Monday, October 6, 2014

Short Story #278: The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm by Mark Twain







Title:  The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm

Author:  Mark Twain

Portrait of Mark Twain by AF Bradley.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley.jpgSummary

The narrator is talking to Mr. McWilliams on a variety of topics until the conversation goes dry and McWilliams begins discussing his thoughts on burglar alarms.  He begins with talking about how when fixing the house up, they ended up with some extra money.  They put the money into a burglar alarm that was supposed to be the best.  One night, they smelled smoke and McWiliams when to investigate to find out it was a burglar who was smoking.  Disturbed by his smoking, he says something by the burglar chides him because he wasn't aware of the house rules.  McWilliams acquiesces.  But he does ask how the man got in and the burglar explains he came in on the second floor.  McWilliams gets them to put in the burglar system on the second floor.  What follows is a serious of more and more ridiculous situations where the alarm does and doesn't work for the wrong and right reasons.  At times, it becomes so easy for people to break in that the burglars hide out there in droves and the McWilliams find they have very little materials left.  With each fix they request, they find that there is some other issue and so are spending more and more money on the burglar alarm while continuing to lose more and more materials.  He ultimately threw the whole thing out and traded it in for a dog, which he shot later. 

Reflection

It's standard Twain fair with it's further reach into ridiculousness.  Not as humorous as some of his other tales but it still has a good flavor and rhythm to it.  



Short Story #278 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  9/15/2014
Source:  You can find this story in full at this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Short Story #277: An Affair of Outposts by Ambrose Bierce

Title: An Affair of Outposts

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceAmisted and the Governor are in conversation about Amisted's request for a military commission.  The Governor is surprised because Amisted favors the South but is willing to join the war in the state (it is a Northern state).  The Governor is uncertain of this but Amisted explains that he would rather go off to war and possibly die than deal with the shame that his wife is cheating on him--of which he is certain but doesn't know who.  Some time later, the Governor is visitng troops near the front line near Armisted's company.  He inquires to meet up with Armisted but the General warns him about the area being infested with Confederates.  He finds Armisted and Armisted is cool and reserved.  The Governor reminds Armisted that he was the one to sign Armisted's commission, and just as Armisted responds to this, gunfire is heard.  A firefight breaks out and Armisted takes to leading his men in the fighting.  Armisted rallies the men to protect the Governor who had fallen.  In trying to save the Governor, Armisted is shot dead.  When the Governor comes too, the surgeon is examining him for wounds and find his ankle broken.  But also in his leg is a folded paper signed by Julia that was a full confession of her and how she had been abandoned by her lover now.  The Governor asks about Armisted who is the body lying near him.  The governor wanted to lay his hand upon the man in honor but knows he doesn't deserve it.

Reflection

That the Governor was the man having an affair wraps everything together rather neatly as well as makes Armisted's death all the nobler.  

Short Story #277 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 9/15/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Short Story #276: One Office, One Man by Ambrose Bierce

Title: One Office, One Man

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceCaptain Graffenreid stands at the front line with his men, seeing the enemy in the distance.  He can't see them clearly but he knows they are in the covered terrain ahead. However, due to a curious set of circumstances, Graffenreid  had yet to be engaged in a battle, though it was two years into the war.  Despite this, he is quite ready to partake of battle.  However, when there is the first fire, he leaps to the ground in fear, though the shot landed some hundred feet away.  This create a sense of shame in him as all the men on the front line witness this.  All of this deeply makes him rethink what he knows about war.  The fire volley begins and Graffenreid stands when gunfire does strike near him until someone pulls him down.  All of this strains Graffenreid's mind enough that he takes his own sword and thrusts it through himself.  Leaving the total casualties of the battle to one officer and one man.    

Reflection

Not a story that's worth reading in terms of other tales from Bierce that discuss and talk about bravery and fear in war.  

Short Story #276 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 8/26/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Short Story #275: The Coup De Grace by Ambrose Bierce

Title: The Coup De Grace

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceAfter a battle, the dead are gathered and the wounded are tended to.  Some of the challenges during this process is identifying the dead.  Near a pile of the dead bodies, Captain Downing Madwell is positioned in a relaxing position but is anything but.  He walks into the woods to recover himself a bit more.  While deeper in the woods, he hears a moan from somewhere.  In a ravine, he finds more injured soldiers.  Many appear to be dead but one is clearly alive.  The man is a childhood friend of his whom he had been with during the war.  The man, Creede, had a brother, Caffal who was a major and jealous of the close friendship between the two.  The major had purposely placed Madwell in unnecessary danger and the result in part was the pile of dead bodies he was looking at now.  Though Creede was still alive, it was clear that he was mortally wounded.  Madwell contemplates what to do with his friend's increasing suffer and finally decides to end his friend's suffering.  However, just as he is doing this, other soldiers show up, including the Major. 

Reflection

I was a bit surprised because I expected something more crazy from a protagonist named "Madwell."  Like many of the stories that Bierce writes about war, there is a recognized disgust of the costs of war, the challenge of morality, and the pettiness of men.  

Short Story #275 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read8/26/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Short Story #274: Cannibalism In The Cars by Mark Twain

Title:  Cannibalism In The Cars

Author:  Mark Twain

Summary

Portrait of Mark Twain by AF Bradley.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley.jpgThe narrator explains that he was waiting at a way-station in St. Louis and was engaged in conversation by a man who begin to ask him a range of questions of politics since the narrator was from Washington.  A passing conversation sparks memories in the man's eyes and he promises to tell him a story but the narrator must not interrupt him.  The man relates a tale about a train leaving St. Louis in 1853 that he was on with only other men.  A hard and steady snow stops the train in its tracks in the middle of nowhere--miles from anywhere.  The riders tolerate this initially but as the days begin to pass, the hunger gets them increasingly concerned.  After a week, they decide to do something about it.  They decide it is time to eat someone and begin to discuss the matter.  People begin to volunteer one another until they establish representatives, committees, and an executive board.  They then move forward with more formal debating to determine who will be first.  Through this process they begin to elect people for consumption and are making their way through the men while the cold and impenetrable snow piles up.  At this point the narrator interrupts to verify that cannibalism actually happened and the man confirms it.  The man continues on but is interrupted by his stop.  He wishes the narrator a pleasant journey and leaves.  The narrator is awestruck by the story he's been told and asks the conduct about the man.  The conductor explains that the man was a member of Congress and did get stuck in a train car in snow.  He nearly died but there was no cannibalism.  He also regularly tells the tale to passersby and changes the details in accordance to how much time he has.  The narrator is relieved to be dealing with a madman instead of a cannibal.


Reflection

A typical Twain yarn that makes the extreme (cannibalism) amusing--well before we had zombie comedies.  The story is a fun read and like much of Twain's humorous writing has that story-within-a-story dynamic that seems to go back to The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

Short Story #274 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/19/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Short Story #273: A Tough Tussle by Ambrose Bierce

Title: A Tough Tussle

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Summary

Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceSecond-Lieutenant Brainerd Byring sits on patrol at night with the Confederates near.  He leads a squadron of men positioned in a holding position as the first line.  While waiting on whether the enemy's advance, he take a moment to rest by removing his sword and gun.  He slips into deep contemplation about the world around him and contrasts the dark night of nature to his own world of war.  However, he realizes shortly that he is in the presence of what he assumed to be a dead body.  Though Byring has proven himself in war, he is utterly disgusted by the presence of a dead body.  He realizes that he has to sit with the dead body and this leads him to contemplate where the repulsion towards the dead comes from.  As the moonlight and clouds shift, he realizes it is a Confederate soldier.  The twisted repose of the body further discomforts him and he stands to move but then changes his mind for fear of being perceived as weak.  He doesn't leave but without conscious thought, finds himself standing in an offensive position ready to strike, which makes him laugh.  The laugh itself sets him off.  He then begins to see (or believes he sees) the corpse moving, but before anything more can happen, a gunshot rings out which brings him out of his head a bit.  The fighting starts continues into the early morning.  A federal captain is exploring the damage and comes across two bodies, Brying and a dead Confederate soldier.  It was clear that Brying had inflicted wounds upon the enemy but had died of a sword wound to the heart.  However, the sword was Brying's own and the Confederate soldier's body had long been dead. 

Reflection

An ok story.  There were some interesting moments when Brying is reflecting and comparing the natural world to the world of war--both of which are surrounding him, but that was mostly mood setting for the body.  

Short Story #273 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read8/26/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on Archive.org.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Story #272: Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Title:  Recitatif 

Author:  Toni Morrison

Summary

Photo of Toni Morrison.  Sourcehttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Toni_Morrison_2008-2.jpg
Twyla and Roberta meet each other in an orphanage, where they both temporarily stay when their mothers are recovering.  Roberta's mother was sick but Twyla's mother was seen as an unfit mother.  Because they were not true orphans, they were paired together in a room by themselves.  They enjoyed having this room and switching about.  However, they were first very pt off by one another because they were of different races. One of the few things that Twyla's mother told her was to beware of other races.  Twyla says this and the caretaker scolds her slightly though Roberta doesn't take as much offense.  The two slowly become friendly and are often referred to as salt and pepper. The two bond well enough in the environment as outsiders among outsiders.  A month later, their mothers both come for a visit.  Roberta's mother is a big woman with a large cross and Bible while Twyla's mother appears in clothing that Twyla is ashamed off.  The mothers show disrespect for one another and the two girls are split during the visitation.  Later on, they find solace in the ways their mothers are challenging for them.  The story jumps to a few years later when Twyla is working at a diner and runs into Roberta again.  Roberta is with two guys and they are headed to a Hendrix concert.  Roberta is mean towards Twyla for no real reason and it angers Twyla.  Years later, after Twyla has married and a child, she runs into Roberta again at a grocery store.  The two appear to hit it off this time, but when Twyla presses her about what happened at the diner, Roberta tries to pass it off and this further angers her.  Some time later, Twyla finds her child stuck in the middle of desegregation and that she has to take her boy to another school.  While checking out that school, she finds Roberta as one of the picketing mothers.  The two talk again and Roberta is more confrontational like the time in the diner.  The women with her begin to rock Twyla's car and before leaving, Roberta calls Twyla a hypocrite because as kids at the orphanage, she picked on a black woman and even beat her.  Twyla knows this to not be true and is enraged by the comment.  Twyla starts to picket with women who are for desegregation with increasingly strange signs that are geared specifically to Roberta.  Roberta eventually quits after Twyla makes a sign about Roberta's mother.  A few years later, Twyla runs into Roberta again at a diner and this time, Roberta apologizes for everything including lying about Twyla' hurting someone.  Twyla listens and leaves without any interested in making up.

Reflection

With the Civil Rights movement and desegregation as the backdrop to this story, there is a lot going on between the two women.  However, layered upon this is an entire religious dynamic with characters being named Mary, Maggie, events occuring near holy days (Easter and Christmas), and of course, much of the story taking place at a religious place (an orphanage run by a church).  And of course, it's Toni Morrison, so that adds eve more.  There's a further layer in that name of the story itself which is a musical reference that hints at the dynamics of dialogue and rhythm within the story.  

Short Story #272 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Short Story #271: Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

Title:  Eleven 

Author:  Sandra Cisneros

Summary

Photo of Sandra Cisneros.  Source http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/SandraCisneros.jpg
The narrator, Rachel, explains that turning eleven doesn't seem to change anything.  There's an expectation of becoming eleven but there is no follow through.  There is no difference in being ten or eleven.  She notes the contrast in how one acts at different ages and that one might shift between ages depending upon what is going on with them.  She further explains that if she was older then she would have known how to react when her teacher began asking about a sweater.  Another student says it's Rachel's and Rachel thinks she said this out of spite because the sweater is ugly.  When the teacher further asks, she denies it, but the teacher decides that it is and puts it on her desk.  Rachel is upset by this and frustrated by the action to the point that she is near tears.  She clings to the idea of being eleven and not allowing it to happen.  She distances herself from the sweater and the teacher scolds her for it.  She insists that she puts the sweater on.  It's too much for her to bear and she's bursts into tears.  Just after this, another student finally speaks up and says that it is hers.  The story ends with her wishing she was anything but eleven.

Reflection

Cisneros captures so well the experience of age and what it means to grow up as a child and young adult.  Age is this arbitrary marker of the passage of time and at times, I think youth feel this and are frustrated by it--even if they cannot speak to it as well as the narrator in this story.  

Short Story #271 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Short Story #270: So Much Water So Close To Home by Raymond Carver

Title:  So Much Water So Close To Home

Author:  Raymond Carver

Summary

Raymond Carver.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Raymond_Carver.jpg
Claire watches her husband eat and he asks what she is staring at.  Before the conversation can go anywhere, the telephone rings and he says not to answer it.  She picks it up and listens and hangs up afterward.  He voices his anger at her answering the call and the call itself.  He mentions that it was a group decision and he don't want people passing judgment.  Claire raises a challenge to this and all he can say is that "she was dead" and he was sorry.  Frustrated, he leaves the table and goes to the newspaper, while she holds back her own frustration but accidentally knocks the dishes to the floor.  He doesn't respond to this.  She goes onto explain that her husband and his friends enjoy doing things together.  The previous weekend they went on a fishing trip up a local river.  They had to park their cars and hike to the river and brought camping equipment with them.  They found a dead girl with no clothes near the river.  In figuring out what to do, they event decides that the girl was dead and they didn't need to return immediately.  They set up camp and realized that the girl might drift away, so they went to the river again and tied her to keep her from drifting.  The next day, they continued to do things around camp and into that night as well.  The next morning, they finished up and headed back.  They soon found a telephone and called the police about it.  When he came home that night, she was already asleep.  However, he makes advances on her and she gives into having sex.  The next morning, the phone begins to ring with calls about the event.  It's at this point that Claire learns about what happens.  She picks up the dishes and suggests they go for a drive.  As they drive, she notices all the places to fish that are close to home and she asks why they had to go so far away to fish.  They get some beer and talk some more.  Claire then talks about brothers who killed a girl when she was growing up.  Her husband tells her not to get her riled up.  The next morning, she lies in bed while he takes their child to school and gets ready fro work.  She pretends to keep sleeping.  She gets up eventually and while reading the newspaper, decides to get her hair done and while at the hair-dressers, announces that she will go to the funeral.  She spends that night on the couch.  The next morning they have breakfast.  She writes a note for her son for when he comes home.  She leaves and along the way finds herself being embarrassed by a guy in a pick-up truck.  Eventually, he passes her and she pulls over to the road.  He comes back to see her and she locks up her car.  She refuses to engage with him.  The story jumps to the funeral.  While there, Claire hears that the murderer has supposed been caught.  Claire's head is also in a haze and she says that there could always be more killers out there.  When she comes home, her husband tells her Dean is outside and begins to make a motion to have sex with her and she acquiesces. 

Reflection

There's such a bleakness to this story.  Not only between Claire and Stuart but just the world that this story inhabits.  There's much that is left unsaid and we are left to wonder about, like what exactly happens to Claire with the man in the pick-up truck and how does that manifest or connect with the final scene when Claire gives in.  Of course, all of that pulls back to the initial event of the men camping and enjoying a weekend of fishing and camping while a young female corpse sits near by.  It's an uncomfortable story to say the least.  

Short Story #270 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Short Story #269: Kindling by Raymond Carver

Title:  Kindling 

Author:  Raymond Carver

Summary

Raymond Carver.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Raymond_Carver.jpg
Myers has just gotten out of rehab for drinking.  His wife is done with him and so with nowhere to go, he rents a room from Sol and Bonnie near the ocean.  Sol has a withered hand and Bonnie is a larger woman.  They welcome him to the house and show him the room.  They ask Myers but he keeps his comments brief and simple.  The room is small but has the essentials and a river can be heard from the room.  Myers takes the room and Sol and Bonnie leave him to the room.  He unpacks as the couple go back to watching TV.  He starts to write a letter but finds what he wrote to be bad and tosses it.  Meanwhile Bonnie and Sol chat and Sol believes he's on the run from something but isn't dangerous.  Bonnie thinks he has the saddest eyes she's ever seen.  Bonnie starts to think about how she would write about him since she is an aspiring writer.  The two retire to the bedroom and have sex but Bonnie is thinking about Myers the whole time.  Afterwards, the whole house falls into sleep, dreaming about things they cannot have.  In the morning begins a routine, where Myers stays in his room until the two have left the house for the day.  They regularly invite him to breakfast and other activities like watching TV, but he tends to stay away.  Sol and Bonnie regularly try to find out more about him but his details are few.  However, Myer's focus is on writing a letter to his wife. One afternoon, a truck arrives and drops off a large pile of wood.  Sol explains that it's to be cut up and stacked.  Myers offers to cut it up even though Sol can't pay.  While Sol and Bonnie have dinner, he does overhear that they did have money for him but this also confirmed that Myers didn't have much else to do.  After dinner, Sol shows him how to use the power saw to cut the wood.  Sol also shows him how to split wood with an ax for kindling.  Myers takes very quickly to cutting the wood and this stimulates some writing for him that night.  He spends the night slightly excited to go work.  The next day he sets to work on the woodpile, taking a break for lunch.  He sweats, gets splinters, and blisters but cannot stop.  He is determined to finish the pile by nightfall.  Bonnie and Sol come home and have dinner while Myers continues on.  He comes in just as they are finishing dinner and says that he's finished but will clean up the sawdust in the morning.  He also explains that he'll be leaving in the next day or two to which Bonnie tells him there is no refund on the room.  Myers is fine with this.  He goes to the bathroom to wash up.  He returns to his room and begins writing some of his experience before going to bed.  

Reflection

Carver breathes a lot into this story and the idea of how to kindle a fire.  Myers is nursing a fire to reconnect with his wife and yet by story's end, he has kindled a fire quite different.  He may still write to her but it seems like it will be a profoundly different letter than what he set out to do.  

Short Story #269 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.