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2009 Stories 37-54

They come together in two little groupings, from the books they appear in:

The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the thirty-six is by Jonathon Keats.  The framing device, in an "author's foreword" and "editors' afterword," introduces us to Professor Jay Katz and the twelve stories he has written up for publication. The twelve are supposedly real stories of twelve of the thirty-six Lamedh-Vov, or "anonymous saints."  All of the stories are told in the traditional Jewish folklore voice.  All of them take place in something that resembles pre-modern Eastern Europe (although I cannot help but picture the characters as if they were in "Fiddler on the Roof."  There is a bit of a "DaVinci Code" feel to the fore and after words, which in itself almost counts as a short story (although one with a dubious resolution at best).

The actual short stories are:

37. Alef The Idiot - the village simpleton teaches people how to be intelligent rather than Smart.
38. Beit The Liar - lying about prophetic dreams leads to heartbreak, and telling the truth leads to lifelong happiness
39. Gimmel The Gambler -  a gambler teaches a king how to take a chance
40. Dalet The Thief -  a town thief teaches his village how to be honest
41. Heyh The Clown -  not taking yourself too seriously is an artform that can sometimes stop war
42. Vov the Whore -  it takes a village to raise a child, but does it take all of the men of a village to sire one?
43. Zayin the Profane - what if the daughter of a pharmacist was hailed as the Messiah?
44. Chet the Cheat - does it matter who eats the departeds' sins, as long as someone does?
45. Tet The Idler - too much work makes Jack a dull boy, and too much sleep just makes him lazy.
46. Yod The Inhuman -  a Golem teaches two men a thing or two about being human.
47. Yod-Alef the Murderer - what happens when the Grim Reaper overlooks an entire town, and a local man is hired to replace him?
48. Yod-Beit the Rebel - a fallen angel teaches a town how to keep its word and its faith despite the obstacles in its path.

And then there was, finally, the last few stories in

I've been reading Keeper of Dreams, Orson Scott Card's massive short story collection, for months now.  The last few stories:

49. The Grinning Man and
50. The Yazoo Queen  are both short (novella length at best) tales of Alvin Maker, perhaps my favorite character / series of Card's.  In "Grinning Man," Alvin and his ward Arthur Stuart encounter Davey Crockett, a grizzly bear, and an unscrupulous miller.  In "The Yazoo Queen," Alvin and Arthur find themselves sharing a riverboat ride with Sam Austin, Jim Bowie, and eventually Abraham Lincoln, on their way to Nueva Barcelona.  'Grinning Man' is the more self-contained of the two stories, although both can be read without having read the novels.

The volume ends with four "Mormon stories," all of which center around some aspect of modern Mormon life, although most would read the same if you substituted "parish" for "ward" and "Catholic" or "Lutheran" for "Mormon."
51. Christmas at Helaman's  House  is about a man who has scrimped to give his family everything and discovers on Christmas Eve that, as happy as he has made his family, he still feels empty.
52. Neighbors - interesting experiment, told all in dialogue, not a single narratorial or descriptive phrase except what comes from the two characters' voices.  The story actually looks at what would happen, how people would react, if Jesus were to return today and be born to a modern Mormom couple.  Very vindictive of gossip.
53. God Plays Fair Once Too Often.  I'm not sure how this is actually a "Mormon" tale, being as it is a tale of God's last wager with Lucifer, in the 1800s, regarding whether capitalism or communism is the better political system.  The conceit has been done before, but I like the way Card manipulates it.
54. Worthy to Be One of Us -  examines what it takes to marry into a family that is so different, socio-economically, from your own, and how your own secrets become the family secrets.  It's about the role of women in LDS society, about the pressure to live up to what the man you married could one day be.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
The Book of the Unknown sounds rather interesting!

Would you believe I haven't read one short story this year? Not one. It's very sad. I do however have a book of crime stories on my library pile right now, so will post about those when I've read them.
Mar. 17th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)

I think everyone who was involved last year has sort of shifted away from short stories this year. I know I'm way behind -- not without good intentions, as I have a pile of issues of "The New Yorker" to get through sometime soon, and several literary mags.

It'll be good to hear / see what you're reading, though!
Mar. 17th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
To tell the truth, it's not so much that I've moved away from short stories, I'm behind with my reading in general. By now I would normally be at around 14 to 15 books but am only on book 9. I'm trying to get back on track but feel a bit like I'm chasing my tail.

I'll be starting a fantasy book challenge later this week and have put a book of Charles De Lint's short stories on the pile for that too. Plus, I kept out the pile of short story books I was working from, from last year. So all is not lost!

But, all told, I can't see me hitting over 100 short stories like I did last year.
Mar. 17th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say my shift was intentional, but I'm spending less time reading the stories in each week's "New Yorker" and more time just concentrating on books, which means I'm getting my short stories only when a collection moves to the top of the pile. But I think, like you, I'll be hard-pressed to match last year's total.
Mar. 17th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
And "The Book of the Unknown" was actually more interesting in some respects than I thought it would be, even after I was intrigued enough by the back cover copy to pick it up unrecommended. I wasn't expecting the framing device, and I suspect that added the extra level of "what's the author really intending" that increased my interest.
Mar. 17th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
The format sounds pretty interesting to me, so I'll see if the library has a copy.
Mar. 17th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
Looking forward to hearing what you think when you do get to read it!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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