A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty – Odour of Chrysanthemums

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty – Odour of Chrysanthemums, by D.H. Lawrence

Read it online here:

Odour of Chrysanthemums

Odour of Chrysanthemums is a famous story – with a well-established position in the pantheon of great and famous short literature. But, somehow, I had never read it – or at least I didn’t remember reading it. And a story of this skill and emotional impact – I would have remembered it.

The first thing that struck me about this story is the language. The paragraphs are chock-a-block with unusual (at least for modern eyes), esoteric, and completely appropriate (even perfect) word choices.

gorse, footplate, coppice, spinney, whimsey, colliery, imperious mien, trundle, metals, winding-engine, steel fender, hob, crozzled… and so on.

I plowed through the first time (reading the story on my tablet in a coffee shop a short bicycle-ride from my house, drinking an iced Thai Milk Tea with boba) and only later, worked my way through with a dictionary website, learning the exact meaning of the words.

The second thing that fascinated me with the story is the description and sense of place. An English coal-mining town in all its filthy glory. What a difficult life. The wife with two children (and another on the way) waiting for her husband to come home from the mine – assuming he had bypassed dinner to go out drinking.

I assumed I was reading a piece of social commentary on the unfairness of life around the coal mines – and I suppose the story is. There is nothing in the text to dilute the clarity or sadness of the woman’s life and the impossible future her family faces.

One aspect of the story that I haven’t read about is the point that her husband suffocated. It was a slow death. If his wife hadn’t assumed he was out drinking and had alerted the other miners about his absence sooner, the end result might have been very different.

But, for all that, at the end, the story reveals its true heart, and its something else entirely. The title gives the first hint. Then there at the end, the wife is faced with her husband’s beautiful body and she realizes she never even knew him.

That is where the story really comes alive and where it has its strongest, unforgettable impact.

And there lies genius.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day ten – Hollow

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day ten – Hollow, by Breece D’J Pancake

Read it online here:

Hollow

So again today we have a story about work – about work under desperate conditions. Like yesterday‘s The Zero Meter Diving Team we have young men working in the energy industry. It is costing them their lives.

Hollow is the story of a West Virginia coal miner, Buddy. Things aren’t going very well for Buddy, he drinks too much, his lungs are shot, and his girl is looking to leave him and go back to life as a prostitute. The only thing he has going good is that the coal seam is unexpectedly thickening, promising some extra cash.

The author of the story, Breece D’J Pancake, grew up in the doom of the Appalachian coal mines. He shot himself at the age of twenty-six, at the time his first stories were being published.

At the end of Hollow – Buddy tries for a mental escape from his inescapable troubles by going on a hunt. He kills and skins his prey in an expert, methodical fashion. But there is something watching him that he is unaware of.

Something deadly… something waiting.

The Mark Of Steel Upon It

“The immappable world of our journey. A pass in the mountains. A bloodstained stone. The marks of steel upon it. Names carved in the corrosible lime among stone fishes and ancient shells. Things dimmed and dimming. The dry sea floor. The tools of migrant hunters. The dreams encased upon the blades of them. The peregrine bones of a prophet. The silence. The gradual extinction of rain. The coming of night.”

― Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Steel in the forge, Frisco, Texas

Steel in the forge,
Frisco, Texas

Spark By Irreplaceable Spark

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”

― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Forge Fire Frisco, Texas

Forge Fire
Frisco, Texas