Saturday, September 13, 2008

Short Story September #2 and 3: Ellison and Cheever

Since I can't participate in this fall's read-a-thon (insert infinite sadness face here), I'm having my own personal read-a-thon today (hop over to Dewey's site to read the details she recently announced). I was thinking that we would get thrashed by Ike today, but it looks like he's gone to the east of us and all we've gotten is drizzle. Of course it started AS SOON AS I opened my front door to go running this morning. Poo!! So, like Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West), I've been hiding indoors as if the water would melt me. I finished Snow Country and will have my review up later, but I also finished a couple of (or coupla) short stories.


"A COUPLA INDIANS" by RALPH WALDO ELLISON
from Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories (13 pgs)

Two boys have just finished several boy scout tests in order to earn a few badges are are making their way home. Along the way they encounter a carnival and after that pass by Aunt Mackie's house--a woman who causes infinite fear within the boys: "I was afraid. For though I had seen the old woman about town all my life, she remained to me like the moon, mysterious in her own familiarity; and in the sound of her name there was terror."

The first part of the story is mostly banter between the nameless narrator and his friend Buster, who appears to be much tougher than the narrator. Buster speaks about how in addition to being a boy scout he also wants to be an Indian scout, which is apparently much more fearsome and exciting to Buster than being a boy scout. The two boys discuss the band instruments as they pass the carnival and their dialogue contains a lot of sexual innuendos despite the fact that they are only eleven.

The meat of the story, however, comes when the boys are passing Aunt Mackie's house and the narrator sees a beautiful naked young woman in the window. He is entranced by her and can't take his eyes off of her body and the way that she is dancing alone. The first section was difficult for me to get into, but once the boy sees the woman, the tone changes and while I don't really want to give any quotes from the section (I know I don't have young readers--but still), the way that the boy becomes mesmerized by the female body changes the focus of the story from the fun and play of young boys to the desires of a boy on the brink of manhood. On another note--I highly recommend The Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison (his only novel, but sections of it frequent short story anthologies--especially Battle Royale).



"THE DEATH OF JUSTINA" by JOHN CHEEVER
from The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (12 pgs)

I told Nymeth after reading her post about Cheever's stories that I would pick something up by him--that was kind of a while ago. Out of the two I read today, I think I liked this one better. I really like irony, dark humor, and social commentary and this contained all of that and more. While I don't think it is my favorite story ever, I did get a few little chuckles out of it.

The narrator (Moses) of "The Death of Justina" is your basic suburban Joe Schmo. He's said he's going to give up drinking and smoking, but when no one cares that he did he begins to steal away cigarettes and drinks martinis in the closet. When his boss asks him to write a TV advertisement of a youth elixir, he gives him a rambling garbled mess of blah. And to top it all off, when his wife's cousin, Justina, passes away on their living room couch, he finds out that because of some weird zoning rule she can't legally die or be buried where they live. Oh wait--to TOP it all off, there's really nothing he can do about the ordinance because all of the town council members are out of town.

While there was a little bit of rambliness to the story that I didn't love, it has definitely given me a taste for his work and I'll be looking for more of it. I recently got The Wapshot Scandal at a booksale, so maybe I'll start there instead of going for more short stories (since I do better with actually reading novels rather than short stories). Has anyone read it? Thoughts?

Thanks again to CB for hosting the September Short Story Challenge!

What are YOU reading this weekend? Are you staying indoors like me with a book or are you out eating up the last bits of summer?

14 comments:

Bookfool said...

I haven't read a thing yet, today. We went to a swim meet, where the wind from Ike was a little wild and wooly (it kept turning one of the shade umbrellas inside-out) but it only rained briefly. We came home and I took a nap with the cat then we went back out, again, because there were 15 teams and it was verrrrrry slow. But, fun. I love swim meets.

I should probably stop reading blogs and crack open a book, but I feel like I've fallen behind on my blog-hopping! Are you still hiding from the rain? I didn't melt. Just to let you know. :)

Dar said...

I have been meaning to read all day but I too have been blog hopping. I made some chili and brownies-naughty me! Now I'm going to settle in and read Half of a Yellow Sun. I don't think I'll be done by Monday. Have you finished it already Trish?

Trish said...

*Bookfool - I'm glad you are staying relatively dry and haven't blown away. I'm starving and hubby isn't here to cook for, so I'll have to brave the wilds in a little bit to pick up some grub. I hate the rain. :)

*Dar - Mmmm...Brownies sound so good right now!! Not sure what I'm going to eat for dinner, but I'll probably go for some comfort food! I am about 100 pages into the book and won't finish by Monday (I picked up another book instead this weekend...oops!!). I'm having a tough time getting into it, but I hope to read more of it tonight. Hubby's out of town, so it's been nice and quiet around here.

Dar said...

I'm on pg 117 and I really like the story so far although I think I was expecting something different. I have another book in the wings that I'm itching to pick up but I've been slapping my hands instead. lol.

Laura said...

I wasn't able to go running either :( It was already drizzling when I got up this morning. (secretly, I was a little relieved, considering the amount I was "supposed" to run today. Now I have to run tomorrow).

Your last reviews have made me really want to read some short stories. Do you generally find that you want more after the stories are over, or are you satisfied with the length of the stories as they are?

cj said...

I envy y'all for reading! I am so stuck without a book to read! Nothing, absolutely nothing is grabbing my attention. I hate it.

cjh

C. B. James said...

I've not read "Death of Justina" but I do love John Cheever. (I've never tried his novel.) I'm not sure about the titles anymore but my two favorites were "The 5:15" which is about a secretary who gets revenge on the boss who fired her after he ended their affair, and "The Swimming Pool....something" about a man who exercises by running through his neighbors' yards and swiming through all of their pools every evening.

He certainly understood the suburbanites he wrote about.

Trish said...

*Dar - I just finished book one and I'm getting much more into it. I was out this morning, but now that I'm back home I hope to get more read!

*Laura - Ya, instead of braving the rain and going to the gym I just worked out in the comfort of my home. Oh well! And to answer your question--it really depends on the story. I think the most common reaction I have when I finish a story is "huh???" That's why I like reading them with a group--too many "pig dream" types of symbolism that blow right past me. :)

*CJ - You should grab some of your old favorites! I'm sorry you're in a slump and hope things get better soon!!

*CB - Could it possibly be "The Five-Forty-Eight"? I have that one in another anthology and might have to take a look at it later. The Swimming Pool one sounds really interesting!

Nymeth said...

Yup, CB meant The Five-Forty Eight, and the other one is The Swimmer. I enjoyed both a lot. The Death of Justina wasn't one of my favourites, but it does give you a taste for his work. Irony, dark humor, and social commentary are definitely also to be found in his other stories. I'm happy to hear you plan on reading more of his stories.

I will definitely check out The Invisible Man. I've been curious about that one for some time.

I hope Ike stops tormenting you soon!

Trish said...

*Nymeth - Ike passed us by without much of a fight. I just hope that our southern neighbors in South Texas are alright--they definitely got the brunt of it.

I'll definitely have to check out Five-Forty-Eight on yours and C.B.'s suggestion! Reading the short stories this weekend was a nice break from everything else.

Debi said...

I'm really loving your short story posts, Trish! (And I swear I commented on your last one, too...but I obviously screwed up and didn't notice. I loved that review and am definitely going to try to get my hands on some of Fitzgerald's short stories.) Anyway, I absolutely love short stories, but so seldom seem to read them.

Trish said...

*Debi - Ha ha! No worries. :) I've been posting a lot lately, which is pretty uncharacteristic of me. I really enjoy Fitzgerald's work--whether short or long. I don't read short stories very often either, but I've been trying to make an effort to read more of them lately (particularly for CB's September challenge). Do you have any favorites?

C. B. James said...

The 5:48, yes. I was just about a half hour early. The Swimmer is the other one.

Those two have stuck with me over the years. Well, their plots have if not their titles.

Trish said...

*C.B. - Well, at least you can remember the plots! I can remember titles and authors well enough but I can't tell you the main characters in the books I read last month (OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but not much!). I have a horrible memory--part of the reason why I keep the blog in the first place.