Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Advent Calendar of Stories

Since I was a child, and even to this day (when I just ACT like a child sometimes), I have always loved advent calendars. They come in many shapes and sizes (including the ones filled with chocolate, which of course are my absolute favorite kind), but they all share one thing in common: to help impatient children count down the days until Christmas, while making each day along the journey special with the surprise of a toy, trinket, piece of chocolate, or even just a thought for the day.

An advent calendar I bought today at the drugstore just for this post. And maybe the candy.

Now, the older I get, it seems the less impatient for Christmas I get. In fact, some years I wish Christmas could be skipped altogether -- at least the hectic, hurly-burly commercial side of it. But I still enjoy that time before Christmas, which seems to be one of the most magical times of the year, no matter how you feel about Christmas itself. The music, food, parties -- everything about the pre-Christmas season is special as we anticipate the big day.

So I have been thinking for some time about a special reading project to mark the days before Christmas, in the same way one might use an advent calendar. But what could serve the same purpose as candies (for example) hidden behind the tiny doors of a calendar? Yep, you guessed it: short stories!

An antique advent calendar that looks especially enticing.

I toyed with the idea of reading some Christmas-themed books in the 24 days before Christmas, but my adventure earlier in the year with The Christmas Train during the Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Readathon made me a little leery of that. If I "waste" my pre-Christmas season reading stuff I don't like, it won't turn out to be too festive. Granted, with a list of 24 short stories, there will also surely be some misses along with the hits, but hopefully there will be more hits than misses!

My only worry (worrywart that I am) is that I won't be able to keep up with the story a day. More importantly, I might not be able to blog about each story every day. I certainly won't have time to do a full review of each story. Plus, daily blogging is something I have never yet achieved. So right now I am thinking that I might just do a "progress report"/digest every few days or so, and keep up with my reading and blogging that way.

So here is the list I have crafted for my reading over the 24 days of December before Christmas:
  1. Santa Claus Beat – Rex Stout
  2. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. A Kidnapped Santa Claus – L. Frank Baum
  4. At Christmas Time – Anton Chekhov
  5. The Other Wise Man – Henry Van Dyke
  6. The Burglar’s Christmas – Willa Cather
  7. What Love Can Do – Louisa May Alcott
  8. Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas – John Mortimer
  9. The Spy and the Christmas Cipher – Edward D. Hoch
  10. I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus – George Baxt
  11. Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor – John Cheever
  12. Old Folks’ Christmas – Ring Lardner
  13. The Tree That Didn’t Get Trimmed – Christopher Morley
  14. The Tailor of Gloucester – Beatrix Potter
  15. The Kid Hangs Up His Stocking – Jacob Riis
  16. Mr. K*A*P*L*A*N and the Magi – Leo Rosten
  17. Crisp New Bills for Mr. Teagle – Frank Sullivan
  18. Merry Christmas – James Thurber
  19. The Plot Against Santa Claus – James Powell
  20. Christmas Party – Martin Werner
  21. The Bargain – Richard Barre
  22. A Christmas Memory – Truman Capote
  23. A Christmas Tragedy – Agatha Christie
  24. The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry
Some of these stories can be found in the public domain on the Internet; others are from anthologies that I already had, such as Merry Murder and A Christmas Treasury.

I have numbered the stories for convenience (and to make sure I had 24!), but what I actually plan to do is to print out the list and cut the story titles into strips. Then I'm going to fold them up and put them in a container (maybe a Christmas stocking?), and each day I will draw a strip to see what story I will read that day. Just to make it more like the little spark of surprise you get when you open the door on an advent calendar.

So what do you think? Have you read any of the stories on my list? Some of them I have read before, but they were so good I am looking forward to reading them again (such as the Cheever, Capote, and the O. Henry) -- it will be like greeting old friends at a Christmas gathering.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Library Loot: November 29

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I've been venturing back to my local public library for the past few weeks, and enjoying just browsing through the stacks. I have been ignoring the new books completely and have been checking out some of the more forlorn, forgotten books buried deeper in the stacks. And I have to admit, I have found some real gems that I did not know my library had -- one of which I renewed this week to keep reading it.

But first, I want to give a huge shout-out to my public library, which I think is one of the nicest for the size town I live in: the Hattiesburg Library (more properly known as the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal, and Forrest County). It's an architecturally imposing yet beautiful building, and the interior is spacious and full of light. It's one of the most inviting libraries I have ever been in, and their collection is very good as well. They even have a sizeable collection of ebooks for loan, although I have never yet been able to make them work with my iPad. Here's some pictures I hope you will enjoy:

Not the most wonderful picture, because I was afraid of looking like a tourist, but I think it shows the fantastic architecture of the building.

A better picture of the building from the outside, taken from Flickr.

A shot of the interior, taken from what is actually the third floor (you enter the building on the second floor). You can see how open and light-filled the space is. And there's a huge wraparound mural that you can see part of at the top of the picture, which depicts some of the history of Hattiesburg and this region.

A close-up of part of the mural, depicting the tremendous influence the railroads and the lumber industry had on the development of Hattiesburg.

So enough about the library, you may be saying. What about the Library Loot??

The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison (Jay at Bibliophilopolis clued me into the existence of this book, and I think I am going to have to eventually break down and buy my own copy).

Newly checked out today:
New Stories from the South, 1986, edited by Shannon Ravenel

The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir, by Ken Harmon (I discovered this book in the stacks several weeks ago but I made myself wait to check it out closer to Christmas -- it looks really good and I can't wait to read it!)

The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales (Ditto about waiting to check this one out as well)

So that's my Library Loot! Lots of reading ahead (and especially since I have a NEW reading project that I will be posting about tomorrow)!

Friday, November 28, 2014

"The President of the Louisiana Live Oak Society" by Ellen Gilchrist

Deal Me In Lite. Week 22: "The President of the Louisiana Live Oak Society" by Ellen Gilchrist

This week I drew the Ace of Diamonds and this took me back to the Growing Up in the South anthology and to a strange but captivating little story by Ellen Gilchrist. (The card image below is from my "Literary Aces" deck, available from Electric Literature.)

I was unfamiliar with the work of Ellen Gilchrist before reading this story, but it appears that she is another of our notable Mississippi authors, having been born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She even studied creative writing with the great Eudora Welty at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Even though this was a different story, I enjoyed it chiefly due to Gilchrist's wonderful writing style, with its cadences, dialogue, and sentence constructions. (More on that later, with examples.)

(Author photograph by Nathalie Dubois)

Of course, the title of the story alone is wonderfully evocative of the South, and is pretty much the main reason I chose this story to go on my list back in July. The title refers to a gigantic, ancient live oak tree that goes by that name. Are you familiar with the live oak? According to Wikipedia, the kind this story refers to is more properly known as the "southern live oak," which is fitting, I suppose, since I think these trees grow primarily in the southern regions of the country. But nevermind. The live oak is the most magnificent tree in existence, in my opinion, and a beautiful tree that is always a joy to behold.

The famous "Friendship Oak," a live oak tree that is more than 500 years old, on the Gulf Park campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Long Beach, Mississippi.

This story is originally from Gilchrist's short story collection, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (another great title!). The narrative, set in New Orleans in 1971, revolves around two teenagers who are friends and partners in crime, after a fashion. Robert, a white teenager, is from a well-to-do family -- his father is a lawyer and his mother spends quite a bit of time on the tennis court and having her hair done. Gus, a black teenager, is from the projects but spends most of his time under the live oak tree of the title, which is where Robert meets up with him in the afternoons. Under the spreading branches of the tree, they sell marijuana which they get from various sources, including Gus' Uncle Clarence.

Both Gus' and Robert's families are worried about them, and worried that they are selling drugs, but they don't quite know what to do about it. Gus' mother sends Uncle Clarence to find him and look after him (which is a little like sending the fox to guard the henhouse, it turns out), and Robert's father makes a list of all the things in Robert's room which suggest that he is involved with drugs. (Number 1 on the list? A black light. If that doesn't take you back to the 1970's, nothing will.)

The culmination of the story comes when Robert's parents make plans to go out of town, and Robert and Gus take this opportunity to make plans to have a drug party at Robert's house. This goes awry, of course, and the ending of the story is suitably vague that you don't know exactly how it ends for the two boys. This normally irritates me to no end when an author does that kind of thing, but in this case, I found that it fit the story and the characters perfectly. Sometimes it can be a good thing to wonder how the story turns out -- it makes the story more alive in the reader's mind and memory, I think.

So I mentioned Gilchrist's writing style. Here's some examples from the story:

Gus would be curled up asleep in the roots of the tree. From a distance he looked like an old catcher's mitt. He wore the same thing every day, a brown leather flight jacket and a pair of indefinite-colored plaid pants so worn that the lines of the plaid all ran together at the edges.

And here's some great passages about Robert's parents:

Robert McLaurin's father, his name was Will, thought the spring of 1971 was the worst time he had ever lived through. He was a management lawyer. All he did at work was try Equal Opportunity Employment cases, and he had lost five in a row. All he did at home was argue with Robert McLaurin's mother, her name was Lelia, about whether or not Robert was taking drugs.

They argued so much about Robert they had stopped being in love with each other. All day long at the office Will thought about the argument from the day before and used his legal mind to think up ways to make his arguments more convincing.

And for a succinct description of Robert's mother:

Lelia McLaurin looked like a blonde housewife on a television commercial. She had a good figure from playing tennis all the time and she had a bad temper from getting her way all the time.

I think I will be looking for more works by Ellen Gilchrist to read. If you have read any of her stuff and have recommendations for me, please comment!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I received a free copy of this book a few weeks ago, via Blogging for Books (see disclaimer at the end of the review).

This small, delightful book by Marie Kondo, one of Japan’s foremost organizing and decluttering mavens, was a real treat to read. Her writing style is friendly and direct, making the reader feel like she is personally guiding and advising in the decluttering process. Her approach is simple, but designed to be effective and as painless as possible. She advocates sorting and decluttering in one fell swoop, instead of bit by bit over time, as most people are inclined to do. She also recommends a particular order of possessions to declutter, starting with clothes and ending with sentimental items, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the process and short-circuit it before you reach the end. (By following her order of categories, you also get a chance to build your chops on easy, low-hanging fruit such as clothes you never liked or which don’t fit – things that are pretty easy to throw away – before getting to the more difficult items, like that ceramic bowl Aunt Sally gave you for your wedding and which you’ve never been able to get rid of, even though Aunt Sally has been dead for 15 years.)

I found much of the advice in this book counterintuitive, but logical -- which makes this book a breath of fresh air. It’s clear that the author is not just going back over the same old tired ground that others have written about – she is thinking about the problem of clutter in new and even revolutionary ways. For example, a common piece of advice for preventing clutter is to think about the ways in which you use items, and then organize these items to correspond with your workflow, keeping them close at hand and easily accessible. Kondo says this is the wrong way to think about the problem, because clutter comes not when we get an item out, but when we are reluctant or unable to put the item away again. (In other words, it’s not a problem on the front end, but a problem on the back end, and I have to admit this simple shift in perspective blew my mind.) Therefore, her recommendation is to find a solution that reduces the effort to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out in the first place. Her rationale is that when we are getting something out to use, our motivation to find and use the item is high enough that we will probably not mind any difficulties at this stage of the process. But if putting the item away again is too challenging (because the item doesn’t really have a home, or its home is not a good one), then we will immediately just give up and put it anywhere, and it becomes clutter.

The book is also filled with what seems at first like quirky advice, but it definitely has its roots in things that the reader may already feel, but does not know how to name. One of Kondo’s big pieces of advice is to say “thank you” to your possessions after you are finished using them. Weird? Maybe – but then I think about every autumn, when I take my old green “Members Only” jacket out of the closet to wear for another year (hoping desperately that it’s still in style enough to actually wear), and I experience an emotion that is very close to Kondo’s “thank you” – a sense of fondness and joy for this piece of clothing that has been with me for a major portion of my life, and is still going strong. I could very easily see myself saying “thank you” to this jacket (especially if there is no one else around to hear me).

But “life-changing”? Really? Yes, says Kondo. When you reduce your possessions to only those things that you need and that give you real joy, you achieve clarity on what it is that you want in life. You achieve peace and freedom from excess baggage. And the process of decluttering, and the honed decision-making skills that result, will carry over into the other areas of one’s life. So yes, one’s life may very well be changed by the seemingly simple process outlined in this book. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a jumpstart on clearing and decluttering their possessions and their life.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book from the book's publisher via Blogging for Books ( for review purposes.  I did not receive any monetary compensation in return for the review.  All opinions expressed here are my own.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"A Double-Dyed Deceiver" by O. Henry

Deal Me In Lite, Week 21: "A Double-Dyed Deceiver" by O. Henry

This week of Deal Me In Lite (a "baby" version of the real thing, led by Jay at Bibliophilopolis) led me to the 2 of hearts and the final story in The Classic Humor Megapack volume -- a story by one of the greatest short story writers ever, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter). I was a little apprehensive about this story, given that some of the other stories chosen for this anthology were real duds. But I'm happy to say that this turned out to be a classic O. Henry story, and it did not disappoint.

The story begins with the main character, known as "the Llano Kid," in trouble. He has just killed a man over a dispute in a poker game in Laredo, and now has to clear out of town to escape the retaliation of the murdered man's comrades. He steals a horse and makes his way to the Gulf of Mexico, where he boards a cargo ship headed for South America. Once there, he disembarks at a small town named Buenas Tierras, and he meets the American consul in the town, a man by the name of Thacker.

Thacker immediately has an idea for a plan he wants to involve the Kid in. It seems that Buenas Tierras' wealthiest family lost their son many years ago, due to his running away to the U.S. for fame and fortune. According to Thacker, the Kid bears a strong resemblance to their son, and he wants him to pose as the long-lost son returned to them, get into their mansion and steal their fortune, which he would then split with Thacker. The Kid readily agrees, but there's a problem: the son had the family crest tattooed on the back of his left hand, and Thacker's first task is to replicate that tattoo and make it look natural. Once this is done, the Kid gets introduced to the family and quickly and completely fools them. What happens next is part of the classic O. Henry "twist at the end," so I don't dare tell you about it and spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that this was a great little story and well worth the reading. It's available online here - take a read and tell me what you think in the comments.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Read-a-thon Wrapup: Christmas Train, No-no-no!

Last weekend I ventured into the Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Read-a-thon, thinking that over six days I could surely read one short, fluffy Christmas book: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci. Turns out, I couldn't do it. Two reasons: 1) I got busy with work-related obligations (the bane of the constant reader), and I didn't read much of anything, let alone a book for the Read-a-thon. BUT more fatally, 2) I didn't like this book. This is not going to be much of a review, I suppose, because I simply could not finish this book. I gave it the old 100-page college try, though. Lately I've tackled a few books that didn't end up being very readable, so my unofficial rule for these kinds of books is to read to page 100 and then give up if the book is not working out. I know some readers quit after page 50, so I think you'll agree I gave this book an honest effort.

I have never read David Baldacci before, and my sense is that the rest of his writing is quite unlike this book -- a casual glance at his page on Amazon reveals a long list of popular thrillers. So that might very well explain the let-down of this book. It is the story of Tom Langdon, a journalist who decides to travel cross-country by train for Christmas, on his way to meet his girlfriend in Los Angeles. He meets a sizeable cast of unique and zany characters on the train (including his ex-girlfriend, who just conveniently happens to be on the train as well), and then I don't know what happens next because I got fed up.

This book was just too "cutesy" for me. Every character is ready to spout witty quips as they wander around the train being weird and lovable, and the whole lot of them just seem very cardboardy and contrived. Plus there's the fact that, for the first 100 pages, nothing much happens. You get all kinds of backstory on Tom, but none of it is terribly captivating. Just before page 100, an unknown thief breaks into several of the characters' rooms and steals selected items from them, but even this was not enough to interest me and keep me reading further. I guess if I was not going to be able to finish the Read-a-thon anyway, it was best to be reading a book that I didn't have to waste much time on, but I'm still a little disappointed at how it turned out. I can't recommend The Christmas Train for anyone, but I will definitely try the Ho-Ho-Ho Read-a-thon again next year!

"The Boy in Zaquitos" by Bruce McAllister

Deal Me In Lite, Week 20: "The Boy in Zaquitos" by Bruce McAllister

Only six weeks left in my Deal Me In Lite journey, and this week I drew the four of clubs, which led me to another story from The Best American Short Stories 2007.

"The Boy in Zaquitos" begins with the heading "The Retired Operative Speaks to a Class." The narrator is recounting his adventures as a much younger man involved in covert operations for the government. He didn't start out in life with that goal -- he merely wanted to be an analyst for the CIA or some other governmental intelligence agency, so he could "do something for his country," but from behind a comfortable desk. However, the government has other plans in mind for him. They discover that he is one of the unique individuals who can carry the bacteria that cause bubonic plague but not get sick. So he is recruited as a kind of "Typhoid Mary" who is sent to strategic locations in strategic countries, where he releases the germs from a special hollow tooth in his mouth, coughs on people and spreads disease as effectively as he can, then gets out of the country before the epidemic takes hold. He has other hollow teeth in his mouth that contain antibiotics, so he can wipe out all traces of his "payload" if he should happen to be apprehended and tested. Then the government purposefully delays shipments of antibiotics and other medicines to these countries, all in an attempt to destabilize them and their governments as the epidemic begins to ravage the population. It's a really interesting premise for a story, and actually not that far-fetched in this day and age, even for someone who is not a conspiracy theorist.

This kind of work rapidly begins to take its toll on him, however, and he starts developing odd habits. For example, he buys toothbrushes by the dozens and brushes his mouth every day, sometimes multiple times a day. He's paranoid about touching people, especially people he cares about, for fear that he will accidentally infect and kill them. However, he does end up accidentally killing a young woman whom he meets on his travels. She is working for a civilian aid organization in the country he is sent to infect, and he leaves the country not knowing if she lived or died. He finds out a couple of years later that she did die, and he knows he is responsible for her death. This sets into motion the central series of events in the story. One day, in a country where he is about to start another epidemic, he meets a young native boy who reminds him of a friend he had in the third grade, and suddenly he feels compelled to do something to try to save this boy and his family, to help them get out of the city before he begins the epidemic. He succeeds in getting them to leave the garbage dump (literally) that is their home, but of course he doesn't know if his actions have the intended effect or not.

This was a captivating story that pulled me along and made me care about what happened (especially the microbiological premise of the story), but somehow it felt incomplete. It felt like more of a vignette than a real short story with resolution. Maybe that was the point of it. Anyway, it's definitely worth your time to read, but it's not the best story I have read so far this year.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Let's Play 'Poison'" by Ray Bradbury

Deal Me In Lite, Week 19: “Let's Play ‘Poison’” by Ray Bradbury

This week’s card draw (the seven of spades) selected a story from my Ray Bradbury collection, and finally I got a story that is the kind I expect from Bradbury: unsettling, a little creepy, something's-not-quite-right, with a twisty ending.


This very short story, which was first published in 1946 in Weird Tales, tells the tale of Mr. Howard, who hates children. He came by this hate honestly, I suppose: he was formerly a schoolteacher, and witnessed a group of students push one of their classmates out the window to his death. Ever since that event (after which he immediately took early retirement), he has regarded children as demons, or perhaps aliens sent from outer space to torment earthlings.

Ironically, some years after his retirement, he is asked to fill in as a substitute teacher for an ailing friend. He reluctantly agrees, only because he knows it will be a short-term assignment. However, all of his old fears and feelings come flooding back once he’s in the classroom, and he is quite nasty to the children all the time for no good reason.

One day he comes upon some of the children playing a game of their own invention called “poison.” It involves the children having to jump over a segment of the sidewalk in which some names are imprinted. They believe this is a gravestone, and if they step on it, they die from poison. Mr. Howard is tremendously impatient with this game, and tells the children those names are the contractors who put the sidewalk in, and that no one is buried there. This sets the stage for the later part of the story, which involves a section of the sidewalk that is torn up for repairs, and a ditch, and a dark night, and Mr. Howard chasing after some boys playing a prank on him with a skull at his window. I have no desire to spoil the story for you, but it's not too hard to see where the story goes at this point. Let's just say Mr. Howard gets what is coming to him.

One of the things I have found interesting in reading stories from this huge anthology of Bradbury’s stories is the comparison between his early and later styles. His early work seems very spare and not as lyrical as a lot of his later stuff, although it still definitely has all of the basic Bradbury style. It could be that he was writing for particular publications, and trying to fit their style so he could actually get published. Or maybe, like so many writers, he polished and refined his style over the years until it came to be what we consider as “classic Bradbury.” It's an interesting question. But definitely an interesting story as well!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Read-a-thon

I've been eyeing the Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Read-a-thon for a few weeks now, and I think I am going to take the plunge. This read-a-thon is being sponsored by Kimba of the Caffeinated Book Reviewer blog, and the crew at Bookshelfery. It runs from November 6-11, and luckily it is just the kind of low-stress read-a-thon I need right now.

However, this is the time of year when I am at my busiest, it seems like, so I am planning to set the bar as low as possible: ONE, short-ish, and hopefully highly readable book: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci. I found this gathering dust on my shelves -- don't know who bought it or when, actually, although I suppose I did. That's sad, I know, but all the more reason to go ahead and read it! Reading the synopsis off the cover, it puts me in mind of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, without the humor I suppose. We'll see. If you've read it, please comment!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

"An Odor of Verbena" by William Faulkner

Deal Me In Lite, Week 18: "An Odor of Verbena" by William Faulkner

This week brought the six of diamonds, and a story that I put on my list because I thought I ought to, not because I wanted to.

Let me preface my review by saying that I have never been a fan of Faulkner, at the risk of being drummed out of his home state (although I'd venture a guess that many of my fellow Mississippians feel the same way). I had to read Faulkner in high school, like most everyone, I suppose, and I didn't understand him then, and I don't understand him now. As I recall, we had to read The Sound and the Fury back then, and just the mention of that book still sends chills up and down my spine. It's a real horrorshow of a book, if you ask me.

The main thing I dislike about Faulkner is his writing style, which is a real shame since that's the very thing admired by people who actually like Faulkner. But it honestly seems like he tries to muddy the sense of his story by his style. Exhibit A from the story I just read:

Then he flung the door violently inward against the doorstop with one of those gestures with or by which an almost painfully unflagging preceptory of youth ultimately aberrates, and stood there saying, "Bayard. Bayard, my son, my dear son."

I have now read that sentence probably a dozen times and I still don't know what it means. Thanks, Faulkner!
Here's Mr. Faulkner thinking about how many words he can use to say "You're welcome."

Suffice it to say that I struggled mightily with this story this week. But I eventually made peace with it, and found the basic plot interesting... once I figured out what was going on. "An Odor of Verbena" is the last section of Faulkner's novel The Unvanquished, so it's not technically a short story. But it does stand pretty well on its own.

The story is told from the point of view of Bayard Sartoris, a young man who is away at law school. One evening he is told by one of his professors that his father, Colonel Sartoris, has been shot and killed. One of the family servants, Ringo, has come to accompany Bayard back to the family homestead as quickly as possible. It appears that the Colonel has been murdered by his business associate and longtime political rival, Ben Redmond. Now everyone in the family, including the Colonel's young wife Drusilla, expects Bayard to avenge his death by killing Redmond. But it soon becomes clear that Bayard doesn't exactly have in mind the revenge that everyone else thinks he should. In fact, he ends up confronting Redmond bare-handed, daring his father's foe to kill him just as he killed the Colonel (I guess?). It's hard to say, because Faulkner LOVES to have his characters just allude to things in passing, or even to leave them virtually unsaid. So many times I was left wondering exactly what was going on. The story does reach a resolution, however, and Bayard does find some redemption in his actions, so the reader feels relatively satisfied by the end of the story.

As you can see, I definitely had mixed feelings about "An Odor of Verbena." I think I might read it again sometime, or even (gasp) read the entire novel and see if it makes any better sense in that context. But I will say this though -- love him or hate him, Faulkner is one of the most distinctive writers that the South ever produced, and he probably deserves his place in the pantheon of Mississippi writers.