Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The RAHM Report for June 14, 2017 (Deal Me in Challenge Update)

In April and May, I fell way behind in the Deal Me in Challenge, but as of this week, I am all caught up. Here are the short stories whose cards I drew for the past six weeks, with reviews.

"The Blue Cross" by G.K. Chesterton (♠A)

This was my first experience reading Chesterton. Though a friend of mine did tell me that his stories are funny, I was still pleasantly surprised by how much this Father Brown story (the very first one starring this character) made me laugh. The writing is pretty dense and descriptive, but there were so many lines that I wanted to copy down and remember again later. Here is just one example: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of one human eye. A tree does stand up in the landscape of a doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the unforeseen." I also so appreciated the story's overall focus on the value of reason when it comes to understanding God, life, and the world.

"Was It In His Hand?" by Elizabeth Bishop (♠2)

Compared with the others I read this week, this story felt kind of pointless. I have read some Elizabeth Bishop poetry, but never her prose, and I did enjoy seeing how she handled this format. Still, the plot was simple - two young women visit a fortune teller, who is black, but has adopted a white child. The child seems to the women to be a prisoner in some way, and they leave haunted by the image of him. I think this is one of those stories that is meant to raise questions rather than provide answers, but I just didn't feel like I quite understood where Bishop was going with it.

"Wunderkind" by Carson McCullers (♠5)

As she did in her novel, The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers creates for this story another misunderstood, outsider adolescent. Frances is a prodigy musician who has recently begun to discover the previously unimagined limitations of her genius. As she waits for another student to finish his lesson with her instructor, she reflects on the embarrassment of receiving a negative review for her recital performance and the implications of this on her future as a musician. I really liked the way this was written, and I felt that teens could relate to it as well as adults.

"Each In His Own Tongue" by L.M. Montgomery (♥K)

It was interesting that I drew the card for this story immediately after the one for "Wunderkind" because they are thematically connected. Whereas Frances in "Wunderkind" is struggling with her loss of interest in playing music, Felix in "Each in His Own Tongue" has been forbidden by his beloved father to play his violin because he is meant to become a minister, not a musician. As the story reveals, however, God gives gifts to different people for different reasons, and Felix may be meant to serve God through his music. I especially loved this quote from the story, which is spoken by Abel, the elderly man who takes great joy in Felix's playing: There's different kinds of ministers, and each must talk to men in his own tongue if he's going to do 'em any real good," said old Abel meditatively.

"A Temple of the Holy Ghost" by Flannery O'Connor (♠10)

This is another odd O'Connor story that left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Its central focus seems to be on the human body as a temple, which makes sense to me as a Catholic, but it's also one of the most "freaky" and stereotypically Southern story of hers that I have read. I did like the way O'Connor portrays the shallow preoccupations of teenage school girls, but I walked away from the story feeling like I'd have to read it 10 more times to really grasp exactly where she was going with it.

"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (♣5)

Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" is one of my all-time favorite short stories, and this is written similarly. When Bernice comes to stay with her cousin, she is at first unaware of how out of place she is among her peer group. When she finds out, she begins to become popular with the local young men, a fact which is helped by her repeated vague promises to cut and style her hair in a bob. Though this story is set in the 1920s, so much of its commentary on peer pressure, vanity, and fashion rings very true in today's world, especially for teens and young adults. This story also has a great quotable line which I've heard before, but I never knew the original source: At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.

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