Day 31 of BookDayMay

Guess the implausible ending of these short stories:

Pumpkin (1986) by Bill Pronzini. Harley has a pumpkin patch – a big one. Manuel works for Harley, picking pumpkins. Except for one – he won’t touch it. It’s evil. Amanda, Harley’s wife, agrees. They can feel the depravity radiating from its orange rind. Harley cannot. He’s too practical for such nonsense. But they talk Harley into covering the wicked thing with a tarp, and leaving it the patch to rot. Come Halloween night, Harley is miffed because he didn’t win the “Biggest Pumpkin” award at the Pumpkin Festival. So he goes back to his patch and drinks. Now it’s getting late. Amanda wonders where Harley is. It’s almost midnight. Then Harley bursts through the back door and:

  1. He’s gorged himself on the evil pumpkin. And he has some wicked orange flesh for her as well, whether she’s hungry or not. The bad seeds are now planted.
  2. He’s carved the evil pumpkin into an evil jack-o-lantern, complete with a lit demonic candle. Amanda screams, Harvey drops the wicked thing, and the farmhouse burns down. Manuel watches from a distance, grinning.
  3. Right behind him is Manuel, carrying the evil pumpkin. Manuel says he was just kidding about it being evil, and they all have a good laugh. But then the pumpkin explodes and demons fly out of the flesh.
  4. Amanda chastises him for scaring her. But it’s not Harley – it’s Manuel wearing Harley’s face as a mask. Now he just needs Amanda’s face for the pumpkin, and they can live happily ever after as husband and pumpkin.

The correct answer is one. Harley will sweep the awards at next year’s festival.

* * * * *

Lover in the Wildwood (1986) by Frank Belknap Long. Katherine is age-worn, frail, and faded. She’s also an emotional, needy thing. She rants and raves until Helen, her nurse, relents and pushes Katherine’s wheelchair into the woods so she and her imaginary lover can do the wild thing on Halloween night. She claims he comes for her at the same time and place every Halloween. In the forest clearing, in a blaze of glory, Katherine’s ghostly beau actually shows up. Helen spies on them from the edge of the clearing. He lifts her from her wheelchair, they embrace, and Katherine becomes youthful, strong, and vibrant again. But only for a minute. In another blaze of glory, he flames out, and Katherine is her old self again, collapsed in the wheelchair. And now she’s dead. The next Halloween, Helen:

  1. Wheels another old biddy out to the forest clearing for some supernatural mojo. She likes watching, it’s a fetish.
  2. Disguises herself as Katherine and wheels herself out to the forest clearing. She has a death wish.
  3. Sets up a dummy in a wheelchair in the forest clearing. Then she hides behind a tree with a video camera.
  4. Waits for the ghostly lover in the forest clearing. With Katherine out of the way, he’s sure to give her some of that spooky hanky panky.

The correct answer is four. She’s got a thing for the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

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Day 29 of BookDayMay

Guess the implausible endings of these short stories:

Miss Mack (1986) by Michael McDowell. Mr. Hill, the town’s elementary school principal, wants to ask the petite Miss Faulk, a 3rd grade teacher, to marry him.  But Miss Faulk is more interested in the huge Miss Mack, another 3rd grade teacher. Miss Faulk and Miss Mack are best buddies, and spend every weekend together in Miss Mack’s cabin in the forest by the lake. They play rummy, go fishing, and talk into the night. Mr. Hill is jealous of the odd couple. So on Halloween weekend, he orders Miss Faulk to host the school Halloween party. Miss Mack must drive to her cabin alone for the last warm weekend of the season. But that’s OK, Miss Faulk will join her at the cabin the next day. But Mr. Hill has other plans. That evening he drives to the forest road leading to the cabin and casts some magic spells. Miss Mack goes to bed in her cabin, and after a night’s sleep, wakes up. But something is definitely amiss in the forest, and amiss in Miss Mack. Turns out the spells Mr. Hill cast were:

  1. An “anti-girl-girl” spell and a “pro-girl-boy” spell.
  2. A “Mack truck” spell and a “buried in a hill” spell.
  3. An “isolation” spell and a “stop time” spell.
  4. A “disappearing fish” spell and an “appearing bears” spell.

The correct answer is three. Miss Mack will be forever alone in the forest on Halloween night. At least she can play Solitaire with the cards, once her eyes get accustomed to the perpetual darkness.

* * * * *

Hollow Eyes (1986) by Guy N. Smith. Julie loves her slovenly, lazy, free-loading boyfriend Hutch. He’s nothing like her proper, hard-working, responsible father Lester. And Lester hates the lecherous Jabba the Hut who screws Julie every chance he gets. His hate is a raging bonfire. When Lester catches Hutch screwing Julie in her bed on Halloween evening, he snaps, and Hutch and Julie run out of the house. Now Lester must find and kill Hutch. He doesn’t want any Hutchite grandheathens. So Lester pockets his gun and ventures into town, through the Halloween throng of costumed partiers. That’s odd – a jack-o-lantern suspended from a tree. Only it’s not a jack-o-lantern. It’s Julie’s severed head. His hate stocked to inferno-level, he makes his way toward the towering Halloween bonfire. He sees a bloated body at the top of the tower. It’s Hutch, his fat melting and dripping and sizzling in the flames. Hutch rolls down to the base of the bonfire and says:

  1.  “The spell is complete. I win and you lose. Now Julie and I will be together forever, Mr. Miles!”
  2. “I didn’t kill her, Mr. Miles. God’s truth, I didn’t. It was them! They’ll kill you just as they killed me.”
  3.  “Now nobody else can ever screw your daughter, Mr. Miles. You can thank me in Hell!
  4. “What can I say, Mr. Miles? Your daughter likes it rough. She’s a wild one!”

The correct answer is two. Maybe the troll wasn’t so bad after all.

* * * * *

The Halloween House (1986) by Alan Ryan. On Halloween, Dale has a schoolboy crush on Colleen, and Colleen has a schoolgirl crush on Dale. To mark the occasion, they decide to visit an abandoned, supposedly haunted house in the neighborhood. The door to the creepy house is unlocked, and they venture inside. It’s damp and musty, and too dark already to see much of anything, so they leave. That night, at the town bonfire party, they pick up a couple of friends and decide to go back to the haunted house – a double date. The boys set up a giant candle ahead of time to light the interior of the house. The four explorers gather inside and look around. But this time, it’s different. Moister. Smellier. And by the light of the giant candle, they see:

  1. The rotting bodies of the state’s missing children of the last year.
  2. A huge human-mushroom hybrid farm in the kitchen, spilling into the dining room.
  3. They have wandered into the cellar, and are face-to-face with “Pumpkinhead,” the town’s Halloween legend.
  4. They are trapped in a huge jack-o-lantern.

The correct answer is four. Sounds kinda nice, actually.

* * * * *

The Three Faces of the Night (1986) by Craig Shaw Gardner. Colin hates his so-called friends. They’re always trying to get him into trouble. And on Halloween night, they plan to snare Colin in a game of trouble and blame. But Creep Crawford, the neighborhood’s grumpy geezer, has taken a liking to Colin. Crawford gives Colin an apple and puts his hand on his shoulder. A chill runs through him. Later that night, Colin goes trick-or-treating as a vampire. Passing Creep Crawford’s house, a hand emerges from the hedge and pulls him through to the other side. It’s one of his faux friends. Then a scream from the house – a trickster accidentally stabbed himself trying to trick Crawford. Colin hears Crawford call his name. So he enters the house and finds Crawford naked in a tub of blood and water. He emerges from the tub and offers his slit, bleeding wrists to Colin. Many Halloweens later, Colin has a new love interest – Priestess Lenore. She seduces him, and he becomes her:

  1. King of the Wood. Colin commands the trees to do his bidding.
  2. Creep Crawford replacement. Lenore has a thing for grumpy geezers.
  3. Blood-letting slave. Priestesses get thirsty too.
  4. House caretaker and hedge-trimmer at Creep Crawford’s old place. And the lineage continues.

The correct answer is one. At least he has better friends now.

Day 26 of BookDayMay

Choose the implausible endings of these short stories:

He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door (1986) by Robert R. McCammon. The cash-poor Burgess family moves to Essex, whereupon their luck changes for the better. On their first Halloween night in Essex, Mr. Burgess is called to a town meeting in the man cave of the town’s real estate agent, Mr. Hathaway. All the menfolk are there, and Hathaway is reading from a list of “objects.” Turns out the list of “objects” is what the Devil wants from the menfolk in exchange for all the good luck they’ve been having. Objects like a kitten, a doll, and the first knuckle of the little finger of Burgess’ kid. Left hand. Burgess freaks out and high-tails it outta there. He tries to pack up the wife and kid and skip town, but his truck won’t start. So they hole up in the house until midnight. Meantime, the Devil swoops up on their house and tries all kinds of rackety devilish ways to get in. After midnight, the racket stops, and Hathaway and company have a good laugh on the front porch. Burgess flings open the door. Turns out Hathaway and company are the Devil. The Burgess clan jumps into the truck, which starts this time, and:

  1. Escape, only to discover the kid’s knuckle is missing when they get to the next town.
  2. Are immediately incinerated in a Hellish fireball.
  3. Escape, running the Devil over, and leaving skid marks on his rented Devil costume.
  4. The truck turns into a monster and eats them.

_____

The correct answer is four. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “monster truck.”

* * * * *

Eyes (1986) by Charles L. Grant. Ron takes Paulie, his cognitively-challenged kid, out on Halloween night for trick-or-treating. A bunch of teen punks make fun of Paulie, and Ron beats on one of them. Paulie admonishes his dad. The next Halloween, Ron carves a jack-o-lantern for Paulie. But Paulie wants to carve too, so he grabs the knife and stabs away at the jack-o-lantern. In the melee, the jack-o-lantern falls and smashes on the floor. Paulie grabs the carved-out eyes, holds them over his own eyes, and starts marching through the house. In an effort to stop his son, Ron accidentally pushes him, and Paulie trips and impales his eye on a table corner. He’s dead. In the subsequent Halloweens the ghost of Paulie haunts Ron by admonishing – and convincing – him to:

  1. Beat up on the neighborhood punks.
  2. Carve jack-o-lanterns, then stab them to pieces like Paulie would.
  3. Make himself trip and slam his eye into the table corner.
  4. Participate in a “punkin’ chunkin’ ” contest.

_____

The correct answer is three. Sharing is caring, and what a special father-son memory to share, eh?

* * * * *

The Nixon Mask (1986) by Whitley Strieber. President Nixon and the First Lady, Pat, host Halloween trick-or-treating for the White House staff kids. Nixon fumbles his sentences and obsesses about the treats – unwrapped Baby Ruths. Pat tries to hold the photo op-in-the-making together by barking orders. She opens the door to reveal the masked kids, who one-by-one recite their lines. Nixon obsesses over the first mask – a Nixon mask. He flubs his lines and asks for the mask. Pat tries to hold the op together by digging her nails into his shoulder. The kid gives him the mask anyway. Nixon continues to flub his lines. One of the kids tells him to put on the mask, and during the course of the night, he does. He becomes his alter ego, and no longer fumbles and flubs. Pat freaks out and:

  1. Rips off her own mask, leaving her face stripped of skin.
  2. The mask painfully fuses to Nixon’s face.
  3. Stabs the mask-giving kid in the face with her nails.
  4. Forces Nixon to “ride her bare-back” on the Presidential bed.

_____

The correct answer is two. So I guess a real mask is better than a fake mask. Or is that vice-versa?

* * * * *

The Samhain Feis (1986) by Peter Tremayne. Katy decides to leave Mario, her philandering husband, and leaves the USA with their kid, Mike. They stay at a remote cottage in Ireland over the Samhain Feis / Halloween holiday. Mike makes an “imaginary friend” named Seán Rua. On Halloween day, Kathy catches a glimpse of this playmate with Mike, and Mike asks if he can play outside with Rua that night. Katy says no. That night, she falls asleep and “dreams” Rua comes to collect Mike while she is paralyzed. The next morning, Mike is found safe in his bed, and they return to the USA. Mario shows up, and:

  1. Mike transforms into Rua, and rips out Mario’s throat with his sharp, pointy teeth.
  2. He confesses he has a son named Seán Rua, and it turns out to be Mike’s “imaginary friend.”
  3. Confesses to following them to Ireland, and staging the imaginary friend out of spite.
  4. Transforms into Rua and shreds Katy and Mike, cartoon Tasmanian Devil-style.

_____

The correct answer is one. At least the kid didn’t turn out like his father.

* * * * *

Trickster (1986) by Steve Rasnic Tem. Alex’s brother Greg is a practical joker. Ever since childhood, his jokes have been getting more gruesome and more violent. Finally, Greg pranks the wrong people, and is beaten to death. Or maybe this is just another one of Greg’s psychopathic pranks. Years after the alleged death, Alex sees Greg at the city’s outdoor Halloween costume party. Or does he? The chase begins. Alex pursues Greg, then Greg pursues Alex, back and forth until they meet in an abandoned room off a dark alley. Greg sits on the bed, and:

  1. Suddenly Alex finds himself on the bed, having traded bodies with Greg.
  2. Apologizes to Alex before committing suicide.
  3. Turns into a snake and slithers away.
  4. Alex attacks and kills him in a fit of rage.

_____

The correct answer is one. Don’t ever underestimate a psychopath.

Day 22 of BookDayMay

Medusa’s Ankles (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A salon patron has a violent breakdown at a salon. Susannah is unable to cope with the combination of her mature appearance and a salon’s youth-oriented décor. The reaction to her tantrum at the salon is unexpected. (But now that I’ve told you that, you might just as well expect it.) Susannah’s tantrum seems overdone, but it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless. The conclusion was particularly good.

___

Excerpt:

He worked above her head. He lifted her wet hair with his fingers and let the air run through it, as though there was twice as much as there was. He pulled a twist this way, and put his head on one side and another, contemplating her uninspiring bust. When her head involuntarily followed his he said quite nastily, ‘Keep still, can you, I can’t work if you keep bending from side to side like a swan.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘No harm done, just keep still.’

She kept still as a mouse, her head bowed under his repressing palm. She turned up her eyes and saw him look at his watch, then, with a kind of balletic movement of wrists, scissors and finger-points above her brow, drive the sharp steel into the ball of his thumb, so that blood spurted, so that some of the blood even fell on to her scalp.

‘Oh dear. Will you excuse me? I’ve cut myself. Look.’

He waved the bloody member before her nose.

‘I saw.’ She said. ‘I saw you cut yourself.’

He smiled at her in the mirror, a glittery smile, not meeting her eyes.

‘It’s a little trick we hairdressers have. When we’ve been driving ourselves and haven’t had time for a bite or a breather, we get cut, and off we go, to the toilet, to take a bite of Mars Bar or a cheese roll if the receptionist’s been considerate. Will you excuse me? I am faint for lack of food.’

___

Byatt quote: “People who write books are destroyers.”

MA is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

. . . . .

Art Work (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A married couple, obsessed with colors, clash over their domestic servant, who is also obsessed with colors. Debbie, an art magazine mamager, and Robin, a painter, employ Ms. Brown as a housekeeper. Debbie relies heavily on Brown, while Robin is enraged by her presence. *SPOILER* Brown learns – or steals – enough art notions to become a greater success than both Debbie and Robin. *END SPOILER* I did not enjoy this color-soaked story. I found it pretentious and exhaustive with color descriptions. Byatt tried too hard to write a color theme, in my opinion.

___

Excerpt:

In the front room, chanting to itself, for no one is watching it, the television is full on in mid-morning. Not loudly, there are rules about noise. The noise it is making is the willfully upbeat cheery squitter of female presenters of children’s TV, accented with regular, repetitive amazement, mixed in with the grunts and cackles and high-pitched squeaks of a flock of furry puppets, a cross-eyed magenta haystack with a snout, a kingfisher blue gerbil with a whirling tail, a torpid emerald green coiled serpent, with a pillar-box red dangling tongue and movable fringed eyelids. At regular intervals, between the bouts of presenter-squitter and puppet snorts and squawks, comes, analogous to the spin-cycle, the musical outbursts, a drumroll, a squeal on a woodwind, a percussion battery, a ta-ta ta TA, for punctuation, for a roseate full-frame with a line-coloured logo T-NE-TV.

___

Byatt quote: “I don’t believe that human beings are basically good, so I think all utopian movements are doomed to fail, but I am interested in them.”

AW is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

 . . . . .

The Chinese Lobster (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A student accuses a professor of sexual assault. Peggi Nollett, a student painter, accuses Perry Diss, an art professor, of sexually assaulting her in a formal complaint to Dr, Himmelbleau, the Dean of Women Students. Diss and Himmelbleau meet for lunch and discuss the charge. The story is framed with descriptions of captive, dying crustaceans. The symbolism escaped me; otherwise, an amusing read.

___

Excerpt:

‘I am very anxious to know what you have to say in answer to her specific charge. And yes, I have seen Peggi Nollett. Frequently. And her work, on one occasion.’

‘Well then. If you have seen her you will know that I can have made no such – no such advances as she describes. Her skin is like a potato and her body is like a decaying potato, in all that great bundle of smocks and vests and knitwear and penitential hangings. Have you seen her legs and arms, Dr Himmelblau? They are bandages like mummies, they are all swollen with strappings and strings and then they are contained in nasty black greaves and gauntlets of plastic with buckles. You expect some awful yellow ooze to seep out between the layers, ready to be smeared on La Joie de vivre. And her hair, I do not think her hair can have been washed for some years. It is like a carefully preserved old frying pan, grease undisturbed by water. You cannot believe I could have brought myself to touch her, Dr Himmelblau?’

‘It is difficult, certainly.’

___

Byatt quote: “I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. Well, that’s putting it pompously – but constructing. I do see it in sort of three-dimensional structures. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people.”

CL is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”

Day 19 of BookDayMay

The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald. A soft-spoken entrepreneur opens a bookshop in a small, busy-body town. Florence decides to open a bookshop to enrich her hometown and her own life. At first a success, Florence eventually draws the wrath of the townsfolk, including the influential and well-connected Mrs. Gamart. Green asserts herself and her business, and petty but profound vindictiveness follows. I was a bit puzzled by the wrath of the townsfolk, but I did find this book to be enjoyable.

___

Excerpt:

The desire to exhibit somewhere more ambitious than the parish hall accompanied this crisis, and Florence related it to the letters which she also received from ‘local authors.’ The paintings were called ‘Sunset Across the Laze,’ the books were called ‘On Foot Across the Marches’ or ‘Awheel Across East Anglia,’ for what else can be done with flatlands than to cross them? She had no idea, none at all, where she would put the local authors if they came, as they suggested, to sign copies of their books for eager purchasers. Perhaps a table underneath the staircase, if some of the stock could be moved. She vividly imagined their disillusionment, wedged behind the table with books and a pen in front of them, while the hours emptied away and no one came.

___

Vulgar language. Fitzgerald started her literary career at age fifty-eight. She has experience working in a bookshop.

. . . . .

Blockade Billy (2010) by Stephen King. An “out-of-nowhere” baseball player displays phenomenal skill and luck. “Blockade Billy,” an emergency last-minute baseball player substitution plucked from Americana, briefly plays with the New Jersey Titans. But “Blockade Billy” isn’t what he seems… The story is framed as the recollections of a retired NJT player as told to King. The story reads very much like a baseball game announcer transcript.

___

Excerpt:

But when he looked at me, there was no panic in his eyes. No Fear. Not even nervousness, which I would have said every player feels on Opening Day. No, he looked perfectly cool standing there behind the plate in his Levi’s and light poplin jacket.

“Yuh,” he says, like a man confirming something he was pretty sure of in the first place. “Billy can hit here.’

“Good for him,” I tells him. It’s all I can think of to say.

“Good,” he says back. Then—I swear—he says, “Do you think those guys need help with them hoses?”

___

Vulgar language. King wrote of BB: “I love old-school baseball, and I also love the way people who’ve spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense. People have asked me for years when I was going to write a baseball story. Ask no more; this is it.”

. . . . .

Morality (2009) magazine, and (2010) book by Stephen King. A poor, married couple commit a heinous – yet seemingly surmountable – crime for money. Chad, a struggling writer, and Nora, a frustrated nurse, agree to Rev. George Winston’s offer to commit and videotape a sin in a park for $200,000. The consequences of sin follow. This story was riveting. What on Earth was the $200,000 sin? Read to find out!

___

Excerpt:

Nora was sitting on a park bench. When she saw him, she brushed her hair back from the left side of her face. That was the signal: It was on.

Behind her was a playground—swings, a push merry-go-round, teeter-totters, bouncy horses on springs, that sort of thing. At this hour, there were only a few kids playing. The moms were in a group on the far side, talking and laughing, not really paying much attention to the kids.

Nora got up from the bench.

Two hundred thousand dollars, he thought, and raised the camera to his eye.

___

Vulgar language. King is a democratic political activist.

. . . . .

Glaciers (2012) by Alexis M. Smith. An unobtrusive library employee recollects her childhood highlights and relates it to her present day-to-day life. Isabel, a book restorer, reminisces about the trials of her childhood. Through tangible symbols rescued from the past, she constructs a sense of meaning in her disjointed adult life. Glaciers is a symbolic story with a dream-like quality. I usually don’t care for those types of books, but this one drew me in. I felt like I knew Isabel, and recognized some of her own life experiences as my own. I read this book during two of the most emotionally wrenching days of my life, and was still transfixed by the story. I attribute this to the skill of the author. Highly recommended!

___

Excerpt:

Michael appears. He holds out his hand.

Oh no, she says. My feet are a little sore. Actually, they’re wreaked. I’ve walked the city and back today.

Isabel, it would be a disgrace to that dress, he says, grabbing her hand.

The music is loud and percussion-heavy. She cannot demur. She lets tall Michael lead her around the room, practically carrying her, lifting her off her feet in an improvised waltz. She loses a shoe. Faces turn toward them as Michael ferries her through conversations, interrupts drunken courting. They are sanguine, dreamy, cocktail-soaked faces. More dancers join, anachronistic dance moves erupt. She loses her other shoe. She laughs until her eyes are wet and Michael releases her to the wood planks, barefoot, telling her to watch for splinters, and then turns to a startled young man in a baby blue button-down shirt and sweeps him off his feet. He has dropped Isabel at the green velvet sofa where Leo has settled with a red-headed young man. His red-headed young man, she thinks. She runs her hands along her dress and falls next to Leo with a poof of her skirt.

Catch your breath, he says.

___

Vulgar language.

Day 15 of BookDayMay

This post contains blasphemy and vulgar language.

. . . . .

The Actual (1997) by Saul Bellow. Interconnected Chicagoans interconnect. Harry, an emotionally challenged would-be lover of long-time friend Amy, has a meeting with billionaire Sigmund. Long, drawn-out rendezvouses, recollections and ruminations precede and follow. Like a Woody Allen movie, except in Chicago, and minus (most of) the fun and action.

___

Excerpt:

Beside the bath was a toilet with a cushioned cover on the lid, and Amy pulled down her underclothes and had seated herself, when Madge came in. She entered from the master bedroom. The toilet was in a recess between the whirlpool bath and a shower stall. Amy had failed to notice how long the tiled room actually was. Beyond, there were washbasins and mirror walls, and there was a dressing room as well.

“I don’t think I was especially well brought up,” said Amy, “but I was taught that this is one place where privacy is respected.”

“Well, I gave you time enough to examine the burned spot. The tea was lukewarm, not boiling. The Mexicans do good coffee, but they don’t understand how to brew tea. I realized when I poured the old lady her cup that it was tepid. I wanted a private talk, to have you to myself for awhile. That was the whole idea. Wasn’t it sweet of Bodo to bring the aloe vera? It’s one of his special remedies. But I can see for myself that the red scald isn’t too bad. You got wet, I’m sorry to say, and I’ll pay the cleaner’s bill too, but tea won’t stain—we used to rub spots out with tea when I was young.”

“Well, let me pull my clothes into place.”

“Yes, adjust a little, honey, and don’t mind me.”

“You did behave like a wild bitch,” said Amy. “Do you always do every goddamn thing that rushes into your head?”

“Well, at least I didn’t set you up for a hit.”

___

Vulgar language.

. . . . .

Dangling Man (1944) by Saul Bellow. The diary of Joseph, an unemployed Chicagoan with violent tendencies waiting for his draft papers to be authorized. His aimlessness and dissatisfaction in life is caused by the red-tape delay of his absorption into the army. Pro-military.

___

Excerpt:

“You’re crazy, Uncle,” she said.

“All right, that’s said and over, there won’t be any more of it,” I said, and I believed that I was succeeding in checking myself. “You can listen to the conga, or whatever it is, when I leave. Now, will you go or sit down and let me play this to the end?”

“Why should I? You can listen to this. Beggars can’t be choosers!” She uttered this with such triumph that I could see she had prepared it long in advance.

“You’re a little animal,” I said. “As rotten and spoiled as they come. What you need is a whipping.”

“Oh!” she gasped. “You dirty . . . dirty no-account. You crook!” I caught her wrist and wrenched her toward me.

“Damn you, Joseph, let go! Let me go!” The album went crashing. With the fingers of her free hand she tried to reach my face. Seizing her by the hair fiercely, I snapped her head back; her outcry never left her throat; her nails missed me narrowly. Her eyes shut tightly, in horror.

“Here’s something from a beggar you won’t forget in a hurry,” I muttered. I dragged her to the piano bench, still gripping her hair.

“Don’t!” she screamed, recovering her voice. “Joseph! You bastard!”

I pulled her over my knee, trapping both her legs in mine. I could hear the others running upstairs as the first blows descended and I hurried my task, determined that she should be punished in spite of everything, in spite of the consequences; no, more severely because of the consequences. “Don’t you struggle,” I cried, pressing down her neck. “Or curse me. It won’t help you.”

Amos pounded up the last flight of stairs and burst in. Behind, breathless, came Dolly and Iva.

“Joseph,” Amos panted, “let her go. Let the girl go!”

I did not release her at once. She no longer fought against me but, with her long hair reaching nearly to the floor and her round, nubile thighs bare, lay in my lap.

___

Bellow joined the United States Merchant Marine during WWII.

. . . . .

Seize the Day (1956) by Saul Bellow. New Yorker Wilhelm is a failed actor, unemployed, poor, and estranged from his wife, children, and father. During the course of a single day, a series of unfortunate events leads to a psychological crisis. *SPOILER* He gives his last $700 dollars to a con man, and in an effort to chase him down, gets swept into a funeral, where he has a dramatic public breakdown. *END SPOILER* This story had a satisfying finish, in my opinion. Well-crafted.

___

Excerpt:

“You have some purpose of your own,” said the doctor, “in acting so unreasonable. What do you want from me? What do you expect?”

“What do I expect?” said Wilhelm. He felt as though he were unable to recover something. Like a ball in the surf, washed beyond reach, his self-control was going out. “I expect help!” The words escaped him in a loud, wild, frantic cry and startled the old man, and two or three breakfasters within hearing glanced their way. Wilhelm’s hair, the color of whitened honey, rose dense and tall with the expansion of his face, and he said, “When I suffer—you aren’t even sorry. That’s because you have no affection for me, and you don’t want any part of me.”

“Why must I like the way you behave? No, I don’t like it,” said Dr. Adler.

“All right. You want me to change myself. But suppose I could do it—what would I become? What could I? Let’s suppose that all my life I have had the wrong ideas about myself and wasn’t what I thought I was. And wasn’t even careful to take a few precautions, as most people do—like a woodchuck has a few extra exits in his tunnel. But what shall I do now? More than half my life is over. More than half. And now you tell me I’m not even normal.”

The old man had lost his calm. “You cry about being helped,” he said. “When you thought you had to go into the service I sent a check to Margaret every month. As a family man you could have had an exemption. But no! The war couldn’t be fought without you and you had to get yourself drafted and be an office-boy in the Pacific theater. Any clerk could have done what you did. You could find nothing better than to become a GI.”

Wilhelm was going to reply, and half raised his bearish figure from the chair, his fingers spread and whitened by their grip on the table, but the old man would not let him begin. He said, “I see other elderly people here with children who aren’t much good, and they keep backing them and holding them up at a great sacrifice. But I’m not going to make that mistake. It doesn’t enter your mind that when I die—a year, two years from now—you’ll still be here. I do think of it.”

___

“Bellow lived in New York City for a number of years, but he returned to Chicago in 1962 as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago… There were also other reasons for Bellow’s return to Chicago… Bellow found Chicago to be vulgar but vital, and more representative of America than New York. He was able to stay in contact with old high school friends and a broad cross-section of society. In a 1982 profile, Bellow’s neighborhood was described as a high-crime area in the city’s center, and Bellow maintained he had to live in such a place as a writer and ‘stick to his guns.’ ” -Wiki

Day 12 of BookDayMay

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (1920) by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. was written as a play, and premiered onstage in 1921. The work officially introduced the word “robot” (coined by Čapek’s brother) to the English language and to science fiction in general. In the Czech language, the word robota means forced labor, and is derived from the word rab, meaning “slave.” The name Rossum is in reference to the Czech word rozum, which means “reason,” “intellect,” “wisdom,” or “common-sense.” Robot novel author Isaac Asimov wrote: “Capek’s play is, in my own opinion, a terribly bad one, but it is immortal for that one word. It contributed the word ‘robot’ not only to English but, through English, to all the languages in which science fiction is now written.”

A scientist accidentally discovers a chemical with the same properties as protoplasm, “except that it did not mind being knocked around.” (wiki) This leads to the invention and proliferation of assembled meat robots, similar to humans.

I enjoyed this quick read insomuch as I felt reading it was completing a rite of passage for a science fiction writer.

___

Excerpt:

NANA [cleaning]: Nasty beasts! Heathens! God forgive me, but I’d—

HELENA [in the doorway with her back to the audience]: Nana, come here and button me.

NANA: I’m coming, I’m coming. [Buttoning HELENA’s dress.] God in heaven, what wild beasts!

HELENA: What, the Robots?

NANA: Bah, I don’t even want to say that word.

HELENA: What happened?

NANA: Another one of ‘em took a fit here. Just starts smashing statues and pictures, gnashing its teeth, foaming at the mouth—No fear of God in ‘em, brr. Why, they’re worse’n beasts!

HELENA: Which one had a fit?

NANA: The one . . . the one . . . it doesn’t even have a Christian name. The one from the library.

HELENA: Radius?

NANA: That’s him. Jesusmaryandjoseph. I can’t stand ‘em! Even spiders don’t spook me as much as these heathens.

HELENA: But Nana, how can you not feel sorry for them?!

NANA: But you can’t stand ‘em either, I ‘spect. Why else would you have brought me out here? Why, you wouldn’t even let them touch you!

HELENA: Cross my heart, Nana, I don’t hate them. I just feel so sorry for them!

NANA: You hate ‘em. Every human being has to hate ‘em. Why even that hound hates ‘em, won’t even take a scrap of meat from ‘em. Just tucks its tail between its legs and howls when those unhumans are around, bah!

HELENA: A dog’s got no sense.

NANA: It’s got more’n they do, Helena. It knows right well that it’s better’n they are and that it comes from God. Even the horse shies away when it meets up with one of those heathens. Why, they don’t even bear young, and even a dog bears young, everything bears young . . .

HELENA: Please, Nana, button me!

NANA: Yeah, yeah. I’m telling you, churning out these machine-made dummies is against the will of God. It’s the Devil’s own doing. Such blasphemy is against the will of the Creator [she raises her hand], it’s an insult to the Lord who created us in His image, Helena. Even you’ve dishonored the image of God. Heaven’ll send down a terrible punishment—remember that—a terrible punishment!

HELENA: What smells so nice in here?

NANA: Flowers. The master brought them.

HELENA: Aren’t they beautiful! Nana, come look! What’s the occasion?

NANA: Don’t know. But it could be the end of the world.

___

Čapek’s childhood was shaped by “an overbearing, emotional mother and a distant yet adored father” (wiki) He was plagued with spondyloarthropathy, which manifests as a painful spine. The intensity of pain is inversely proportional to physical activity. Čapek was very close to his brother Josef, who ultimately died in a concentration camp in 1945, seven years after Čapek died of double pneumonia.

. . . . .

The Uncommon Reader (2007) by Alan Bennett. This story is written as a “royal humor” piece, and I must confess my blood is not sufficiently blue to appreciate the barbs. I did, however, enjoy the story as a social commentary. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom becomes an avid reader of “common” books, as opposed to an occasional reader of “royal” books. The common reading leads to common writing. *SPOILER* At the conclusion of the story, the Queen is forced to throw caution to the Windsor. That last line was my attempt at “royal humor.” *END SPOILER*

___

Excerpt:

It was with some relief that she got back into the coach and reached behind the cushion for her book. It was not there. Steadfastly waving as they rumbled along she surreptitiously felt behind the other cushions.

‘You’re not sitting on it?’

‘Sitting on what?’

‘My book.’

‘No, I am not. Some British Legion people here, and wheelchairs. Wave, for God’s sake.’

When they arrived at the palace she had a word with Grant, the young footman in charge, who said it was security and that that while ma’am had been in the Lords the sniffer dogs had been round and security had confiscated the book. He thought it had probably been exploded.

‘Exploded?’ said the Queen. ‘But it was Anita Brookner.’

The young man, who seemed remarkably undeferential, said security may have thought it was a device.

The Queen said: ‘Yes. That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.’

The footman said: ‘Yes, ma’am.’

It was as if he were talking to his grandmother, and not for the first time the Queen was made unpleasantly aware of the hostility her reading seemed to arouse.

‘Very well,’ she said. ‘Then you should inform security that I shall expect to find another copy of the same book, vetted and explosive-free, waiting on my desk tomorrow morning.

___

Some vulgar language.

In 2008, Bennett announced he will donate the entirety of his “archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library, stating that it was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the British welfare state that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.” (Wiki)

In 2010, Bennett reported he had been “mugged by two women who surreptitiously squirted him with ice cream in Marks & Spender, Camden Town. As they purported to wipe off the confection with tissues, the robbers stole £1,500 cash he had withdrawn from the bank minutes earlier. Bennett, who initially was grateful the women had helped clean him said the experience afterwards made him ‘less likely to believe in the kindness of strangers.’ ” (Wiki)

. . . . .

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan. A political drama-adventure shocker in which the hero implausibly eludes a national manhunt and uncovers an international political assassination plot at the same time. In London, at the dawn of WWI, secret agent Richard Hannay gets mixed up in the business of fellow spy Franklin P. Scudder, who claims to have uncovered a plot to murder the Greek Premier, and so forth. Somebody murders Scudder, and Hannay escapes to Scotland to avoid erroneous prosecution. I found the book a chore to finish, as I don’t particularly enjoy political intrigue books.

___

Excerpt:

“At your service,” he said politely. “I am the landlord, sir, and I hope you will stay the night, for to tell you the truth I have had no company for a week.”

I pulled myself up on the parapet of the bridge and filled my pipe. I began to detect an ally.

“You’re young to be an innkeeper,” I said.

“My father died a year ago and left me the business. I live here with my grandmother. It’s a slow job for a young man, and it wasn’t my choice of profession.”

“Which was?”

He actually blushed. “I want to write books,” he said.

“And what better chance could you ask?” I cried. “Man, I’ve often thought that an innkeeper would make the best story-teller in the world.”

“Not now,” he said eagerly. “Maybe in the old days when you had pilgrims and ballard-makers and highwaymen and mail-coaches on the road. But not now. Nothing comes here but motor-cars full of fat women, who stop for lunch, and a fisherman of two in the spring, and the shooting tenants in August. There is not much material to be got out of that. I want to see life, to travel the world, and write things like Kipling and Conrad. But the most I’ve done yet is to get some verses printed in ‘Chamber’s Journal.’ ”

I looked at the inn standing golden in the sunset against the brown hills.

“I’ve knocked a bit in the world, and I wouldn’t despise such a hermitage. D’you think that adventure is found only in the tropics or among gentry in red shirts? Maybe you’re rubbing shoulders with it at this moment.”

“That’s what Kipling says,” he said, his eyes brightening, and he quoted some verse about “Romance bringing up the 9.15.”

“Here’s a true tale for you then,” I cried, “and a month from now you can make a novel out of it.”

___

Pejorative and vulgar language. Buchan wrote TTNS while convalescing from a life-long ulcer. The title “The Thirty-Nine Steps” originated with Buchan’s daughter counting the steps from the nursing home where Buchan convalesced, to the beach. “Some time later the house was demolished and a section of the stairs, complete with a brass plaque, was sent to Buchan.” (Wiki)

. . . . .

The Thanksgiving Visitor 1967 (magazine), and 1968 (book), by Truman Capote. A boy is bullied, and is taught that bullies should be coddled instead of humiliated, as bullies suffer enough already. Buddy is relentlessly bullied by his classmate Odd. Buddy’s best friend and cousin, Miss Sook, invites Odd to have Thanksgiving with them. *SPOILER* Buddy catches Odd stealing, and Miss Sook stands up for Odd, instead of Buddy. *END SPOILER* Having endured a childhood of bullying, I did not agree with the moral of this story.

___

Excerpt:

“I don’t suppose there will be much Thanksgiving in their house. Probably Molly would be very pleased to have Odd sit down with us. Oh, I know Uncle B. would never permit it, but the nice thing to do is invite them all.”

My laughter woke Queenie; and after a surprised instant, my friend laughed too. Her cheeks pinked and a light flared in her eyes; rising, she hugged me and said, “Oh, Buddy, I knew you’d forgive me and recognize there was some sense to my notion.”

She was mistaken. My merriment had other origins. Two. One was the picture of Uncle B. carving turkey for all those cantankerous Hendersons. The second was: It had occurred to me that I had no cause for alarm; Miss Sook might extend the invitation and Odd’s mother might accept it in his behalf; but Odd wouldn’t show up in a million years.

He would be too proud. For instance, throughout the Depression years, our school distributed free milk and sandwiches to all children whose families were too poor to provide them with a lunch box. But Odd, emaciated as he was, refused to have anything to do with these handouts; he’s wander off by himself and devour a pocketful of peanuts or gnaw a large raw turnip. This kind of pride was characteristic of the Henderson breed: they might steal, gouge the gold out of a dead man’s teeth, but they would never accept a gift offered openly, for anything smacking of charity was offensive to them.

___

TTV is Capote’s sequel to A Christmas Memory.

Here’s a bizarre story about the cultural and societal attitudes of the era in which Capote lived.

Air Guitar Marathon- a Microfiction Tale

Must be at least a hundred of ‘em – all rotten and stinky and thrustin’ their hips, holdin’ their arms out at weird angles. Me, I’m just a musician tryin’ to survive the apocalypse. “Last one air guitaring wins a Stratocaster!” was divine inspiration.

I had no idea zombies loved Stratocasters more than they do brains.

*

*

*

*

Thanks to Jezri’s Nightmares for this microfiction challenge!

Day 8 of BookDayMay

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) by Mohsin Hamid. A Pakistani in the USA has a crisis of conscience in the wake of 9-11. Changez, who abandoned his American home and dream after the Twin Towers were destroyed, tells a nervous American about his friendship and obsession with an ill-fated American woman, the loss of his American career, and his abandonment of America. The frame story technique ironically added liveliness and intensity to an already emotionally gripping story about the pervasive and personal effects of national terrorism.

___

Excerpt:

America was gripped by a growing self-righteous rage in those weeks of September and October as I cavorted about with Erica; the mighty host I had expected of your country was duly raised and dispatched—but homeward, towards my family in Pakistan. When I spoke to them on the telephone, my mother was frightened, my brother was angry, and my father was stoical—this would all pass, he said. I found reassurance in my father’s views, and I dressed myself in them as though they were my own. “Are you worried, man?” Wainwright asked me one day in the Underwood Sampson cafeteria, resting his hand on my shoulder in a gesture of concern as I filled a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. No, I explained, Pakistan had pledged its support to the United States, the Taliban’s threats of retaliation were meaningless, my family would be just fine.

I ignored as best I could the rumors I overheard at the Pak-Punjab Deli: Pakistani cabdrivers were being beaten to within an inch of their lives, the FBI was raiding mosques, shops, and even people’s houses; Muslim men were disappearing, perhaps into shadowy detention centers for questioning or worse. I reasoned that these stories were mostly untrue; the few with some basis in fact were almost certainly being exaggerated; and besides, those rare cases of abuse that regrettably did transpire were unlikely ever to affect me because such things invariably happened, in America as in all countries, to the hapless poor, not to Princeton graduates earning eighty thousand dollars a year.

___

Hamid is a Pakistani living in Pakistan.

. . . . .

The Buzzing (2003) by Jim Knipfel. A career reporter, reduced to working the kook beat, investigates a series of seemingly inter-related odd phenomena and suspicious events, and drinks. Roscoe Baragon, a columnist nearing the end of his career, desperately attempts to win admiration and recognition for his life’s work in between beer-drinking binges. While investigating a seemingly elaborate and fantastical conspiracy, reality and unreality blur and merge, undoubtedly helped by the copious amounts of alcohol he consumes. I enjoyed this tale of kooky news, as I grew up reading all the tabloids I could get my hands on. My love of sensational “news” continued well into my adulthood, and Weekly World News was my tabloid of choice. In contrast to my lighthearted enjoyment of offbeat “news,” this novel explored the dark side of tabloid tale immersion.

___

Excerpt:

He rolled out of bed and went about the slow, painful process of putting himself together. His head hurt worse after he stood. Part of it was the smoke and hangover, he was sure. Part of it was the lack of sleep and the frenetic dreams. Dreams always left his head aching. Much of the pain, however, was the result of the accumulated events of these past ten days—especially yesterday. Jesus.

An epidemic of earthquakes, radioactive men—and now an old drinking buddy—one who would know—tells him that there’s some sort of mutant alien space fungus on its way to Earth. Probably one with tentacles and multiple red eyes.

This is nuts, he thought as he climbed into the shower and bowed his head beneath the spray of hot water. For the past five years or so, insane people had approached him, begging that he make their stories public—that he publish them in all their lurid Technicolor incoherent glory. Now he was being approached by perfectly sane and rational people—some of them, at least—who were telling him equally implausible, frightening tales but demanding that they not be published—which was infinitely more frustrating.

___

Vulgar language. Knipfel has grown progressively blind from retinitis pigmentosa since he was a teen. As a teen and young adult, he tried to commit suicide twelve times. After his last suicide attempt, he was put in a psychiatric ward for six months. He later wrote: “I can’t explain why I [attempted suicide] so many times, and how I did such a horrible job of it.” More recently, Knipfel has said he is happy and will not attempt suicide again. Of the protagonist in this novel, he said, “Roscoe, to put it simply, represents what I would like to be.”

. . . . .

Einstein’s Dreams (1992) by Alan Lightman. A collection of dream tales about the structure of time, and how each structure shapes people’s realities, interspersed with a few wakeful interludes. The fictional dream journal of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s is revealed, along with a few notes on meetings between Einstein and Michele Besso. The novel had a dream-like quality, and part-way through, I took a nap during which I dreamed about a great pile of sand free of its hourglass.

___

Excerpt:

Sunday afternoon. People stroll down Aarstrasse, wearing Sunday clothes and full of Sunday dinner, speaking softly beside the murmur of the river. The shops are closed. Three women walk down Marktgasse, stop to read advertisements, stop to peer in windows, walk on quietly. An innkeeper scrubs his steps, sits and reads a paper, leans against the sandstone wall and shuts his eyes. The streets are sleeping, and through the air there floats music from a violin.

In the middle of a room with books on tables, a young man stands and plays his violin. He loves his violin. It makes a gentle melody. And as he plays, he looks out to the street below, notices a couple close together, looks at them with deep brown eyes, and looks away. He stands so still. His music is the only movement, his music fills the room. He stands so still and thinks about his wife and infant son, who occupy the room downstairs.

And as he plays, another man, identical, stands in the middle of a room and plays his violin. The other man looks to the street below, notices a couple close together, looks away, and thinks about his wife and son. And as he plays, a third man stands and plays his violin. Indeed, there are a fourth and fifth, there is a countless number of young men standing in their rooms and playing violins. There is an infinite number of melodies and thoughts. And this one hour, while the young men play their violins, in not one hour but many hours. For time is like the light between two mirrors. Time bounces back and forth, producing an infinite number of images, of melodies, of thoughts. It is a world of countless copies.

___

Lightman is also a physicist. The character Besso is based on Einstein’s engineer friend and colleague of the same name. Of Besso’s death, Einstein wrote: “Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Day 5 of BookDayMay

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys. An ill-fated couple struggle with race, class, and gender inequality in a socially oppressive tropical paradise. The arranged marriage of Antoinette and her (unnamed) husband quickly disintegrates into distrust, abuse, and betrayal. As Antoinette’s husband is in control of the dowry, he moves himself and his Jamaican-born wife back to his home country of England, where Antoinette is further isolated.

This book resonated with me, and brought back memories of my time in Hawaii in an abusive relationship. The racism Antoinette experiences as a white Creole growing up among newly the emancipated native Jamaicans, and later, living among native Dominicans, is similar to the modern-day racist attitudes in the Big Island of Hawaii. If you are white and visiting Hawaii and have money, you are politely tolerated. If you are white and living in Hawaii and do not have money, you are a haole. Haole destroyed the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, stole the Hawaiian islands and ruined the native Hawaiian economy in 1898, and forever cheapened the native Hawaiian culture when Hawaii became the 50th state of the USA in 1959.

__

Excerpt:

Antoinette was leaning back against the pillows with her eyes closed. She opened them and smiled when I came in. It was the black woman hovering over her who said, ‘Taste my bull’s blood, master.’ The coffee she handed me was delicious and she had long-fingered hands, thin and beautiful I suppose.

‘Not horse piss like the English madams drink,’ she said. I know them. Drink drink their yellow horse piss, talk, talk their lying talk.’ Her dress trailed and rustled as she walked to the door. There she turned. ‘I send the girl to clear up the mess you made with the frangipani, it bring cockroach in the house. Take care not to slip on the flowers, young master.’ She slid through the door.

‘Her coffee is delicious but her language is horrible and she might hold her dress up. It must get very dirty, yards of it trailing on the floor.’

‘When they don’t hold their dress up it’s for respect,’ said Antoinette.

__

Pejorative language. WSS is a parallel novel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847).

. . . . .

Three Men in a Boat AKA Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. Three chums and a dog take an English boating holiday on the Thames. Cheerio and tally-ho, the chaps had a jolly good time in-between Keystone Cops-eque hijinks.

I discovered I read this on May 2, Jerome’s birthday. Somehow that seems fitting.

___

Excerpt:

We passed a very pretty little hotel, with clematis and creeper over the porch; but there was no honeysuckle about it, and, for some reason or other, I had got my mind fixed on honeysuckle, and I said:

‘Oh, don’t let’s go in there! Let’s go a bit farther, and see if there isn’t one with honeysuckle over it.’

So we went on till we came to another hotel. That was a very nice hotel, too, and it had honeysuckle on it, round at the side; but Harris did not like the look of the man who was leaning against the front door. He said he didn’t look a nice man at all, and he wore ugly boots: so we went on farther. We went a goodish way without coming across anymore hotels, and then we met a man, and asked him to direct us to a few.

He said: ‘Why, you are coming away from them. You must turn right around and go back, and then you will come to the Stag.’

We said: ‘Oh, we had been there, and didn’t like it—no honeysuckle over it.’

‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘there’s the Manor House, just opposite. Have you tried that?’

Harris replied that we did not want to go there—didn’t like the looks of a man who was stopping there—Harris did not like the colour of his hair, didn’t like his boots, either.’

‘Well, I don’t know what you’ll do, I’m sure.’ Said our informant; because they are the only two inns in the place.’

‘No other inns!’ exclaimed Harris.

‘None,’ replied the man.

‘What on earth are we to do?’ cried Harris.

Then George spoke up. He said Harris and I could get an hotel built for us, if we liked, and have some people made to put in. For his part, he was going back to the Stag.

___

An instance of pejorative language. Jerome’s sequel to TMIAB is Three Men on a Bummel.

. . . . .

No-No Boy (1957) by John Okada. Immediately after WW2, a Japanese-American college undergraduate struggles with racism and self-respect. After two years in a Japanese-American internment camp, and another two years in federal prison for refusing the draft, Ichiro Yamada returns to Seattle to face the hatred of his fellow Japanese-Americans, the hatred of non-Japanese-Americans, and his own self-hate.

NNB is a powerfully revealing story about the ugliness of patriotism, nationalism, and racism, which seems to repeat itself with perplexing regularity throughout history.

___

Excerpt of 1943 Leave Clearance Application Form administered to interned Japanese-Americans:

Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?

Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?

___

Excerpt:

“Bobbie was like that. Me and the other guys, all we talked about was drinking and girls and stuff like that because it’s important to talk about those things when you make it back from the front on your own power, but Bobbie, all he thought about was going to school. I was nodding my head and saying yeah, yeah, and then there was this noise, kind of a pinging noise right close by. It scared me for a minute and I started to cuss and said, ‘Gee, that was damn close,’ and looked around at Bobbie. He was slumped over with his head between his knees. I reached out to hit him, thinking he was fooling around. Then, when I tapped him on the arm, he fell over and I saw the dark spot on the side of his head where the bullet had gone through. That was all. Ping, and he’s dead. It doesn’t figure, but it happened just the way I’ve said.”

The mother was crying now, without shame and alone in her grief that knew no end. And in her bottomless grief that made no distinction as to what was wrong and what was right and who was Japanese and who was not, there was no awareness of the other mother with a living son who had come to say to her you are with shame and grief because you were not Japanese and thereby killed your son but mine is big and strong and full of life because I did not weaken and would not let my son destroy himself uselessly and treacherously.

Ichiro’s mother rose and, without a word, for no words would ever pass between them again, went out of the house which was a part of America.

___

Pejorative language. Okada was a Japanese-American student at the University of Washington when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan. He and his family were interned in 1942. After passing the 1943 Leave Clearance, he became a Japanese translator in the United States Army Air Force. Today he is interred at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park. NNB is Okada’s only novel.

. . . . .

To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf. An overbearing patriarch and a brooding matriarch intermittently discuss whether they shall go to a lighthouse. The Ramsay clan visits Scotland’s Isle of Skye, have guests for supper, and experience inner emotional turmoil. I found I had little resonance with this novel. Many of the passages were poetically interesting, but the book, as a whole, was tedious.

___

Excerpt:

How trifling it all is, he thought, compared with the other things—work. Here he sat drumming his fingers on the table-cloth when he might have been—he took a flashing bird’s-eye view of his work. What a waste of time it all was to be sure! Yet, he thought, she is one of my oldest friends. I am by way of being devoted to her. Yet now, at this moment her presence meant absolutely nothing to him: her beauty meant nothing to him: her sitting with her little boy at the window—nothing, nothing, He wished only to be alone and to take up that book. He felt uncomfortable; he felt treacherous, that he could sit by her side and feel nothing for her. The truth was that he did not enjoy family life. It was in this sort of state that one asks oneself, What does one life for? Why, one asked oneself, does one take all these pains for the human race to go on? Is it so very desirable? Are we attractive as a species? Not so very, he thought, looking at those rather untidy boys. His favourite, Cam, was in bed, he supposed. Foolish questions, vain questions, questions one never asked if one was occupied. Is human life this? Is human life that? One never has time to think about it. But here he was asking himself that sort of question, because Mrs. Ramsay was giving orders to servants, and also because it had struck him, thinking how surprised Mrs. Ramsay was that Carrie Manning would still exist, that friendships, even the best of them, are frail things. One drifts apart. He reproached himself again. He was sitting beside Mrs. Ramsay and he had nothing in the world to say to her.

___

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941. Her suicide note to her husband:

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.