Stories To Get You Through The Night

All posts tagged Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published January 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s A Convalescent Ego all about?:

A Convalescent Ego is about a man who has been quite ill, was hospitalised and is recovering from surgery at home. This story explores his mindset as he has a little accident in the house and pictures multiple scenarios of how his wife will react when she gets home.

What did I think?:

As I mentioned with previous posts regarding this collection, the stories within it are beautifully grouped into separate sections. This story falls into the category of Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong and was a wonderful surprise to me as I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The author, Richard Yates is famous for his critically acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road (which is languishing on my shelves at the moment but I do intend to get to it someday!). Unfortunately he passed away in 1992 but if this story is any testament to the way he usually writes I’m determined to get to more of his work sooner rather than later.

The story focuses on a couple, Bill and Jean although we mainly hear from the perspective of Bill. He has been ill recently and is recovering from surgery. He is not expected to recover for at least another month and we get the feeling that both himself and his wife are becoming slightly frustrated with his lack of activity, especially as they have a young child to look after, although Jean is fully aware it is through no fault of his own. Jean takes their son out for a short time and whilst she is away she asks Bill if he would mind rinsing out some teacups for her that she is quite fond of. Poor Bill cannot even do this right, he ends up breaking one of the precious cups while washing it. Easy done, you might say but Bill feels terribly guilty about it all and begins to procrastinate through several scenarios in his head about how his wife will react when she discovers what she has done.

The wonderful thing about this story is how detailed Bill’s possible scenarios become, with full conversations between the two, facial expressions, different endings etc, all which involve him going back to work early, replacing her cup and returning with champagne as a surprise for her which he feels might soften the blow but all scenarios he thinks off, end badly for him. He even goes as far as to start to get ready to go to work, suited and booted, puffing and panting – obviously not ready in the slightest to return to work at all! Throughout this, as images of the many different ways their conversation could go run through his head, I got a incredibly warm feeling towards Bill as a character. I found myself feeling so sorry for him, so admiring of his tenacity in trying to make things better after an incident that was clearly an accident that could have happened to anyone.

Bill builds it up in his mind so much as to be something huge when it was really so trivial and a little ridiculous but his love and respect for Jean is clear. Then….the ending. The way it went in the end when Jean finally did get home was absolutely perfect and gave me a little fuzzy feeling of happiness. It made me realise how connected I had become to the characters and their situation, the sign of a masterful author for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

 

Short Stories Challenge – Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published April 18, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Charm For A Friend With A Lump all about?:

This story is written from the perspective of someone whose friend has recently discovered a suspicious lump somewhere on her body. She encourages her friend not to lose hope and promises she will always be at her side.

What did I think?:

I haven’t read anything by Helen Simpson before although I am aware of her writing, having been named one of Granta’s twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. As I’ve mentioned before in previous stories in this collection, the stories are divided into sections and Charm For A Friend With A Lump fits quite neatly into the category – “Stories to read when it’s all going wrong.” As you can probably tell from the title of the story alone, it’s not the easiest of subjects to read about but I was surprised by how uplifting and generally positive both the message and the writing was.

Our narrator for the story is speaking to her friend who has discovered a lump on her body but as yet, does not have any further medical information about whether it is malignant so the big “C” is still very much unknown. At just over three pages long, the author manages to get across exactly what she wants to say and some parts were incredibly poignant that left me with quite a sad smile on my face. The narrator attempts to take her friends mind off the terror of the unknown by asking for her help in what she should plant in her garden this year and then in alternate paragraphs she reassures and comforts her, leaving the reader in no doubt as to the ferocity of her dedication and love. Some parts of the narrative were so beautiful I just had to include them below and to be honest, it was hard knowing when to end the quote, it all seemed important and terribly sad:

“Nobody in their right mind looks at an old oak tree growing in strength and richness and thinks, you’ll be dead soon. They just admire and draw strength from its example. May you keep your hair on and your eyebrows in place. May you never have to wear a hat indoors. May you and your other half tuck two centuries under your belts between you, and then, like the old couple in the tale, when some kind god in disguise grants you a wish may you go together, hand in hand, in an instant.”

There’s so much more I want to re-quote but then I would be in danger of quoting the entire story and being so short, it’s something you should definitely discover for yourself. It’s a wonderful few pages of love, strength and hope for the future from a person we could only dream of having as our support if god forbid, the worst should ever happen. I really enjoyed the way the author used the imagery of plants to represent the force and fragility of nature – the strong oak tree in the above quote compared to the nasty “ruthless invader and ignorer of boundaries” Japanese Knotweed which illustrates beautifully the relentless attack of cancer. Throughout it all, our narrator is eternally optimistic and ensures her friend that she will be there for her no matter what the outcome. Just lovely!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – April to June

Published April 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months in my Short Stories Challenge! The first few months of this year have whizzed by and I’ve found some great pieces of short fiction to add to my collection. Here’s the stories that will take me right through to the summer:

Week beginning 4th April

Elephants In Captivity (Part One) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 11th April

Space by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 18th April

If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 25th April

The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 2nd May

Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 9th May

The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Week beginning 16th May

The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 23rd May

Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 30th May

Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 6th June

The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 13th June

Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 20th June

What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 27th June

A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – January to March

Published January 9, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://quotes.lifehack.org/quote/ali-smith/short-stories-consume-you-faster-theyre-connected/

Hooray for a new year and more short stories! This is what I’ll be reading for the first three months of 2016.

Week beginning 4th January 2016

Duet by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 11th January 2016

The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer by John Ajvide Lindqvist from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 18th January 2016

Dreams In The Witch-House by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 25th January 2016

Enough Of This Shit Already by Tony Black from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 1st February 2016

Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 8th February 2016

Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 15th February 2016

Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 22nd February 2016

Still Life by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 29th February 2016

Notes From The House Spirits by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 7th March 2016

How I Finally Lost My Heart by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives Of Women

Week beginning 14th March 2016

The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 21st March 2016

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 28th March 2016

Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published October 24, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Cat That Walked By Himself all about?:

This is a short story about the beginning of domesticated life and in Kipling’s inimitable style we see a host of animals become the servant or friend of first Man.

What did I think?:

This story was first published as part of Kipling’s Just So stories in 1902 which I was sure that I had read but couldn’t remember this one at all! The writing has a magical quality and the story is so endearing that I can easily imagine reading it to children. The tale begins as first Man and first Women meet and start building a life together in a cave, even making a first Baby. Meanwhile, in the forest, the wild animals are looking on in interest, all apart from the proud Cat that is. He is determined that he is not put out in the slightest, after all:

“He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”

One night, the Woman creates the First Singing Magic with a shoulder blade of bone as the wild animals look on, entranced by the fire but not entirely certain what it all means. The Dog, led by his nose and thinking the smells from the cave quite wonderful approaches the woman and asks her what she is doing to be creating all these amazing smells. The Woman makes a deal with the Dog. If he will go out hunting with the Man and guard the cave at night he can have as many of the good smelling bones that he likes. Thinking that sounded like a pretty sweet deal, the Dog agrees and he becomes known as the First Friend of Man. The Cat is indifferent however and scoffs:

“This is a very wise Woman, but not as wise as me.”

The next day the Woman cuts long armfuls of fresh, green grass and once again, by the fire, makes a Second Singing Magic. This is very appealing to the Horse and he decides he wants to go to the Woman, beseeching the Cat to come with him. However the arrogant Cat only replies:

“I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come.”

The Woman again offers an exchange to the Horse and manages to get a leash over his neck in return for fresh green grass three times a day. In this way, the Horse becomes the first Servant of Man and helps him in his hunting. The pattern repeats itself again when the Cow promises to give her milk to the Woman each day in return for grass although the Cat has been following his companions and his curiosity gets the better of him. He asks the Woman where his friends are and the Woman says that she has no more need for friends or servants so he should return to the Wild, especially as he is the Cat who walks by himself. The Cat is petulant and doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be allowed in the cave to sit by the warm fire and try the milk. So the Woman makes a deal with him. She tells him if she should speak one word in his praise he may come into the cave, two words and he may sit by the fire and three words, that he will be allowed to drink the milk three times a day forever.

The Cat has to use all the craftiness in his character to trick the woman into praising him on three separate occasions, but he manages it admirably. He is able to enter the cave, sit by the fire and drink milk. However, he hadn’t bargained for his three friends Dog, Horse and Cow to turn the tables on him so perhaps he isn’t the cleverest cat in the world, after all!

This was a lovely, lovely story that I’m so glad I found. It’s written in a sort of fairy-tale style, which is why I think it would be so appealing to children but I think there’s many things there adults would appreciate also. For example, I had to laugh when Kipling tells us that First Man used to be very wild too, that is, until he met First Woman and she tamed the wildness out of him! It’s also a marvellous tale of the characters of animals – the sensitivity of dogs noses, the speed and swiftness of the horse and of course, the independence of the cat. I’m not really a cat lover myself, I’ve had a particularly bad experience personally with them and I’m much more a dog person which is why I did have a little chuckle when Cat got his comeuppance at the end of the story. Great fun and beautifully written this is a treat however for all animal lovers.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

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Short Stories Challenge 2015 – July to September

Published July 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months of short stories! This little lot should see me through into the autumn.

Week beginning 6th July

Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 13th July

Airshow by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 20th July

The Menace by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 27th July

Candia by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 3rd August

Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The

Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 10th August

Necessary Women by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 17th August

The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 24th August

Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 31st August

The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 7th September

The Rat In The Attic by Brian McGilloway from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 14th September

Care by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 21st September

The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 28th September

The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Short Stories Challenge – Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published June 19, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Kew Gardens all about?:

Kew Gardens is the first of two short stories under the heading: Stories to help you rejoice in the beauty of nature and follows a variety of different characters on their passage through the gardens on a hot July day.

What did I think?:

Oh dear, here’s where I make a little confession – I’ve actually never read any of Virginia Woolf’s work before! After reading this beautiful little story however I have made it my mission to read her whole back catalogue. The prose is absolutely delicious, the characters intriguing and it gives the reader so many themes to interpret that I pronounce the woman is a bloody genius. There is no plot in this story so as to speak, it revolves around a group of people visiting Kew Gardens in the early twentieth century. Before we get to our characters, Woolf blows your mind with poetic descriptions of the flowers, colours and a solitary snail just trying to make its way through the grass from A to B.

The first people to pass by the snail are a husband, wife and their two children. Immediately my biblio-senses began tingling as something didn’t seem quite right:

“The man was about six inches in front of the woman, strolling carelessly, while she bore on with greater purpose, only turning her head now and again to see that the children were not too far behind. The man kept this distance in front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously, for he wished to go with his thoughts.”

It’s amazing how much Woolf manages to cram in for the reader in these short sentences that I immediately tried beginning to make sense of. First of all, the state of their marriage – why must she walk behind him? Why does he stroll carelessly and she with greater purpose? I think Woolf was making a statement on the role of women at the time of writing when compared to the all powerful male. He does this purposely and at the same time unconsciously because, quite simply, he is a man, this is how he has been raised therefore it is seen as a natural movement. Fair enough, he has some thoughts to process but he doesn’t seem to realise that she may have thoughts also – her focus has to be that of the children. And what are his great thoughts? Well, he is reminiscing about another time he had at Kew Gardens in his youth where he was rejected by a woman called Lily whom he had proposed to! If I was his wife, I would be seriously offended.

The snail in the grass begins to contemplate the journey he has ahead of him before the second group of people arrive to gaze at the flowers. This time it is a younger man and an elderly gentleman (possibly father and son?), the former wearing an expression of “unnatural calm,” which makes sense when we read that the old man is senile. The younger must have infinite patience with him but is quiet and steady as the old man also falls into talking about memories of his past and summoning spirits (?) before getting confused and is gently led away. We get the sense that the flowers remind the old man of his youth and approaching death and it’s quite a powerful few paragraphs to read.

There are other visitors too who all seem to fall into a kind of trance when surrounded by the flowers but I’d rather not tell the whole story and leave you to discover it for yourself. The characters range in age and class (the latter being especially important in the early twentieth century as there seemed to be a clear divide in society). Despite their differences, it is a setting where they can all enjoy a day out in the sunshine, take a break from the reality of “normal” life and become mesmerised by the beauty of nature taking each individual to a special place in their own memories. What’s Woolf trying to say? So many things which range from gender roles, youth and death to class and society. The powerful message that comes across for me is that at the end of the day we are all part of nature and taking a break from reality while basking in what nature has to offer us can only be a good thing for our survival as a species. I loved every moment of this wonderful story, the writing is flawless and had the effect of making me re-read entire paragraphs over and over again just to try and absorb it a little more. Can I say I’m a Virginia Woolf fan now?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.