I’ve gotten terribly behind on my stories for the Deal Me In challenge over the past few weeks. I’ve actually read my stories in time each week, but I haven’t manged to get a write-up posted for them. So I’m going to play catch-up!
Week 15, 16 and 17 dealt me the 5 of Spades, the Ace of Hearts and the Jack of Clubs, respectively. This provided me with the stories “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel, “Harvey’s Dream” by Stephen King and “The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde.
Story #15: “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel was a little confusing to me, I will admit. It’s beautifully-written, but its particular flavor of non-linear narrative tripped me up a bit. It wasn’t until I’d finished reading (and did a bit of research on the story) that I fully realized what the story was about. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel like I should re-read it with my new understanding in mind, but I don’t have the emotional fortitude to do so right now.
The story is very conversational in tone, set up in snatches of dialogue and brief windows of action, through a sort of hodge-podge, vaguely dreamlike collection of vignettes. The short synopsis is that this is a semi-autobiographical story about the author’s experience and emotions while a close friend was going through her battle with cancer. Hempel wrote a short bit for The Fictionaut Blog in which she explains in a bit more detail.
I appreciated the craft of this story, and I understand why it is often taught and dissected, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed it. But then again, I don’t know that “enjoyment” was actually the author’s intention for her readers when she wrote this, so this is perfectly fair.
Story #16: “Harvey’s Dream” by Stephen King is another hard-hit to the emotional gut, but it’s less oblique in its approach. This is a fine example of why I believe that despite his popular fiction and especially the lower quality of his early shock-schlock works, King is actually an excellent and subtle writer. This story pairs nicely with The Green Mile or Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption as examples of King’s more literary, less fantasy/horror-focused work. (I think of King much like I think of literary authors who also write children’s books. I have no desire or need to read children’s picture books any more, as my son is grown, but I won’t dismiss these authors out-of-hand as writers who have no works that can have any appeal for me. I think King gets a bad rep in certain circles because those readers haven’t tried any of his less-speculative, deeply character-focused works. But I digress.)
There is a bit of a fantastical tinge to this story, as there is a dream involved, but the main focus is on the changing relationship between a middle-aged couple, their now-empty nest, and the things left unsaid in a long-time partnership. This a a wonderful bit of character portraiture…and it’s also a tense bit of what-iffery, as the titular dream becomes more central to the narrative. I really enjoyed this story and would recommend it not only to King fans who may not have read his non-monstrous works, as well as to readers who have avoided the author out of a pre-conceived notion of his writing as always lurid, gory populist fluff.
Story #17: “The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde – Florid and lovely and horrible all at once, this bittersweet, old-fashioned meets new-fangled story reads like a fable, with talking birds, plants and butterflies. It’s both terribly beautiful and terrifically sad, and although I’m not usually overly fond of such fairy-tale stories, the underlying darkness and metaphor of this one kept it interesting. I ended up a bit misty at one point, to be honest, which made me annoyed…and then laughed bitterly at the end, which made me feel like a jerk for how cynical and unromantic I often am.
I can’t fully decide if I think Wilde was himself a romantic or poking fun at such sentiments…surely a bit of both. By the end, his cynical, curmudgeonly roots were showing a bit garishly, but then isn’t that part of the fun of reading Wilde? He was such a fascinating bundle of seeming contradictions.
My main take-away is that the Professor’s daughter is a first-class bitch. This read rather like a more tragic turn on “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, but with vaudeville characters playing the various parts. Good stuff!