Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “Secret Keeper”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Secret Keeper” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Card picked: 3
Found at: Nightmare Magazine

The Story

A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life. An ugly girl slips unseen through secret doors.

The ghost girl was born with a birth defect that, after many skin grafts, has left her face pale and featureless. She has managed through grade school and middle school by avoiding attention, by becoming a shadow, a ghost. Now in high school, she lives beneath the theater stage and dreams of singing. Alas, due to her  appearance, the best she can do is mentor Chrissie, the new girl with the beautiful voice. Their singing lessons are held in a remote girl’s bathroom, the stalls keeping ghost girl from being seen. When Chrissie is given a supporting role in the spring musical instead of the lead, ghost girl’s vengeance is visited upon the less talented, but prettier Aimee and Chrissie has to fill in. All goes well, for a while, until the toll of ghost girl’s mentorship—being completely focused and keeping ghost girl’s secret—becomes too high for Chrissie. And Chrissie also has secrets that the ghost girl is keeping for her.

“Secret Keeper” is an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, gender-bent and set in high school, and it works very well. By senior year, the ghost girl is a thing of legend. No one quite remembers the truth about her and every prank and misfortune is blamed on her. By being unnoticed and otherwise forgotten, the ghost girl has access to information and secrets that she uses judiciously to manipulate Chrissie and frame Aimee. But the ending does add a tiny bit of ambiguity to the situation. No one can really hear the ghost girl except Chrissie.

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Deal Me In, Week 25 ~ “The Jack of Coins”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Jack of Coins” by Christopher Rowe

Card picked: 9
Found at: Tor.com

When the man came closer, we saw that he wasn’t a policeman at all. His uniform was something else altogether, something epauletted and braided and polished here and there to a high shine. He made us think of the illustrations from playing cards. The King of Clubs, some of us thought, or the Jack of Coins.

The story is set in a vaguely dystopian police state. Our narrator is one of a band of teenage punks, not yet actual rebels. And Jack, who doesn’t know his real name, does know of other places where things may not be better but are certainly different. The teens take in Jack and in exchange are given a shift in their perception of the world. We’re left wondering exactly where Jack came from—it certainly wasn’t just from across the forbidden park. And maybe he isn’t even *quite* human. He’s certainly unflappable as well as a little naive.

Rowe does a nice job of some quick and dirty world building for this fairly short story. Coins (as in the Jack of Coins) have been used as a card suit in the past and is still used in tarot. Funny thing, this story involves card throwing and it’s the second time this week that I’ve run into that in my reading. Therefore, you know I have to include a video of my favorite card thrower, Ricky Jay.

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “Bog Girl”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

Card picked: 4
Found at: The New Yorker

I don’t remember if I recognized Karen Russell when I added this story to my deck. Her novel Swamplandia! has been on the periphery of my TBR-eventually list. In this case, Swamplandia! will probably be bumped up the queue. One of the best reasons to read short stories is to get a taste for a writer you’re not familiar with.

The young turf-cutter fell hard for his first girlfriend while operating heavy machinery in the peatlands.

The girl that Cillian, the turf-cutter, falls for is a bog girl, a preserved corpse thousands of years old.

I’ve read a couple of magical realism novels this year and I was once again thrown into a off-kilter world where Bog Girl retains her slightly blue skin, coppery hair, and enigmatic smile  despite being exposed to the air. Also, Cillian is allowed to take her home. His mother isn’t pleased.  She’s afraid that Cillian will screw up his young life over the love of a girl, though instead of getting her pregnant, what if he decides to do something rash like going to the bog with her to stay?

Everyone else is pretty chill with Cillian’s silent girlfriend. She becomes rather popular at his high school. The in-crowd girls like her because she’s thin and will wear anything they give her. In fact, one of the things that Cillian like most about her is that she will silently, and smilingly, agree with his future plans.

Of course, everything changes one night when Bog Girl wakes up…

The writing is beautiful. While this story is sometimes uncomfortable, it doesn’t reach the level of unease that a Joyce Carol Oates story might.

Deal Me In, Week 22 ~ “Fable”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Fable” by Charles Yu

Card picked: 5
Found at: The New Yorker

So, I’m fairly certain that I picked this story due to Tom Gauld’s illustration. (Check out the above link for it, or more of his work at his webpage. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar; I retweet him quite a bit.) Halfway through “Fable” I thought, “This story reminds me of what I consider the difference between YA and other adult fiction: YA asks, “What am I going to do?” and adult fiction asks, “What have I done?” And towards the end of the piece I thought, “Wait a minute. Charles Yu. Have I read other stories by him?”

As a matter of fact, I’ve read a whole collection by Charles Yu! And I enjoyed it! I just have a really bad memory. And rereading my review I thought the very same thing about those stories as I did this one. Charles Yu has a really good ear for telling stories to and about Generation X—a group raised on geek culture, who are reaching middle age.

Once upon a time, there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work through some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.

“Fable” is a about the stories we want to tell about ourselves and what our stories really are. The man in this story has made many compromises to have a comfortable life for his wife and for his special needs son. The metaphor of the fairy tale he uses doesn’t go far, but maybe it does lead him to a path through his own haunted woods.

Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Freedom is Space for the Spirit”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg

Card picked: 10
Found at: Tor

Sometimes, I come across works by my favorite authors and, instead of reading them immediately, I squirrel them away for some later date. This explains a goodly portion of my unread library. I’ve had this story in reserve since 2016 and a good thing too. Glen Hirshberg’s writing pace is lagging behind my ability to consume his works.

From Tor’s website:

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg is a fantasy about a middle-aged German, drawn back to Russia by a mysterious invitation from a friend he knew during the wild, exuberant period in the midst of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, he begins to see bears, wandering and seemingly lost.

I’m most appreciative of Hirshberg’s horror stories and I was concerned that this would be very different than the usual. It’s set in Russia, in St. Petersburg. It’s also on the fantasy end of things. Or maybe it’s what’s considered magical realism. But, then, isn’t magical realism just a dark hop-skip away from supernatural horror?

There is always desolation in Hirshberg’s stories and a felling about the past that isn’t quite nostalgia. In these respects, “Freedom” is still so much a Hirshberg story, but one that is a double mystery too.  There is a lot to unpack on an allegorical level too, especially the concept of the resurrected past never quite working out. That’s not even taking into account Russia’s political past and present. But for me, this is a good unsettling fantasy and that’s how I enjoyed it this time I read it. Next time (and there will be a next time), who knows?

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Aloha Oe”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Aloha Oe” by Jack London

Card picked: J – Jack of Spades for Jack London, hadn’t realized I’d done that when assigning stories to cards.
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story
At the dock in Honolulu, a massive crowd is gathered to bit farewell to the Senatorial junketing party. Among those leaving are Senator Jeremy Sambrooke and his lovely daughter Dorothy. Among those staying is Stephen Knight. While the senators had been wowed by sugar cane and coffee barons, Knight had shown off the rougher side of Hawaii. In particular, he shown Dorothy volcanoes and taught her how to surf. And until this moment of parting, with “Aloha Oe” being sung to them, Dorothy had only saw Knight as a playfellow. In this moment under his gaze, she’s suddenly aware of womanly feelings for him.

Which is a little eye-rollingly cringe-worthy. Numerous times, we’re told of Dorothy’s “ripening,” which is at least balanced by how masculinly masculine Knight is. Though I am a child of the late 20th century, I’m kind of surprised that Dorothy, at age fifteen, is just now noticing boys/men and is just now being noticed by them.

Alas, even if distance didn’t separate Dorothy and Stephen after her departure, the fact that he’s hapa-haole, or of mixed heritage, would prevent him from being marriageable. Hapa-haole also can refer to music that is Hawaiian in tune, but with English lyrics. London concludes the story with the only time he includes English lyrics in the song:

Aloha oe, Aloha oe, e ke onaona no ho ika lipo,
A fond embrace, ahoi ae au, until we meet again.

The Author
I haven’t read much London. Is he better with nature than with people?

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “Scarlet Stockings”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Scarlet Stockings” by Lousia May Alcott

Card picked: 10
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story

“What will you do then?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

And settling himself more luxuriously upon the couch, Lennox closed his eyes, and appeared to slumber tranquilly. Kate shook her head, and stood regarding her brother, despondently, till a sudden idea made her turn toward the window, exclaiming abruptly,

“Scarlet stockings, Harry!”

“Where?” and, as if the words were a spell to break the deepest day-dream, Lennox hurried to the window, with an unusual expression of interest in his listless face.

Harry Lennox is a man of leisure, perfectly happy to while away the hours during his visit to his sister’s sleepy town. The only diversion is Belle Morgan, the lovely and spirited young woman who wears the scarlet stockings.

Belle initially sees Harry as a “peacock,” but after she becomes friends with Kate Lennox, she is willing to see more in him. Belle’s idea of happiness is to do service for others, joyously and uncomplaining. She is a patriotic American. She is appalled that Harry sees himself as half-English and believes he should remain neutral in the conflict between the Northern and Southern states. Eventually, Belle admits to Harry that she and Kate conspired to wake Harry out of his comfortable life, but not until, unknown to Belle, Harry has enlisted. Is he doing it only to win Belle’s heart? Is Belle a hypocrite when it’s Harry’s life and limbs on the line? Will Harry even survive??? I must say, I was a little worried when I came to Part III of the story WHAT BECAME OF THEM.

There is a lack of communication among the characters which I always find to be a frustrating trope in literature (and other forms of storytelling). This might be why I’ve never quite taken to Alcott as an author. But otherwise, this is a deft story told mostly through dialogue.