Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 9 - "L.T.'s Theory of Pets"

Sunday’s with Uncle Stevie
“L.T.’s Theory of Pets”
by Stephen King
Everything’s Eventual (2002)

* * * (Good) Realistic

L.T. shares the story of how his marriage to Lulubelle ended and of how the pets they bought each other as anniversary gifts became attached to the wrong person.

King wrote in his introduction to this story how it was his favorite of the collection, but I just don’t see it. Maybe it has to do with my lack of an emotional connection to the concept of pets. Actually, in reading why he believes this story has a great impact on the reader – the whole notion of people forging lasting connections with their pets – I’m sure that’s the reason it doesn’t do as much for me. In fact, without that emotional connection, I don’t feel there is much to this story. It is well written and enjoyable enough on a superficial level. It’s just one of those times where a story can’t please everyone (me).

August 8 - "The Lost Regiment"

“The Lost Regiment”
by Italo Calvino
Numbers in the Dark (1995)

* * * * (Great) Fable

An army regiment becomes uneasy and eventually lost while parading through a city.

There is a lot of beautiful imagery in this story of a lost regiment on parade. Calvino does a brilliant job describing the regiment’s unease as they begin marching through the town. He does this by describing how one soldier’s tentative steps are picked up by another and then another until the whole regiment is cautiously tiptoeing through the streets. Later when the villagers attempt to lead the regiment back to their base by way of climbing over the roofs of the buildings I could easily picture this parade gone awry, and it is a truly marvelous thing to behold. This being a fable I know there is deeper meaning here, but I’m happy with just the images now. Maybe upon rereading or further reflection I’ll take something more away from the story, but for now I’m content.

[This story was read on August 8. The review was not posted until later due to falling asleep in the Chair of Unexpected Sleep.]

Friday, August 7, 2009

August 7 - "King Crin"

“King Crin”
by Italo Calvino
Italian Folktales (1980)

* * * (Good) Folktale

After catching King Crin in his true form, the third baker’s daughter must wear through seven pairs of iron shoes, mantles, and hats to win back Crin. While doing so the daughter collects three prizes that help her in her quest to find Crin.

Three baker’s daughters, three houses visited, three rewards for surviving each night, three nights to convince Crin of her love – notice a pattern here? And the importance of wearing through seven pairs of iron shoes, iron mantles, and iron hats? And the meaning of the passage at the end?:
They put on the dog and high did they soar,
They saw me not, I stood behind the door.
Huh? What does this have to do with anything in the story?

Some of these tales make little sense, and jump from one illogical scenario to another (a pig son killing baker’s daughters until he finds the one who wipes mud from his body to surviving the nights at the cottages of Wind, Lightning, and Thunder to being rewarded with a chestnut, walnut, and hazelnut), but are quite engaging in some unexplainable way. They somewhat succeed by the fact that they are outrageous.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 6 - "Duel"

by by Richard Matheson
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1994)

* * * * (Great) Suspense

When Mann passes a truck only to find it come roaring past him moments later he realizes that he may be driving for his very life.

Matheson did a wonderful job creating suspense in this story of road rage. Nearly every sentence builds on the last, heightening the suspense, pulling you along for the crazy ride. I’ve actually been in a similar situation with an RV. Granted, the RV wasn’t trying to kill me (or maybe it was?), but we were racing each other down the road, cutting each other off – basically just pissing each other off, completely on purpose. At the time I was lost in the battle, but looking back – it was stupid. But it was fun.

August 5 - "In Reference to Your Recent Communications"

“In Reference to Your Recent Communications”
by Tessa Brown
New Sudden Fiction (2007)

* * * * * (Excellent) Humor

Jessica responds, in detail, to the couple of messages Randolph left on her answering machine breaking up with her.

What can I say? I am a sucker for footnotes. I really enjoyed how Brown took the couple of phone messages left for Jessica and had her breaking down each communication into its individual components, adding her thoughts and beliefs – as accurate or obsessive – to the message, all in an attempt to convince Randolph of the error of his ways. In fact, I bounced back and forth in my sympathy, at once for Jessica and her broken heart, and then for Randolph, because at times it appears that Jessica might be a tad too committed to her part in this relationship. All told, this story was quite hilarious and it’s been a rare thing to come across humor in these stories I’ve read so far this year.

[This story was read on August 5. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]

August 4 - "Following the Notes"

“Following the Notes”
by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
New Sudden Fiction (2007)

* * * (Good) Realistic

A father and daughter find a small measure of connectedness and attachment through the music he shares with her.

I think the author was attempting to infuse this story with more meaning than it could hold. I guess, by the end of the story, I felt Ehrhardt was a little heavy handed with the imagery of the father and daughter sitting together at the piano as music gave them peace. In honesty, none of the characters were all that sympathetic. I felt about as involved as the mother who simply decides to leave the pair at the kitchen table in favor of watching TV alone in her room. There was potential here for much more, and I really did enjoy the beginning of the story with the dead car battery and switching of tee shirts (dude, a Ninja Turtles tee is always a great addition to a story).

[This story was read on August 4. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]

August 3 - "The Distributor"

“The Distributor”
by Richard Matheson
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1994)

* * * * * (Excellent) Suspense

Theodore Gordon moves into a new neighborhood and proceeds to pit neighbor against neighbor until the entire street erupts in chaos.

I feel as though I know this story from somewhere…I just can’t place it. I did, however, enjoy it tremendously. I think it’s fascinating that one man can prey on the fears and feelings of others to the point in which, with a simple nudge, neighbors attack each other. It shouldn’t be so easy to convince people of the worst, but with the negativity and pessimism we’ve developed as a culture, it really isn’t such a surprise that Gordon’s plan works so well. Now, I just wish I could remember where I’ve heard this story from before.

[This story was read on August 3. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]

August 2 - "Strawberry Spring"

Sundays with Uncle Stevie
“Strawberry Spring”
by Stephen King
Night Shift (1979)

* * * (Good) Horror

Hidden in the fog, a killer haunts the campus of the New Sharon Teacher’s College during the strawberry spring of 1968.

King does a better job with the setting and the mood of the story here than he does with developing the characters. Which is unusual. That’s not to say that he foregoes setting and mood in his greater works – in fact they are a large part of many of his stories – but they are usually combined with interesting, realistic characters. Here the narrator does little more than recollect fragments of that time when Springheel Jack stalked the campus, killing coeds in the fog. The twist at the end of the story is of little surprise, and by the end, it doesn’t appear to be much more than your average slasher/horror story.

[This story was read on August 2. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]

August 1 - "The Wine Doctor"

“The Wine Doctor”
by Frederick Adolf Paola
New Sudden Fiction (2007)

* * * * (Great) Realistic

Dottore Cotrolao had always been skeptical of the wine doctor, Ezio Delli Castelli, and his practice of prescribing wines to cure ails, but was even more surprised when Castelli sought his help with a medical concern.

I thought this was a wonderful, if not predictable, tale of the respect competitors often have of each other’s success. The “real” doctor and the man playing at doctor were both sufficiently realized as characters to the point where you felt as though you understood each character’s point of view. It’s so much easier to become invested in a story when you understand – and empathize – with the characters and their motivations. Also, it’s nice to read a story every once in awhile in which people act with class.

[This story was read on August 1. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]

July 31 - "The Canary Prince"

“The Canary Prince”
by Italo Calvino
Italian Folktales (1980)

* * * * (Great) Folktale

A witch grants a prince the ability to turn into a canary so that he can reach the princess he loves.

I enjoyed this story more than some of the other folktales because of its uniqueness – an ability to forego some of the more formulaic elements of these Italian folktales – and its more logical narrative. While this story still had its moments of illogical incidents and suddenly appearing characters, the entire tale wasn’t populated by such occurrences. I also enjoyed the fact that it was a riff on the Rapunzel story – or maybe the Rapunzel story was the one doing the riffing. It’s always fascinating to see a different take on a familiar story.

[This story was read on July 31. The review was not posted until later due to laziness on my part.]