of hers I have ever read, and I am eager to read more.  However, I am not so sure about letting Stephen King ever edit another anthology like this one again.  Every story I have read in it so far has been pretty dark and disturbing, at least partially.  (Maybe this is the natural state of current fiction these days, I don’t know.)  This particular story had significant redemption for the main character at the end, which was good, but I’ll just say that I’m more than ready for a story that’s not quite as heavy and dark, Mr. King!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lucia on Holiday by Guy Fraser-Sampson

I have a confession to make.

I am a Luciaphile.

(Well, that wasn’t painful at all.)

What do you mean, you don’t know what a Luciaphile is?

Luciaphile: (n.) A person who treasures and constantly re-reads the Mapp and Lucia novels of E.F. Benson, to the point of regarding the characters of these books some of his or her very best friends.  (“Harris Dictionary”)

If you have never read these novels (six in number, plus the short story “The Male Impersonator”), you must drop everything right this very minute and rush out and get them and devour them.  Read them in order, beginning with Queen Lucia and ending with Trouble for Lucia.  The machinations and intrigues of Lucia, Miss Mapp, Georgie, and Major Benjy, along with all the other residents of the seemingly-sleepy and backwater English villages of Riseholme and Tilling, are not to be missed.  Once you experience these characters, you want more and more of them.  They are some of the few books that I have re-read many times in my life, just for the sheer joy of the stories.  I can’t possibly give you even a half-hearted synopsis of these stories here, but if you are interested, there’s a wonderful introduction to some of them at the In So Many Words… blog (  And as you get deeper into the universe of Mapp and Lucia, there’s a delightful M&L Glossary here:

In the 1980’s, the author Tom Holt took a stab at writing continuations of the Mapp and Lucia stories with his novels Lucia in Wartime and Lucia Triumphant.  I loved both of these but especially the latter, because in it the villagers of Tilling throw up their usual pastimes of bridge and golf for – Monopoly.  It’s too funny.

Sometimes when an author takes over another author’s characters, it’s pretty much a disaster, no matter how painstakingly the new author tries to indwell the characters and the mind of the original author.  For Exhibit A, I have but one word:

Need I say more?  If you've tried to read this book, I think I need say nothing else about it.

Anyway, Holt pulled off the close-to-impossible: writing Mapp and Lucia stories that literally felt as if they had sprung from the mind and pen of Benson himself.  After you finish reading all of Benson’s M&L novels (they don’t take that long – it’s much like eating potato chips, or maybe chocolate, just name your poison), I would recommend reading Holt’s as well because he really did a good job of continuing the stories.

In 2008 another author, Guy Fraser-Sampson, tried to channel Benson.  So far he has written three Mapp and Lucia books.  I’m not ready to give up on him quite yet, but on the evidence of Lucia on Holiday, I have to say that Fraser-Sampson does NOT understand these characters, and produces nothing more than a crass caricature of them.  It ends up being a very broad-brush, heavy-handed treatment of Benson’s beloved characters.  Where Benson would have treated his characters with a light, graceful touch, merely suggesting at times the main point he wanted to get across, with plenty of irony and sarcasm thrown in for good measure, Fraser-Sampson beats the reader over the head at every turn with his characterizations.  In Benson, Major Benjy is a lovable, gruff buffoon; in Fraser-Sampson’s hands he becomes a bumbling, openly lecherous idiot who spends a good part of the novel chasing a pretty young thing staying at his hotel.  Throughout the novel, the interactions between Mapp and Lucia seem much more acrimonious and petty, without the deft touches of humor one gets in Benson’s tales.  And Georgie practically comes out of the closet in front of everyone with his new valet, Francesco.  For a true Luciaphile, all these things are pretty disturbing – they have the effect of tarnishing characters one has come to know and love over the years like real people.

Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como.  Fraser-Sampson DID do an excellent job of describing the location in his novel -- in my mind's eye, it looked exactly like this.

A brief synopsis of the novel: Lucia has made more money on the stock market than even she can spend.  So she decides to spend a large chunk of it on a long holiday to Italy.  The location, Bellagio, is chosen by her husband, Georgie (who in turn is persuaded to vacation there by his opera star crush, Olga Bracely).  They are followed to Italy by the Mapp-Flints, and also the Wyses, in order to transport some of Tilling society to Italy and set the stage for the events of the novel.  (Not that there are that many hijinks, nor are they that amusing.)  The Mapp-Flints also happen to be “baby-sitting” the son of a Maharajah, one of Major Benjy’s friends from his days in India.  With this task comes the use of the Maharajah’s brand-new Bugatti Royale, which, when I consulted the Google about it, I realized this is a famous car one often sees in period piece movies:

Needless to say, in Major Benjy’s less-than-capable driving gloves, the Bugatti does not stay brand new for long.  I have to admit, the gradual deterioration of the car through dents and scrapes and crashes into ditches is one of the more amusing parts of the novel.  It’s kind of like a running gag.

Poppy, the Duchess of Sheffield, makes an appearance, as well as Mr. Wyse’s sister Amelia, and all in all one would think the stage would be set for a wonderful Mapp and Lucia novel.  But it never quite seems to gel.

I really want to like the Fraser-Sampson Lucia novels, because having new Lucia stories to read is quite an excellent prospect.  And I will probably read the others he has already written, just to be able to say I have done it.  But I will take some fancy footwork to convince me that Fraser-Sampson deserves the mantle of E.F. Benson as the newest chronicler of Lucia’s exploits.

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?" by William Gay

Deal Me In Lite, Week 5: “Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?” by William Gay

This week’s story comes to us courtesy of the three of clubs and The Best American Short Stories 2007.  The luck of the draw is sending me back again and again to this volume – not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I AM really eager to get to the Growing Up in the South collection.  Oh well, it will happen eventually.

I picked this story for my list out of the table of contents because the title was incredibly intriguing.  The story was intriguing, as well – it’s one of those stories where the author sets the scene immediately using vivid language and imagery.  The reader knows something awful is going to happen in this story because of the word choices the author makes from the get-go:

The Jeepster drove westward into a sun that had gone down the sky so fast it left a fiery wake like a comet.  Light pooled above the horizon like blood and red light hammered off the hood of the SUV he was driving.  He put on his sunglasses.  In the failing day the light was falling almost horizontally and the highway glittered like some virtual highway in a fairy tale or nightmare.

I don’t know about you, but I vote for the nightmare, with language like that.

On the outskirts of Ackerman’s Field the neon of a Texaco station bled into the dusk like a virulent stain.  Night was falling like some disease he was in the act of catching.  At the pumps he filled the SUV up and watched the traffic accomplish itself in a kind of wonder.  Everyone should have been frozen in whatever attitude they’d held when the hammer fell on Aimee and they should hold that attitude forever.  He felt like a plague set upon the world to cauterize and cleanse it.

The story is told completely from the point of view of “the Jeepster” whose girlfriend, Aimee, left him for an older man, Escue.  Eventually, however, she comes back, claiming Escue is crazy and has begun beating her.  Escue eventually tracks her down and shoots both her and himself.  This sends the Jeepster over the edge, and he sets off on a mission supposedly to retrieve Aimee’s car, the car she was murdered in, but soon it turns into a much more sinister and gruesome mission when her family refuses to let him pay his last respects to her at the funeral home.

Did you get the impression that this is not a happy story?  It’s not, with a shocking ending and no redemption for any of the characters.  The author also uses the interesting technique where all the dialogue is presented without quotation marks.  It’s oddly effective in this story, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why.  I think it serves to kind of “flatten out” the pace and events of the story, so that when the reader gets to the climax, it becomes just that much more disturbing.  Has anyone else encountered this technique?  Any ideas on why authors use it sometimes?