Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Null. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Null. Show all posts

07 September, 2014

Null, Matthew Neill, "The Slow Lean of Time"

The story is written in 3rd person point of view and is almost omniscient, in my opinion. The voice is sometimes uneducated however smart, smart in the ways of the logging world in the second half of the nineteenth century.

"The Slow Lean of Time" is divided into twelve sections. Briefly, section one: Henry stands in the middle of the Gauley River bridge, a swinging rope bridge that has replaced a more substantial bridge so that logging, i.e. commerce, can take place on the river. Henry has come to find work that his cousin Ezekiel said was available. However, Ezekiel is not there upon Henry's arrival. There is some foreshadowing, "Henry saw the fish inhale two ducklings."

Section two: Henry goes to store and finds out his cousin is gone but has left a pair of logging boots for him and word that he is to go to "staging grounds" at the mouth of the Gauley River, a six mile walk.

Three: Henry meets the Captain and Sarsen. Sarsen plays the role of Christ, the teacher, and warns Henry of "palace of temptation."  Four: There is discussion between Henry and Sarsen about the boots and that they must be returned to Ezekiel. Henry steps off of the bear shaped rock and proves himself to be brave. Five: Sarsen gives "small sermons" and takes it upon himself to be teacher and is Christ-like to the young Henry and had the same role in the past with other young men. An image of "Rahab's scarlet thread" is introduced and will be repeated at least twice throughout the story, "braid of blood," "red smudge on the cord of his neck."

Section Six: They run into Martin and Mary stealing a log. Seven: A group of "foot-washers," i.e. Christians act as a chorus warning the two men of the log jam ahead. Henry is killed, "Henry went under" and Sarsen doesn't try to save him. Eight: For me, the theme is "despite all best efforts, the world will sully you." Nine: Sarsen starts to feel guilty and wears the boots around his neck as a sort of penance like a hair shirt. "The boots annoyed the hell out of him." And, "He carried the boots for years, even after the end of the river runs."

Section Ten:  The railroads are built and make it possible to cut timber from more areas than just near the rivers. Sarsen hates the railroads. Sarsen thinks that any man who wants can walk on water like Jesus. Sarsen does not drink but ends up working as a bartender and becomes the provider of vice. Coincidence that Ezekiel walks into the bar. Sarsen brags about Henry, out of proportion, and leaves out the fact that he didn't try to save Henry. Ezekiel throws the boots into the river and Sarsen jumps in after the boots, he probably committed suicide. "He took a bitter pleasure in having done right." "...he should have thrown the boots over himself." The story can be seen as a moral tale; the world corrupts. There are a lot of great logging descriptions.

"The Slow Lean of Time" is included in current issue of American Short Fiction, volume 17, issue 57.

web page about Null

15 October, 2011

Matthew Neill Null, "Something You Can't Live Without"

Cartwright, a traveling salesman, a drummer, has inherited a "sucker list" from the previous drummer and he's on his way to sell a plow. The story takes place in the West Virginia area and sometime just after the Spanish-American war, ca. 1900 or so. Cartwright is on his way to the McBride farm, Sherman McBride and his twin sons, one with just nine fingers from an accident.

The suspense, mystery, and foreshadowing are meted out just right. Starts out with Cartwright coming along right after the previous drummer was shot. Four pages in we learn that Cartwright hadn't returned with his inventory before and he doesn't want to start now so the reader thinks that maybe he'll take risks to make sure he sells it. My favorite is when the twins are right on Cartwright's trail and he's startled by them. "The boys had stalked up from behind. Cartwright couldn't help but jump."
Also, just the fact that we know how far Cartwright is from any other town or people is suspenseful. Then, of course, the confrontation when McBride does not produce the money but instead a newspaper clipping and we do not learn right away what the clipping is about. Then when Cartwright folds the newspaper clipping into the sucker list, great foreshadowing of something that is probably not good. My heart sank when Cartwright chiseled and the "skull turned to silt." And, "Cartwright was glad to have a hammer in hand" when the boy became angry. Their situation cannot end nicely. Then McBride turns Cartwright's words on him, "You said it yourself." Then, "The nine-fingered boy said, 'What's this'?" The boy has found the "sucker list" and "Cartwright felt the world turn on a pivot." All hell is going to break loose now.

The story has great descriptions and the tempo kept me engaged; there was a sense of suspense and believable situations even as some of them are quite rugged and tough. The mule is named, Ronald, but the twin boys are not named is very telling of just how hard a life they have. Truly the mule is their livelihood. The situations and people remind me of Annie Proulx's stories.

The POV is a third-person shifting and very close. I suppose you could say it's an omniscient POV but the way in moves in close and zooms out and shifts from person to person sometimes even shifting to the towns people, it seems like 3rd person shifting. It's about 23 pages long. I enjoyed it very much and think it is indeed worthy of being a PEN / O'Henry selection.

I kind of wish the author had selected a different name than Cartwright. It reminds me too much of Ben Cartwright and his sons from Bonanza, the old television western.

"Something You Can't Live Without" was first published in the Oxford American and subsequently selected for inclusion in the PEN / O'Henry Prize Stories 2011.

blog entry from A Just Recompense
Oxford American, Best of the South 2010, issue 69