Sunday, April 26, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 17: "The Prophet from Jupiter" by Tony Earley

This week the King of Diamonds took me back to The Best American Short Stories 1994 volume for a story by Tony Earley, originally published in Harper's Magazine.

(Image of the King of Diamonds from the WhiteKnuckle Cards website)

I read this story as my first item in Dewey's Readathon yesterday. It was a captivating story, full of images and quirky characters, and while I don't feel like I got everything out of the story that was there, I enjoyed it very much.

The story is narrated by an unnamed main character, the dam-keeper of a dam in a sleepy little North Carolina resort town called Lake Glen. The dam is an elaborate affair, complete with a generator which supplies the town with more electricity than it can ever use. The dam-keeper's job is to monitor water levels and make sure they are appropriate both for the generator, the dam, and for the residents who recreationally use the lake created by the dam.

The dam-keeper thus becomes a town historian of sorts -- being on the job 24/7, he sees and hears everything. And there's a lot that goes on in this town. It even has its "ghosts" of a sort, since the lake encompasses another town that was flooded when the dam was built.

It has nothing to do with this story, but there's a famous submerged town in Lake Resia, Italy -- all that can be seen now is the bell tower of the church.

The title of the story comes from one of the characters, a former realtor named Archie Simpson who lived in Jupiter, Florida before moving to Lake Glen. He's a prophet because he claims God told him so -- he's the One True Prophet who will lead Christians in the last days. In a sense, the events of this story give the reader a certain sense that some of the characters are living through their own "last days" -- the dam-keeper's wife has left him for the new police chief, the dam-keeper is being replaced by a guy named Randy who is the assistant dam-keeper -- everything seems to be falling apart in a way.

This was an intriguing story because there was so much going on in it. It was also a little confusing because the narrative was not at all straightforward. The narrator keeps jumping back and forth between current events and the events of the past (which, of course, have shaped and informed the current events). It's one of those stories where things come out bit by bit, and by the end of the story the reader has a complete picture of what is really going on. Although it can be confusing, this is one of my favorite kinds of stories because it's most like real life.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Dewey's Readathon: Wrap-up

Here's my final reading activity for this spring's Dewey's Readathon. With the 150 pages or so of Broken Monsters that I read to finish the book, I read much less for this readathon than the last one, but I'm not stressed about it. Any reading activity is good!

Stories I read from the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Glimmer Train:
"Window" by Lee Montgomery
A young girl tries to deal with her older sister running away, leaving her to a sad home life.

"The Bears" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
A highly interesting take on the classic Goldilocks story: a young woman recovering from a miscarriage finds her way back to health (and fecundity) via a strange encounter with a bearish stranger whose home she invades.

"Slaughter" by Jon Chopan
Young American soldiers preparing for war in Iraq deal with life and death, including an oddly humorous undercurrent of a soldier constantly looking for the head of a decapitated woman (which he finally finds).

"A Dispatch from Mt. Moriah" by Daniel Torday
Mount Moriah was traditionally the site of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac in the Bible. This is the compelling story of a young Jewish man, Jacob, who meets and falls in love with Rachael, the daughter of a famous astrophysicist. However, she is being slowly "sacrificed" through her father's dominating manner and insistence on religious purity.

Stories I read from Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense:
"Not a Laughing Matter" by Evan Hunter
A famous actor is brought low by his drinking problem and is forced to work as a department store Santa Claus. But he has plans for the manager who constantly makes fun of him.

"Recipe for Murder" by James Holding
A famous retired chef is held hostage by his conniving niece and her husband in order to obtain his world-famous soup recipe. He is forced to give it to them, but not without a few "special additions" to the recipe.

And that's a wrap for this spring's readathon!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dewey's Readathon: Update 3

I finished Broken Monsters in a page-turning gulp just now. It turned out to be really good, although it had a supernatural twist to it that I wasn't expecting. What seemed to be just a regular (if ultra-creepy) tale of a Detroit serial killer turned out to be something much more bizarre and interesting. I'll be writing a regular review of the book soon, but for now, I highly recommend it.

The storming outside has stopped, so I think I will take a break from the house and go do some non-reading things for a while. But next up, when I return to the readathon, I'll be dipping into my copy of Glimmer Train!

Dewey's Readathon: Update 2

Well, I must say, if there was ever a suitable day for a readathon, it's the one I am having. Where I am today, it's rainy and a little stormy -- not so stormy as to worry about it, just stormy enough to keep one indoors in a comfy chair, reading.

Progress: 94 more pages in Broken Monsters -- and I should have no trouble finishing it today, then moving on to some of my short stories, which I am more than eager to get to.

Dewey's Readathon: Update 1

I'm off to a slow start for my participation in Dewey's Readathon this year, but I'm not stressing about it. So far (about three and a half hours in, at this point), I have done just a little bit of reading (see below), and no challenges. But I have to remember......

Reading so far:

  • Completed my Deal Me In Challenge story for this week: "The Prophet from Jupiter" by Tony Earley (I have a separate review forthcoming, but this was a very interesting and captivating story.)
  • About 35 pages in Broken Monsters -- still resisting reading it for some reason, but I am enjoying the story, which now around page 300, is really beginning to heat up big time.
So I will leave you with this:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Twas the Night Before Dewey's...

Tomorrow Dewey's Readathon starts at 7 AM in my time zone. I feel like it has snuck up on me this time, even to the point of my thinking I had signed up for it when I really hadn't. I'm not quite sure what I was waiting for, but I rectified that problem today.

As usual, I don't feel like I have enough time to actually do the readathon justice, but I'm not letting that stop me. I figure I will read what I can read, and have fun with it, and that will be enough. Mainly, I don't want to be left out!

I'm being as modest as I can with my Dewey's TBR list this time around though:

First up, I am taking this opportunity to finish Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. This is actually a holdover from my TBR Double Dog Dare earlier in the year, at which I failed miserably (more about that in another post). I like this book but I have been very slow reading it. I'm about halfway through it. I think it's because the subject matter is not entirely pleasant, and I think I am subconsciously resisting reading it. So at the very least, Dewey's will help me break through this block and finish this book.

Second: the current issue of Glimmer Train came to my mailbox the other day, and I haven't had two spare minutes to rub together and open it, so Dewey's is going to give me a chance to dip into this issue and read some of the stories therein. I don't have any idea that I will be able to finish all the stories in this issue tomorrow (I think I counted 17 stories), but I figure I should be able to pick it up and put it down at will -- which fits my readathon style perfectly. I am NOT a person that has the desire or the luxury of reading for 24 hours straight. So I need more "bite-sized" reading material.

In the same vein, I checked out this book, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, from my local library a few weeks ago, and have not cracked it open. I renewed it today for the express purpose of using it in the Readathon also. I won't be reading all of these stories either, I'm 100% confident, but it's more short stories to keep me going!

I'll be posting updates periodically throughout the day and night tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 16: "Proper Library" by Carolyn Ferrell

The card this week:

The collection:

The story: "Proper Library" is an unusual little story about a black teenager nicknamed Lorrie. His real name is Lawrence Lincoln Jefferson Adams. When the story opens, we learn that he has been out of school for six months, mainly because he has fallen in love with a boy named Rakeem (who appears to be a very bad influence). But he also keeps himself busy during his time off, helping take care of his younger brothers and sisters and cousins, and teaching himself math out of the "Math 4" book. He finally decides he should go back to school, but the pull of Rakeem is strong. His family warns him not to pay any attention to Rakeem, and Lorrie's mantra throughout the story is "I keep moving," a phrase one gradually comes to realize is Lorrie's guard against Rakeem and everything else that would pull him back out of school and towards things and people that are not good for him.

The title of the story comes from Lorrie's efforts to learn as many words as possible for the City Wide Test, an achievement test that will let him finally progress to the next grade. One word he has trouble with is "library," always managing to pronounce it "liberry." Lorrie's constant poring over words to learn also seems to be symbolic of his efforts to break away from his past and "keep moving on" to better things. By the end of the story, Lorrie thinks he has figured out a way to reconcile his desire to be with Rakeem AND to continue his education, but we never find out if he is successful or not.

This was an interesting story, but it was one of those stories that I had to read carefully just to figure out what the heck was going on. It was otherwise pretty realistic and slightly depressing. I wanted to root for Lorrie's efforts to get his life back on track, but in the end it seemed as if his chances weren't that good.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 15: "Birthday Party" by Shirley Jackson

This week I drew the Ace of spades, which led me to another story from The Best American Short Stories 1964. This story, "Birthday Party" by Shirley Jackson, also happened to be chosen for me way back in January by Jay, the ringleader of this little cartomancy cruise.

Shirley Jackson, right? The only two works of hers with which I am familiar are the short story "The Lottery," and the novel The Haunting of Hill House. Both creep-fests, to be sure. So I was fully prepared for this to be a creepy birthday party.

The story opens as we meet Jannie, a young girl on the morning of her eleventh birthday. She's excited to death, and has convinced her parents to let her have a pajama party with four of her friends. Her older brother, Laurie, is not so sure this is a good idea, and moans his way through the whole story about how horrible five giggling girls are going to be. Jannie's mother sets up cots in her bedroom and library, and gets ready for THE HORRIBLE, BLOODY NIGHT THAT NONE OF THEM WILL EVER FORGET. (Shirley Jackson, right??!)

No, turns out that Jannie and her friends are typical excited little girls that really can't sleep all night. (Oh, ok, Shirley -- I'm sure you're just building up the suspense.)

Jannie has received all kinds of cool presents for her birthday, including her very own record player, and an Elvis Presley record.... THAT MAKES YOU GO INSANE THE MINUTE YOU START LISTENING TO IT. (Shirley, come on, please start creeping me out!)

No, the Elvis Presley record just makes Jannie's brother go insane, when the girls play it half the night. (At this point I'm throwing some pretty insulted looks at Shirley..... she's taking a long time to get the creep-fest going.)

Within a few pages of the end of the story, I realized that Shirley was going to let me down. This is not a creepy story. It IS a (not very) humorous story about five flighty little girls staying up half the night at a birthday party and making the mother crazy with their jumping in and out of bed, their spats (during the course of the night, it seems as if each one of the little girls gets mad at all the others, and makes up with all the others just as quickly), and assorted girlish shenanigans.

I kind of hated this story. Part of it was because I was convinced it was going to be something different than it was, but part of it was that the story came across as a type of half-baked Erma Bombeck story. This story WAS written in the same time period when Erma began to be popular, so I don't have any idea if Shirley was trying to channel that kind of humorous story, but if so, she didn't do it very well. The story was first published in Vogue, so I suppose that should have given me half a clue to begin with -- Vogue was not then, and is still not, known for publishing creepy fiction. Oh well.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 14: "Have You Seen Sukie?" by Robert Penn Warren

It's week 14 of the Deal Me In short story reading challenge, and this week the 6 of spades invited me back to 1964 and a captivating story by Robert Penn Warren. This story was first published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1964.


Robert Penn Warren, I suspect, is one of those authors that most people have at least heard of, but probably many fewer people have actually read. I know he was that way for me. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men has been on my TBR list for a LONG time, so maybe I will get around to reading it soon. He also won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry (the only person to have ever won the Pulitzer for both fiction and poetry, according to Wikipedia), and he served as the U.S. Poet Laureate. So based on all that AND this story, I would very much like to read more of his stuff.

In the story "Have You Seen Sukie?" we are introduced to the character of Mr. "Boots" Budd, the deputy warden of an unnamed penitentiary. He's showing off the prison to a couple of visitors, and we never really get any information about why they are there. However, there's definitely a sense that they are there on some kind of official business, and that the Warden has fobbed them off on his deputy.

Far from being annoyed by this duty, Mr. Budd is happy to give the visitors a tour. He takes great pride in his job and how he keeps the prison running smoothly. During the tour, he comments on everything in such a way that we get to see pretty deeply into his psyche. Plus, Mr. Budd is chock full of aphorisms (dialect and all):

"Don't allow no guns in. Guns give somebody the notion of tryen to take a gun off somebody."

"You get the habit of turning yore head, and you will soon get the habit of being dead."

"We got a real nice pharmacist. Gonna have him a long time. Had him a nice drugstore in Brownsville and killed his wife. She caught him with the soda fountain gal. We are waiten for a real good doctor somewhere in this here state to kill his wife for ketchen him with the nurse."

"You know why they got in in the first place?" (Here Mr. Budd is referring to the inmates.) "It is because they are lonesome. Some folks are born lonesome and they can't stand the lonesomeness out there. It is lonesome in here maybe but it ain't as lonesome when you are with folks that knows they are as lonesome as you are."

Immediately after this comment, one of the visitors says, "Mr. Budd, you are a philosopher." Budd shoots back with, "I am a Deppity Warden." (That struck me as absolutely hilarious, but I still don't know why.)

Suddenly Budd says, "Let's go see Sukie," and it soon becomes apparent that Sukie is the name of the prison's electric chair. On the way to see the chair, they stop at the cell of one of the Death Row inmates, a young black man named Pretty-Boy. Budd asks the young man to sing a song for the visitors, and at this moment it finally struck me that Budd is not so much a deputy warden as he is a zookeeper of sorts, showing off his "collection" to the visitors. To me, the tone of the whole encounter with Pretty-Boy is one of a animal trainer putting his animal through its paces.

When Budd and his visitors finally make it to the small, bare room where Sukie is kept, Budd positively begins to rhapsodize about the chair: how it works, how beautiful it is, etc. It turns out that Budd also serves as the executioner, the person who throws the switch. "She is ever-man's sweetheart," he says. "Sukie -- she is waiten for you."

As you can tell, there wasn't actually much of a plot to this story, but I liked it a lot nonetheless. It was a fascinating psychological study of Budd, who thinks that no one is completely innocent. Warren deftly paints a picture of Budd and his mental state as he rules the prison with an iron fist.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.