Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Hofzinser Club”

DealMeIn

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

“The Hofzinser Club” by Michael Chabon

Card picked: Ace
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I bookmarked this story sometime last year, thinking that it was a piece by Chabon that I hadn’t read before, and perhaps an extra story about Josef Kavalier, one of the protagonists of his novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Alas, no; not material I hadn’t read, but a stand-alone-ish chapter of the novel. Chapter 3 to be more specific.

It’s a good chapter, detailing young Josef Kavalier’s initial interest in escapology. He decides to plan a stunt to get the attention of the Hofzinser Club—Prague’s foremost magician’s club. The stunt is successful, but there are consequences.

Funny thing: In the novel, this chapter led Eric to become quite grumpy with the book due to a detail that wasn’t believable.  In the novel, the river that Josef jumps into (handcuffed, shackled, and tied into a sack) is 22C. That’s about 71F which isn’t really cold. In the short story, the temp of the water is 12C (53F) which is probably more like what the River Vltava in September would be. Or at least the kind of cold you’d want for a death defying stunt. From skimming both the novel chapter and the short story, the novel version seems a bit padded out. I like the version in The New Yorker better!

The Author
From Wikipedia (because I find this to be a good summary):

Chabon’s work is characterized by complex language, the frequent use of metaphor along with recurring themes, including nostalgia, divorce, abandonment, fatherhood, and most notably issues of Jewish identity. He often includes gay, bisexual, and Jewish characters in his work. Since the late 1990s, Chabon has written in an increasingly diverse series of styles for varied outlets; he is a notable defender of the merits of genre fiction and plot-driven fiction, and, along with novels, he has published screenplays, children’s books, comics, and newspaper serials.

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Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “Axis”

DealMeIn

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

“Axis” by Alice Munro

Card picked: 2♠ – WILD Card!
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I had originally picked a different story for this week’s Wild Card, but I decided to keep with the suit’s literary/classics theme instead. After a little thought, I decided to try an author that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow Deal Me In participants (and from Short Story Magic Tricks), but whom I’d never read before. I chose Alice Munro and her story “Axis.”

The story is about three characters—Grace, Avie, and Royce—and shifts between their POVs. Grace and Avie were friends, or at least classmates, in college. Both are farm girls, at the university on scholarship to study history. While they look down on the girls at the Secretarial School, who only seem to be at the university to wed boys at the Business School, they are looking to marry intellectuals themselves. Avie seems to be free spirit of the two. She has had sex with Hugo, her sort-of boyfriend. Hugo is more interested in Avie than she is in him. Avie is in fact more interested in Royce, Grace’s boyfriend. The pre-marital sex leads to several pregnancy scares which in turn leads to Avie having a dream about having two daughters, one of which cries all the time and is shut away in a basement. The dream upsets Grace more than Avie.

Over the summer, Royce visits Grace at her parent’s farm. On his way he sees Avie in a town he passes through. While he hasn’t given a thought to her before, he is taken by how happy she looks. He considers getting off the bus, but continues on. A WWII vet and a philosophy almost-graduate, he gets a taste of farm life at Grace’s. Royce doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s quit college and is working as a taxi driver. Philosophy isn’t working out for him. For a moment he thinks that farming might be nice, taking over Grace’s family farm after they’re married. Grace decides to give in to sex during his visit, but the two are interrupted during the act. Fed up, Royce leaves. While hitchhiking back, he sees the Niagara Escarpment which sparks a life-long interest in geology. He goes against what is expected of him and goes back to school.

Fifty years later, Royce sees Avie on a train. Avie married Hugo, had six daughters, and was contented. She’s now widowed and is again a bit at odds with life. Royce never married but had has a fulfilling career. Grace, like the daughter in the basement of Avie’s dream, has been more or less forgotten, lost track of once all three had quit school. For a moment, it seems that Avie and Royce might have a second chance at life together in their old age, but Avie brings up Grace and Royce clams up once again.

Two daughters in the dream; one difficult and forgotten, one pleasant and given a good life.  Two female characters: Grace who strings Royce along and Avie who pretty much goes with the flow. Definitely some parallels there. And then there’s Royce, who is maybe(?) the axis, affecting one of the women’s lives and being affected by the other. It’s a story that moves effortlessly.

The Author
Nobel winner, Man Booker winner. It’s amazing that I haven’t read any of Alice Munro’s stories until now. Okay, maybe not since I read a lot of genre fiction and a lot of pre-1920s short stories, but still! I’m sure that “The Axis” won’t be the last.

Deal Me In, Week 51 ~ “Afternoon in Linen”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“Afternoon in Linen” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 7
From: The Lottery, and other stories

The Story
I’m finishing up the year with a couple Shirley Jackson stories. This is the first of two remaining hearts in my Deal Me In deck.

(Psst — Signup for Deal Me In 2018 is open! All you need is a deck of cards and 52 short stories. This is a challenge so easy and wonderful that I’ve managed to complete it (knock on wood) four years in a row!)

This is another story, and Shirley Jackson does them so well, about the disconnect between adults and children. Mrs. Kator and her son Howard are visiting Mrs. Lennon and her granddaughter Harriet. The story begins with Howard playing piano, slowly and carefully. He’s a good student according to Mrs. Kator, though he doesn’t like to practice and she feels he isn’t getting much out of it. Mrs. Lennon counters that Harriet seems to be naturally inclined toward music and makes up her own tunes. Mrs. Lennon is eager to have Harriet play. Harriet, though, has decided she isn’t going to. Worse, the adults then request that she recite some of the poetry that she’s written, a concept that Howard seems to find funny. “He’ll tell all the kids on the block,” Harriet keeps thinking as she denies writing any poetry at all. And often, for a kid, getting in trouble with adults is better than being strange to your peers…

 

Review ~ Wuthering Heights

Cover via Goodreads

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Twenty years ago (yes, that much), I finished my college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Yet, I had never read Emily Brontë’s only novel. More shameful still (if you have a degree in English), I had attempted to read Wuthering Heights not once, but twice(!), before I decided to jump on board Roofbeam Reader’s Classic Book of the Month Club.

What Worked
I started the year with Moby Dick and I am near ending it with Wuthering Heights, two of the oddest novels I’ve encountered. In the case of the former, I’m rather glad that I never had to read it for a class. It’s too big and there’s too much. I think the only way to do it justice would be to have a semester long class. In the case of the latter, I wouldn’t mind a little guided context for Wuthering Heights because I feel like I’m missing something.

My initial read is that this is a novel about miserable people being miserable to each other.

…however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery.

In that way, and this might be considered sacrilege, but it reminded me of Gone Girl. Just full of terrible, horrible people. Even Mr. Lockwood, our entrance-level character, is snarky, peevish, and jealous. The only character worth her salt is Ellen Dean—nanny, housemaid, sane person.

I *suppose*, prompted by the summary above, I could buy that all this tragedy is set into motion by a woman doing what is expected of her instead of what her heart dictates, but the wheels of dreadful behavior are already set in motion by the time Cathy decides to marry proper Linton instead of mercurial Heathcliff.

What Didn’t Work
Is it just me or is the use of quotation marks a little eccentric? Honestly, this is one of the reasons I’ve had trouble with Wuthering Heights. I’d put it down for a day and lose track of who was doing the narration, even though it was usually Mrs. Dean.  Also, the names just kill me. This genealogy chart helped a lot (linked to avoid spoilers).

What also doesn’t help are relatively good movie versions (adaptation doesn’t seem to be the right word) that leave out all the domestic abuse in favor of telling a romantic tale. With the number of beatings that occur, I’m not sure why this is considered a romantic work. Maybe that’s where my disconnect lies. I expected a great, if tragic, romance. Instead, I got one of the great novels of revenge. As a revenge story, I’m not sure Quentin Tarantino has done better.

Overall
I can’t say I disliked it, but it’s one of those cases where I feel like I’ve read a totally different book than everyone else.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, AmazonClassics
Genre: classics, literary, gothic

The first time I encountered an allusion to Heathcliff:

Mini Reviews, Vol. 8

MiniReviews
Sometimes, I don’t have a lot to say other than, “Man, I liked this.” So, here are some things I’ve liked recently.

alt text The Janus Tree by Glen Hirshberg

Two stories from this anthology that are going to stick with me: “You Become the Neighborhood” and “Shomer.” “You Become the Neighborhood” has a rather ambiguous path and maybe a zigger ending, but, man, the ending is enough to make any arachnophobe uneasy. “Shomer” is a more direct tale and more indicative of Hirshberg’s ability evoke creepiness. In both cases, Hirshberg takes what is “normal,” points out the shadows and uncertainty, and then populates those places with… well…

Interestingly, this collection also includes “Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey,” which would seem to be the short story jumping off point for the novel Motherless Child. This is a great place the get a taste for that in-progress trilogy.

alt text “Kindred Spirits” by Rainbow Rowell

A charming tale about…waiting in line. Okay, waiting in line for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it’s also about expectations and assumptions. Elena loves Star Wars and expects to be part of a celebration of that love. Instead, she faces that embarrassment that sometimes occurs when you love something deeply and slightly irrationally—even when among other fans of that thing. The notion of the “true fan” is handled lightly along with how we casually judge others without knowing anything about them.

alt text “Mystery of Asgina Lake” by Caren Rich

It might be the end of the summer vacation for many, but it’s just the beginning for Ella and Lena. This is a solid monster tale from Caren Rich with a great action climax that left me wondering, “What was that ting?!” I also loved that Ella and Lena were just casually tomboyish geek girls. Ella is gung-ho for adventure and Lena goes along, but with a good stock of comic books to keep boredom at bay. Originally included on the Fantastic Creatures Fellowship of Fantasy anthology.

The Janus Tree is 5.5/10 Books of Summer!

Deal Me In, Week 26 ~ “Charles”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“Charles” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 6
From: The Lottery, and other stories

The Story
I don’t know whether I’ve read this story before or whether I’ve simply heard about this story before. “Charles” might be the most famous of Shirley Jackson’s domestic tales.

The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave goodbye to me.

Laurie returns from kindergarten with tales of Charles, a kid who enjoys one-upping himself in terms of misbehavior over the next three weeks. Laurie relates these tales with glee, and his parents are alternately appalled and amused by the shenanigans. “Being a Charles” even becomes part of the family’s lexicon. Indeed, Laurie has been influenced by this other boy, becoming a little more independent and insolent.

Laurie’s mother misses the first PTA meeting and it’s three weeks into the school year before she has the opportunity to potentially meet Charles’ mother. By the time that the meeting ends, no mother has stood up to apologize for her son’s behavior. Laurie’s mom approaches the teacher and chit-chats about Laurie and about Charles, who must be a handful. The teacher tells her that Laurie seems to have be having a hard time adjusting. And, by the way, there is no Charles in the class…

Jackson leaves us with this ambiguity: is Laurie doing all the things he reports, or are his stories fibs to make his new behaviors look tame? The teacher doesn’t come out and say “Your kid’s a nightmare.” And after Laurie’s mother has been somewhat judgmental about Charles’ absent mother, what might the other mother’s think about her, who missed the first PTA meeting?

Deal Me In, Week 22 ~ “Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

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

“Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 9
From: The Lottery and Other Stories

The Story
It’s fleet week in San Francisco and our narrator and her friend Dot have been warned about sailors.

My mother told us about the kinds of girls who followed sailors, and my grandmother told us about the kind of sailors who followed girls.

Even when nowhere near the Bay, the girls feel the heavy weight of the possible vague danger that the sailors represent. Despite that, Dot, the narrator, the narrator’s mother and grandmother, and the narrator’s Uncle Ollie (former sailor himself who served as a radio operator in ’17) have a day out to go coat shopping and attend the launching of the fleet, which includes a tour of a battleship.

During the tour, our narrator becomes lost and is helped by an officer that she assumes is a captain. But to the horror of her grandmother, she learns that he is a marine!!! To recover from the trauma of being politely helped by a sailor, the women stop for dinner and a movie. Alas, the movie theater is over booked and the girls take two seats separate from Mother and Grandmother. Eventually, the seats next to Dot open up, but before the elders can take them, two sailors sit down!!! And, you know, proceed to watch the movie. Dot, especially, freaks out and the girls and their guardians cut the evening short.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a male friend about the amount of vigilance that being female sometimes entails. He was very dismayed that women go around being scared in many situations that are (sometimes literally) a walk in the park for him. But sometimes, I do think that women let fear get the better of them. It’s a fine line between being safe and making every molehill into a mountain.