Short Story of the Day, Regret, by Kate Chopin

Mamzelle Aurlie certainly did not pretend or aspire to such subtle and far-reaching knowledge on the subject as Aunt Ruby possessed, who had “raised five an’ buried six” in her day. She was glad enough to learn a few little mother-tricks to serve the moment’s need.

—– Kate Chopin, Regret

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

I, like a lot of people, read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in college. I liked it – and it left a lasting impression – though I obviously wasn’t paying much attention because I thought it took place in Europe – France to be exact. It wasn’t until decades and decades later I realized it was set in New Orleans and Belle Isle – places I have become very familiar with. I guess I wasn’t that far off – it’s sort of France.

At an rate, here’s today’s story – a tale of a very different place and an even more different time than we live in now. But the people are the same, after all.

 

Regret, by Kate Chopin

from American Literature – Short Stories and Classic Literature

Joy Cannot Fend Off Evil

“But, in the end, joy cannot fend off evil.
Joy can only remind you why you fight.”
Jeff VanderMeer, Dead Astronauts

(click to enlarge)
Mural, Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

OK, it was Monday, the end of work, I was so very tired, I didn’t have my car with me, I had to get clear across town, if I really wanted to go there, it was cold, it was raining, it was dark,  I thought about not going, I would get back home so very late, here’s how I would have to travel:

Work Shuttle – DART Red Line – walking downtown – Dallas Streetcar to Bishop Arts – Walk to Restaurant – eat a hamburger – Walk to BookstoreWild Detectives Book Club discussion of Dead Astronauts – Walk to Streetcar – Streetcar downtown – walk to DART station – Red Line to Spring Valley Station – wait for bus – DART bus 402 – walk home from Belt Line and Yale

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone, today is the next day and I’m tired I didn’t get enough sleep last night

 

But I realized I had to go because the book was so difficult and so WEIRD that I had to find out what the others thought about it. Also, I had fought my way to the end of a tough read – I had earned the trip and the meeting.

 

I asked the group, “Would you have finished this if you weren’t in a reading group? If there weren’t other people shaming you into plowing ahead and getting to the end?” Everyone (and I mean Every-One) replied enthusiastically “Hell No!”

 

What do I think about difficult books? What do I think about WEIRD books? What do I think about books that stretch the envelope of what text can do? What do I think about books that play with illustration and typography in odd and confusing ways? (think House of Leaves)

 

I did say that, usually, I judge difficult and WEIRD books… in the end… by an emotional connection. I don’t care if the plot makes no sense I don’t care if there is a conventional resolution I don’t care if the theme is obscure(d) – but I prefer it if I have some kind of emotional connection or some sort of inner payoff at the end

 

With Dead Astronauts there was some (but not a lot) especially in the Sarah section and at the very end. Was there enough? Is Batman a transvestite? Who knows

 

Now, the next big question is should I read more VanderMeer? (I did really like The Situation – a protoBorne novella)  Should I read Borne? (set in the same world as Dead Astronauts but different – the people in the group that had read it said it was character-driven) Should I read Annihilation?( I saw the movie without knowing it was from a book and thought it was very cool) Should I read the whole Southern Reach Trilogy (A guy sitting next to me said he really liked Annihilation but the sequels left him cold because they resolved too much of the mystery of Annihilation)

 

So Maybe I’ll read Annihilation and skip the rest of the Trilogy. I think I will read Borne.

 

But first… I have to read L’Assommoir – Have to keep troopering through my Zola project – and then, in March there’s another Wild Detectives Difficult Book Club project – we’re going to tackle The Brothers Karamazov (about six weeks of work)………………….

So little time, so many books.

 

 

Short Story (novella) of the day, The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic,with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage,animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Some-times, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt.

—-Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

 

The Situation, by Jeff VanderMeer

from Wired Magazine

About a year ago I started going to book club meetings at The Wild Detectives – a bookstore in Bishop Arts that features beer and coffee… a great place. Even though I don’t have much in common with the other readers and it’s really tough to get across town after work, I like to go. Actually, now that I think about it, the fact I don’t have much in common with the other readers is the best thing about going.

The book we will discuss the first Monday in February is The Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. I’m cranking through the book and haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s very imaginative and well written but exceedingly weird. I like weird – but only if, at the end, there’s a point… some emotional connection. I’m not a big fan of weird for weird’s sake. I have a feeling that I will be a Jeff VanderMeer fan at the end.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s always good to find a new author isn’t it? Even though I have a ways to go on my Zola reading project and enough other books to… well, to fill up my rapidly declining lineup of years left.

Looking at other Jeff VanderMeer works there’s the Southern Reach Trilogy (I’ve seen the interesting movie Annihilation which was adapted from the first book in the trilogy) and I think those books will get added. Also there is the Borne novel which is set in the same insane world as The Dead Astronauts. That’s four more books to read. So little time, so many books.

As I was looking around for info (The Dead Astronauts is difficult enough I’m not worried about spoilers) on The Dead Astronauts and the Borne world I discovered an online short novella called The Situation. It is billed as a proto-Borne story – set in a preliminary version of that universe (are we reading about the origin of the giant bear named Mord?). So I sat down and read it.

And liked it. It is a sort-of comedy about the difficulty of surviving sane inside an evil bureaucracy. Quite a harrowing story. And well-worth the time and effort.

Shit. That means I’ll eventually have to read all those books. So many books, so little time.

The Ladies Paradise

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
Émile Zola, The Ladies’ Paradise

Cover of Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Ladies Paradise.

The overall story is a very thin romance between a poor, country girl that comes to Paris and finds work in a new, rapidly expanding department store and the owner of the store. He is Octave Mouret, the relentless womanizer of the book before this one – Pot-Bouille. His desire to possess women has now metastasized into the need to dominate them commercially by creating a retail establishment that they cannot resist – literally a ladies’ paradise.

But the real protagonist of the story is the store itself – the eponymous Ladies Paradise. Large swaths of text are dedicated to detailed dreamy descriptions of the store, its wares, and the elaborate displays set up to show off the goods and lure in the women of Paris and, most importantly, to separate them from their money.

As the book progresses the store grows and grows, taking over building after building, until it dominates the area and all retail commerce. There is a heart-tearing description of the woeful ends of the various small shopkeepers of Paris – trying to scrape out a living selling cloth, shoes, or umbrellas – until they are inevitably ground under the heels of the behemoth growing through the streets – their owners are driven into bankruptcy, poverty, and madness.

The book was written a couple of centuries ago – but it is a story that is still going on today. We have all seen small businessmen destroyed by large corporate chains that offer lower prices, bigger selections, and spectacular shopping experiences. It is a story that could take place in the last couple of decades.

Except today, even those huge conglomerates are being driven out of business by a technology that Zola couldn’t even imagine – online shopping. Though, now that I think about it, The Ladies Paradise puts together a company of horse-drawn delivery vans, with advertisements plastered on the side, that resembles today’s fleet of Amazon-Prime vehicles.

The novel’s fictional department store was modeled after a real place – Le Bon Marché in Paris. The store is still open.

This was an enjoyable tome in the series, though the long, detailed descriptions of ranks upon ranks of goods placed on sale went on too long for my taste – but probably necessary to drive home the point of the plot. It was simultaneously a record of the past, an reverse echo of the present, and a warning of the future.

Short Story of the Day – A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

Until Salma turned thirteen the house was just a house. It was too big for the two of them, an up-and-down warren of rooms neither of them had the compulsion to fill. She did not have friends to invite round, did not like those girls at school, their careful observations of one another, the way they moved and talked. Sometimes she wondered why her father did not bring back dates, long-legged women filling the house with the smell of bacon and eggs, wearing her father’s dressing gown and slippers, their thin lips purple from the cold. She liked to think it was because he could not imagine there being anybody other than her mother. She liked to think he thought of her by the minute, her dark hair wrapped around his fist, her angry words in the crevices of his mouth.

—-Daily Johnson, A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle

House Being Remodeled, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

from American Short Fiction

About the Author:

Daisy Johnson

A British novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Everything Under, was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and is the youngest nominee in the prize’s history. For her short-stories, she has won three awards since 2014.

About the Story:

This short coming of age tale does not end like you think it will, although you are warned… you don’t pay attention. Delicately written, fine turns of phrase conceal the evil and power beneath.

It reminds me of one of my favorite (even if it is unnecessarily twee and gimmicky) novels – House of Leaves. One of the interwoven stories is about a man that discovers that the house he lives in is a few centimeters larger on the inside than on the outside. Then all hell breaks loose.

A section of the book is used in the Poe song “Hey Pretty” (the author, Mark Z. Danielewski, is the singer, Poe’s brother).

Kyrie suggested we go for a drive in her new 2-door BMW coupe In the parking lot, we slipped into her bucket seats, Kyrie took over from there.

At nearly 90 miles per hour she zipped us up to that windy edge Known to some as Mullholland, that sinuous road running the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains Where she then proceeded to pump her vehicle in and out of turns Sometimes dropping down to 50 miles per hour, only to immediately gun it back up to 90 again Fast, slow, fast fast slow Sometime a wide turn sometimes a quick one she preferred the tighter ones The sharp controlled jerks, swinging left to right before driving back to the right

Only so she could do it all over again until after enough speed, and enough wind, and more distance than I had been prepared to expect Taking me to parts of the city I rarely think of and never visit…

I can’t remember the inane things I started babbling about then, I know it didn’t really matter, she wasn’t listening She just yanked up on the emergency brake, dropped her seat back, and told me to lie on top of her On top of those leather pants of hers, extremely expensive leather pants mind you, her hands immediately guiding mine over those soft, slightly oily folds

Positioning my fingers on the shiny metal tab, small and round, like a tear Then murmuring a murmur so inaudible that even though I could feel her lips tremble against my ear, she seemed far, far away Pinch it, she said, which I did, lightly, until she also said pull it, which I also did, gently parting the teeth, one at a time, down under and beneath, the longest unzipping of my life…

We never even kissed, or looked into each other’s eyes, our lips just Trespassed on those inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears, Filled them with the private music of wicked words Hers in many languages, mine in the off-color of my only tongue, until as our tones shifted and our consonants spun and squealed, rabbled faster, hesitated, raced harder Syllables soon melting into groans or moans, finding purchase in new words, or old words, or made-up words Until we gathered up our heat and refused to release it, enjoying too much the dark lane which we had suddenly stumbled upon

Prayed to, carved to, not a communication really, but a channeling of our rumored desires, hers for all I know gone to black forests and wolves, mine banging back to the familiar form, that great revenant mystery I still could only hear the shape of Which in spite of our separate lusts and individual prize, still continued to drive us deeper into stranger tones, our mutual desire to keep gripping the burn Fueled by sound, hers screeching, mine… I didn’t hear mine, only hers, probably counter-pointing mine A high pitched cry, then a whisper dropping unexpectedly, to practically a bark, a grunt, whatever, no sense anymore, and suddenly no more curves either, just the straightaway

Too bad dark languages rarely survive…

 

 

Pot Bouille

“When younger, he had been fun-loving to the point of tedium.”
Émile Zola, Pot Luck (Pot Bouille)

Pot Bouille, by Emile Zola

In September of last year (2018) I began the task of reading all twenty novels in Emile Zola’s Rougon Marquat cycle. There was a three month gap in this reading plan as I plowed through Gravity’s Rainbow with a reading group. But now I’m back at it – though not in too much of a hurry… I am reading other books too.

I finished The Conquest of Plassans (book number six) a week or so ago. It was an interesting read – especially how it began slowly as a story of small-town gossip and intrigue and built into a climax of madness, horror, and death. Now I am onto the seventh (in the recommended reading order), Pot-Bouille.

That title doesn’t translate to English very well. I’ve seen it as Pot Luck and other things. From Wikipedia:

The word pot-bouille is a 19th-century French slang term for a large cooking pot or cauldron used for preparing stews and casseroles and also the foods prepared in it. The title is intended to convey a sense of disparate ingredients, the various inhabitants of the building mixed together, to create a potent and heady mix like a strong stew. The impression is to hint at the greed, ambition and depravity which lies behind the pretentious façade of the outwardly well behaved bourgeois apartment block. There is no equivalent word in English to convey this. The closest English term would probably be an expression such as melting pot.

In the film The Life of Emile Zola, the novel’s title is rendered as Piping Hot.

So, I think of the book as being called “melting pot.”

It seems to be a complicated story about numerous residents in a multi story rental house in the center of Paris – most related to each other in one way or another. To help with the book I spent a few hours and complied a list of characters I could refer to… then discovered somebody else had already done it.

I’m on the road and working hard for the next week, but I should be able to find some slivers of time and finish the book. Then on to the next, Au Bonheur des Dames – a direct sequel to Pot-Bouille.

 

It’s On

“SEAL, I have a problem,” I say to him. “I didn’t bring any extra underwear.” “So what?” “I can’t run without underwear.” “Nah, bro, you can’t run without legs. It’s on.”
Jesse Itzler, Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet

The Block, Richardson, Texas

 

The other day I was surfing the interwebs and came across – I don’t remember how – the story of some rich dude that hired a lunatic Navy Seal to live with him for a month and help him train.

I know it sounds silly and contrived – but the guy kept saying things like “stuck in a rut”, “drifting on autopilot” and “doing the exact thing day after day”- despite being a billionaire. That resonated with me (well, except for the billionaire part). So, throwing caution to the wind, I spent six bucks on the Kindle book. I usually read (at least) two books at once – one fiction (finishing up The Conquest of Plassans) and one non-fiction – so I started Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.

Not sure if I can recommend the book unequivocally – but it is interesting and an entertaining read. I went for a nice bike ride in my hood and stopped for coffee and a quick read.

The first chapter has an interesting idea. The SEAL wants the guy to do a hundred pull-ups at the gym. The author is in really good shape, but is a distance runner without a lot of upper-body strength. He can do, say 15 or so.

The SEAL says, “Wait forty-five seconds and try it again.” So the guy does and does six. The SEAL has him wait another forty-five. He can do one, barely. At this point the guy is ready to go home.

“Nope,” the SEAL says, we’re not leaving until you do a hundred. After a minute of rest, the guy can do one. Over and over again. Until he hit a hundred. I guess it only took a bit over an hour or so.

I am fascinated by that concept. Not in terms of pull-ups – but on goals in general. Say, I will ride my bike fifty miles today – even if I have to stop and rest ten times. Or, I will write two thousand words, even if I have to stop and think twenty times.

It would require some time… but it’s an interesting concept.

My folding bike at The Block, Richardson, Texas