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In Amy Hempel’s short story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” the masks worn by the narrator and her terminally ill friend symbolize the pair’s habits of hiding their true feelings.  The masks that these two characters wear are used to keep the sick friend from inhaling germs in her weakened state, but the narrator especially hides behind her mask, trying to stifle her guilt at the fear she feels when confronted with the reality of her friend’s imminent demise.  The reader can infer that the dying friend was always the strong one before she got sick, and now the narrator feels that she needs to take up the leading role due to her friend’s incapacitation.  The narrator fears her new role in the dynamic of their friendship; she doesn’t feel able to maintain control of her emotions as she watches her friend die.

Amy Hempel’s minimalist style is an excellent vehicle for the portrayal of the two young women in this story.  While her lack of description leaves out detail about the setting of some of the scenes, it does a wonderful job of showing the narrator’s awkwardness in dealing with her friend’s illness.  The narrator is afraid of many things, from earthquakes to flying, but her friend’s death terrifies her to the point where she doesn’t even want to think about it.  The story’s flow is interrupted by time lapses, both forward and back, as the narrator tries to avoid thinking about her friend’s death and how she isn’t brave enough to stay and comfort her friend in her final days.  This choppiness enhances Hempel’s minimalist style, which I believe is an admirable stylistic choice in her storytelling.  

 

The Best Fiend

Senior woman laying in hospital bed

Senior woman laying in hospital bed

The most interesting part of Amy Hampel’s “The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is when The Best Friend leaves when she knows the extra bed was brought in for her.  She chooses not to stay for what could be her friends last hours.  The narrator is afraid to stay with her friend even though she knows her dying friend is afraid to die alone.  Even when faced with an opportunity to improve the last moments of a woman she considers to be her friend, she chooses selfishness instead.  This is also the reason she has not come to visit her friend earlier.  She was too afraid and she allowed her fear to make her selfish.  This is a conflict often seen in all different types of genres, but usually the protagonist overcomes the fear either by acting selflessly or by wishing to act selflessly.  This is not the case in “The Cemetery pondWhere Al Jolson is Buried.”  In this story the narrator does not overcome her fear and her friend does not receive a cure at the very last second.  There is no happy ending, but it could be that by leaving she was avoiding a situation where a memory that her friend would want to keep would be made.  It could be that her selfish act, most likely unintentionally, helped to fulfill her friend’s last request, and that makes the ending just slightly less sad than I had originally thought.

 

The narrator of the story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is a person with many fears. We are privy to many of her trivial fears – like flying – but we must infer much of her greatest fear, which is her fear of visiting her dying friend.
The narrator visits her terminally ill friend after her friend has been hospitalized for two months. She doesn’t stay for long, even though her friend desperately wants her to, and goes as far as to set up an extra bed in her hospital room. The ill friend seems to have always been the strong one in the two’s relationship, and now that the narrator has to be brave for her friend, she backs down from the challenge. It seems as though she is letting her fear of losing her friend interfere with her duty of supporting her best friend in a time of need.
Protagonists in works of fiction are usually brave (although admittedly flawed in some way). The protagonist in Amy Hempel’s story is definitely cowardly; she mentions being shocked by a friend’s story of a man who was scared to death in a car crash when he saw his injured arm, and draws a parallel to her friend’s illness, saying that, until now, she “hadn’t dared to look any closer. But now [she’s] doing it – and [is] hoping that [she’ll] live through it.” The main character is less likeable because she is reluctant to be there for her friend when she needs her the most, but she is also more believable because of her flaws.

The first time reading this story, I was focused on figuring out what was going on. What was wrong with the narrator’s friend? Why did they have to wear masks? Was the narrator sick as well? Why does the narrator’s friend want to know so many useless facts?

After taking time to think and then reading the story again, it was easier to focus on the main points of the story. Because she knew she was dying, the narrator’s friend wanted to know things she wouldn’t care if she forgot because she knew she would soon forget the important things anyway. She didn’t want to learn something that she cared about because she wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy it.

One of the things I found most interesting about this story, however, was not the importance of the useless facts, but the section where the narrator talked about the man who was scared to death. “A man wrecked his car on 101 going south. He did not lose consciousness. But his arm was taken down to the wet bone – and when he looked at it – it scared him to death…

“So I hadn’t dared to look any closer. But now I’m doing it – and hoping that I will live through it.”

These small paragraphs caught my attention immediately. The story of the man was used as a way of expressing that the narrator was terrified that her friend was going to die. She knew it was inevitable and that was why she stayed away for so long. She was afraid that being around the woman would make losing her even more difficult, but now she was ripping off the Band-Aid, so to speak, and hoping it wouldn’t hurt as much as she anticipated.

Fear goes on to play a central role in the story; the one who was never afraid of anything was now the one who needed someone to comfort her, and while she was scared as well, the narrator had to be brave and face what was to come. The fact that the narrator went on to take a “Fear of Flying” class showed that if her friend could be brave throughout her illness, then she could face her fears as well – especially after how frightening that experience had been.

Overall, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is a story that really makes you think, even while keeping the dialogue and tone of the story generally light. Even though there is a death, the story has a happy ending in a way because the narrator tries to overcome her fears.

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Under the Bed

In Ron Rash’s “Chemistry,” the reservoir, on its surface, was just a lake. Beneath, though, it was a place of surreal horrors, as Joel discovered. I found myself wondering: Why would his father keep diving, knowing all of the grim and terrible things to be found at the reservoir bottom?

Was it curiosity? When I was a young boy, I’d often hide under my blankets at night and tuck in my limbs, so monsters couldn’t grab me and drag me from my bed. I’d get hot and sweaty, and the air under my blanket would get stuffy, but I resisted poking my head out. Eventually, though, I had to breathe, so I’d raise the sheets just a little, to look for monsters. When none leaped out to eat me, I’d throw back the sheets, breathing in the cool air and shivering as it chilled my sweaty skin. Then I’d shine my flashlight around and look under my bed.

Were my life a horror movie, the audience would have been shouting at me not to look under the bed, that it was a bad idea and the monster would get me. Yet I couldn’t resist looking, making sure the monster in my imagination was gone or hiding away. I wanted to know what it looked like, and face it, in some ways. The night isn’t half as scary when you have a flashlight, even when it ruins your night vision and gives you away.

I believe that Joel’s father looked because he was curious about where he might be going and how he might look, drowned and drifting at the bottom of the reservoir.

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The words of Ron Rash successfully encompass multiple meanings, as artfully executed in “ChIMG_7271emistry.” By using water as central to the theme of this short story, a fluidity of intertwining relationships emerges. The basic necessity, simplified H20, provides a body in which elements of emotions, connections, heredity, and memories find sustenance.
Rash creates a sense of uncertainty that easily enters into the mind of the reader. His use of the simile “sudden as a nightmare” hints beyond the whiskers of the catfish and toward that of the unfathomable. The line “At supper he spoke excitedly of water’s other side” adds greater significance to Joel’s reflection of his father when he states,”…as my father disappeared off the dock toward mysteries I no longer wished to fathom.”
Through Rash’s deliberate articuAs Gentle as You Pleaselations and incorporation of religious context, an etheric plane also evolves in the reader’s consciousness. “There was nothing in this world to sustain him, so he had to look somewhere else.”  South Mountain Reservoir may not have been  where Cliffside Presbyterian held its baptismal services, but for the Pentecostal at heart, Mr. Hampton, it held his rapture.

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“Miniature Man”

At first, when reading Carrie Brown’s story, it was difficult for me to follow.  I couldn’t understand who the narrator was and who this story was really about.  I had read that Tomas was the cousin, but I felt as though she should have mentioned that previous to when she said it.  However, I thought it was a beautiful story given from this point of view.  I really enjoyed how she made the characters so complex and gave information that you don’t usually get about the other characters in a story.  She did an amazing job of giving details and describing, giving the reader visuals as to what you should see and what was most important.

“Burning Bright”

The greatest victory of Ron Rash’s “Burning Bright” is his ability to create a setting that is not out of thin air.  When it comes to the location, he does not have the luxury of fiction.  He chose to write about a real place and it is my opinion that he did an amazing job.  While reading the story,shore_presidio I was able to see the small town Marcie and Carl live in, but more importantly, I could hear the radio and feel the heat off of the dirt.  I lived in the area he chose to write about and reading this story made me homesick on a level that typically is only reached by watching UT football.  Rash’s ability to create a setting that is believable is his greatest skill and this story is the perfect example of that.   The way he sets the scene is as impressive as the scene itself.  He never just describes the town, but instead gives the reader details through the eyes of Marcie, which never comes across as awkward despite the fact that Marcie has lived in the town for her entire life.  All in all, I read the story a couple times because of how close to home it made me feel, and I believe that is a testament to the overall quality of Rash’s writing.

Spark and Kindle

When I was young, I started a fire. My parents had recently removed the old Christmas tree from the living room, and they’d left it lying a few feet away from the end of our brick patio. Spring was coming rapidly, and the whole family was outside. My brothers and I were playing together, racing around the house, shouting our little heads off. Mom and Dad were working on some yard project or other.

I can’t remember all the details, but I remember that tree, bursting into flame like a match. It made a whooshing sound when it went up, like evergreens tend to do. The blaze popped and crackled, and it was so hot I had to back away, to watch. When my parents asked what had happened, I told them that my younger brother had done it. Years later, though, I confessed the truth of the matter.

Fire is an amazing and wonderful thing, and I suppose I can understand the fascination with it that surrounds Ron Rash’s “Burning Bright.” As years passed and I grew older, I was often given the responsibility of starting a fire when my family was working in the garden. Living in a forest as we do, there’s never a scarcity of wood that needs burning, or can be burned for sausages.

I always put care into kindling the flame, and my father often commented on the constructions of logs, twigs, and dry bark that resembled miniature pyres, or Lincoln logs. Lighting them was a pain, at times, and I’d burn through several matches before they went up. But those first few minutes of a fire, when the wood is funneling the breeze into the budding flame and the blaze is roaring like a distant lion, are magical. Staring into the flame, I’d let my mind drift and wander, and wonder what it’d be like to listen to all the stories told around a fire in the evening.

Ron Rash draws the reader into the happenings of small town America through conversations and details within daily affairs.  While set in the rural South, his story is about dilemmas present in the lives and hearts of everyone. He writes of the condition of loneliness.  He writes of  complications of choices.  He writes with subtle foreshadowing. The presence of the unwanted and the even greater desire for that which is absent are in every dried blade of grass and the forlorn desires for rain.

I found the most interesting aspect of Ron Rash’s short story “Burning Bright” to be the moral dilemma that Marcie, the main character, faces.  She and her husband, Carl, live in a small town in North Carolina.  The town is experiencing a major drought, and someone in a black pickup truck is setting fires in the surrounding area.  The majority of the town suspects that Carl is the culprit, and Marcie harbors secret doubts about her husband, as well.

Marcie does not know what to believe.  She loves Carl and wants to think that he would never commit arson, but she admits to noticing strange aspects of his behavior that make her doubt his innocence.  Marcie blames her doubt on her neighbor’s attitudes towards Carl.  They are naturally suspicious of him because he isn’t from their small town.  Carl is also much younger than Marcie, and she tells herself that her doubt also stems from people who have “made you believe you don’t deserve him, don’t deserve a little happiness.”    Marcie does have cause to suspect that Carl is the arsonist, however.  On their honeymoon, Marcie buys Carl a gift of his choice.  He chooses a lighter, which she sometimes sees him playing with on the porch at night, flicking the flame on and off for no apparent reason.  On the day that the story takes place, a fire has been set thirty minutes before Carl came home from work.  When he comes home, Marcie notices that there is a five-gallon can of gasoline in the bed of his black pickup truck.  This could just be fuel for the chainsaw he uses at work, but Marcie is afraid that he used the gasoline to start the latest fire.  According to the sheriff that stops by their house, Carl almost went to juvenile detention for setting fire to a baseball field as a teenager, which provides more cause for suspicion against Carl.

The moral dilemma that Rash sets up forms the main conflict of “Burning Bright.”  Marcie thinks that Carl could be setting the fires that keep occurring around her town, but she wants to believe his innocence.  Moral dilemmas like this one make readers more interested in a story.  Carl is so quiet and almost secretive that readers can’t really guess if he is the arsonist or not, and this makes them more interested in the story.

 

This article from Writer’s Digest explains the role that moral dilemmas play in making stories and characters better:  http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/5-moral-dilemmas-that-make-characters-stories-better?utm_source=wir&utm_campaign=wds-bak-wir-160906&utm_content=876269_WDE160906&utm_medium=email

 

The writing in “Burning Bright” was very descriptive, allowing me to really picture the setting of the story and get an idea of the characters’ personalities. “…the corn shucks gray and papery as a hornet’s nest. She stepped off the porch and dragged a length of hose into the garden, its rubber the sole bright green among the rows.” The use of color in this portion of the text set the scene for just how dry the weather had been.

Even the woman from the grocery store, Barbara, helped set the scene for the kind of community Marcie lived in. Barbara, and presumably many other residents of the town, liked to gossip, especially about anyone who wasn’t from there originally. Coming from someone who has lived in a small town all her life, I could recognize the things she said in things I’ve heard people say before in my hometown. Characters and details like these really help the reader get the feel of what small towns are truly like.

The flashbacks to when Arthur died and when Marcie first met Carl and was getting to know him helped me get a sense of who they were and why Marcie really needed Carl to be innocent. If Carl was found guilty of setting the fires, Marcie would be alone once again, which was something she feared. I enjoyed the fact that it was so often hinted at Carl being the perpetrator, but it was never directly addressed whether or not he had set the fires. It made me want to read more and find out what actually happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. The writing drew me in, and I couldn’t wait to see how everything turned out in the end.

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Exercise 3

Write a story that includes a scene prompted by one of these images. The story — double-spaced, in 12-pt. Times or Times New Roman font — is due Tuesday, September 20, and should be placed in the Exercise 3 folder on Google Drive. The document should be saved as a Word document and should be titled YourName.ENGL106.Ex3.docx.

4540719-md SM_1 doisneau_fallen_horse

winogrand_new_mexico weegee_add_water

The Dreamer

“Miniature Man,” by Carrie Brown, is a story about a family in the small village of Monterojo in the Sierras des las Marinas mountains.  It is told from the point of view of Dr. Xavia, the village doctor and uncle of Gregorio Aruna, the other central character in the story.  The story seems to center mostly around Gregorio; but through Dr. Xavia’s eyes, we get an outsider’s perspective on Gregorio’s actions.

Gregorio has just suffered a debilitating injury that has crippled his hands, and he is unable to continue working on his miniature museum.  His parents (especially his mother) want him to stay at home so that they can take care of him, but they are unable to talk with him without conflict.  As Dr. Xavia says: “they have never known how to talk to Gregorio.  None of us has.”  Gregorio has always been a dreamer, and people in his village were mystified when he used the lottery winnings that he won in England to set up a miniature museum in Monterojo.  The original reason for his visiting England in the first place was for him to get an education so that he could get a career in business.

Gregorio’s punishment for refusing to get an education was to care for his sister’s infant son, Patrick, while she and her husband were visiting her family.  Dr. Xavia said that Patrick was always crying or making a fuss about something, and Gregorio was miserable taking care of him.  Eventually, though, Gregorio found a way to coexist peacefully with his nephew, which Dr. Xavia discovered one day when he couldn’t find the two anywhere in town.  Dr. Xavia eventually made his way up to the ruined castle, where he found “Patrick freed from his carriage and tethered to Gregorio’s ankle by means of a long rope, happily crawling about or playing with the stones or the sand, filthy, of course, but completely occupied… And there was Gregorio, paper on his knee, charcoal in his hand, drawing his baby nephew in various attitudes, drawing the castle, drawing the clouds, drawing the rooftops of the village below… Any fool could have seen that they were working.”  To most observers, Gregorio and Patrick would have appeared to be playing, but, to Gregorio, his art is as much a form of labor as Dr. Xavia’s medical practice.     

“Fatso”

The  short story “Fatso” was a beautifully written love story that really resonated with me.  Often times in stories you never hear or in this case read from the perspective of the role of the male.  In this story the man talks about his girlfriend and how she changes at night to a different person.  At first when I was reading this story I thought that this story had to have been some type of fantasy story because the author described the woman’s transformation differently.  I compared it to the transformation that Fiona makes in the movie Shrek.  In the movie Fiona transformed at night into a creature and during the day she was a beautiful princess.  Which is pretty much the same thing that occured in the story that the author wrote. However, after readin the story for the second time it was obvious that the author was using the fact that the woman turned into a man at night as a metaphor.  What the author was basically was saying was that his grilfriend at night turned into his bestfriend.  He was able to watch sports, drink beer and whatever else he wanted to do because this women he was with turned into his bestfriend as the relationship progressed.  I found that to be the thing about this story.

“The Liar”

As a reader, I felt as though this story was interesting. It was interesting because of the perspective changes that took place and the overall flow of the story. I had noticed in the story that the little boy had developed a lying problem after the death of his father.  However, I thought the most interesting part about the story was how it both began and ended with a lie.  He was telling information and expressing emotions he was not able to experience.  He told things about his mother that he wasn’t able to share because there was no way he could have known about them.

As a writer I found the story to be, like I said before, interesting; however I was not totally intrigued. I loved that the author used lies to began and end the story, but I feel like the story at times was confusing to understand.  The overall flow of the story was great, but it was hard to follow because you could never tell what information you were getting was either true or not.  I guess that’s another reason why this story was so interesting because even though things were a problem for me, they also worked for me as a reader.

IMG_8583Write a twenty-seven-sentence story in which the sentences are organized alphabetically. Your first sentence must begin with a word that begins with a, the second with a word that begins with b, and so on through the alphabet.

You’ve already noticed, perhaps, that the assignment calls for twenty-seven sentences though there only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. This is a creative writing class.

The story — double-spaced, in 12-pt. Times or Times New Roman font — is due Thursday, September 8, and should be placed in the Exercise 2 folder on Google Drive. The document should be saved as a Word document and should be titled YourName.ENGL106.Ex2.docx.

the-lonely-treeI think what Mary Robison is trying to portray in her short story “I Am Twenty-One” is that life is a complicated concept that one doesn’t always have the capability to steer in the direction they want it to go. Throughout the story there are key situations that can support this idea. In the beginning the narrator expresses determination in getting a good grade is the class, which she demonstrates via her studying and impressive note skills, but in the end is unable to finish her exam before the bell. Another situation, her room and lack of décor which has resulted in it looking like a “bum’s sleepover, like poverty”, shows how she had great plans for the space but life got in the way, preventing her from accomplishing her scholarly dream room. However, what is most striking about this narrator’s life is the turn in which she mentions her parent’s death. It has been two years since the car accident.

Being the author, Robison creates a seamless transition from the past to a brutal present, which throws the reader off quilter, as it was very unexpected. This same characteristic is found in life all the time. I have a feeling that is why she also set up the story line the way she did. The term ‘go with the flow’ was not created on a whim and is also embedded in this story. At the end, the narrator accepts that she has no control over what has happened and starts focusing on tomorrow. She has decided to go with the flow.

Secrets

“Fatso” struck a chord with me, from the very first paragraph. I’ll be the first to say that no one lives the same life, but this short story reflected a similar experience I once had with a girl. I’m only twenty-two; I can’t lay claim worldly wisdom or great understanding of life. I don’t know whether what we had was love or not, or merely the deep affection of young people learning about themselves and the world. She came to me with what she described as an ugly secret, and she cried. I found the secret not so ugly at all.

In “Fatso,” the narrator immediately dismisses his girlfriend’s secret. Not because it was trivial, but because it did not matter to him. Whatever the horrible secret was wouldn’t sway his opinion and feelings for her. He loved her; blindly, one might say. As a reader, and one who had a similar experience with a secret, watching him narrate the events of his time with Fatso was familiar and brought back a number of memories.

When I arrived at the end of the story, I realized that the narrator abandoned me at the start, the very first paragraph. He turned things around, mixed me up, and suddenly I was the one resting alongside this Fatso in bed.

To me, the secret wasn’t that the girl he loved turned into a short, fat man by night. It was showing who you are, and being vulnerable going into a relationship, and of course, the struggle your partner might go through in loving and accepting you.

I found point of view to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the short story “Yours” by Mary Robison. The author creates an air of uncertainty through her use of third-person omniscient point of view, a feeling that is only added to by her utilization of past tense.

Third-person omniscient point of view allows the narrator to reveal the thoughts of more than one character without explicitly changing point of view like third person shifting omniscient. This type of viewpoint can be beneficial to the reader since it allows them to understand the thoughts of more than one character, but it can also be confusing and reveal frustratingly little information. In the case of “Yours,” the use of third-person omniscient errs on the side of confusing. In the beginning of the story, the narrator reveals Allison’s thoughts, and in the end, the reader gets to see the thoughts of her husband, Clark. Part of what makes this point of view so confusing is the brevity of the story. It is so short that the reader is unable to spend adequate time with each character and so is unable to understand them fully. Robison also seems to be deliberately vague when detailing the thoughts of her characters.

“Yours” is also told in past tense. Past tense is indicative of a retrospective point of view, or one in which the narrator is talking about an event that happened to them in the past. This point of view can sometimes make the events of the story clearer, as the speaker is looking back on them and should theoretically understand them better than they did at the age at which they experienced the events, but this is not the case with “Yours.”

I do believe, however, that Robison’s use of third-person omniscient point of view in the past tense was a wise decision that fits well with the concept of her story. Allison never specifies what exactly is wrong with her, making it all the more shocking when she begins to die at the end of the story. The situation with Clark’s family is also never explained, so the reader is left to wonder why his family wrote him such “extremely unkind” things in a recent letter to him. The reader can make inferences about both of the main characters that can be supported by the text – such as Allison may be dying of cancer due to the “natural-hair wig” she wears, and Clark’s family could be angry that he married such a young woman and think that she only wants him for his money – but we can never be sure what Robison really means.

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