Friday, November 12, 2010

Healing Scars - Jo Brielyn

Author: Jo Brielyn
Author web:
Date: 2009
Setting: anywhere, in the present day
Availability: In the anthology Elements of the Soul

Story: Cassie, and her 10-year-old son Matt, are doing Christmas shopping with money Matt has earned shoveling snow. They don’t have very much to spend on the holiday, and Matt understands this, as much as a child can, but he really would like a brand new bicycle.

To escape from crowds, and the difficult shopping decisions, they go to the park and make snow angels for an hour, simply enjoying each other and having fun. They are startled by a homeless woman who has been watching them, and also enjoying the angels they have made.

We are well into the story before we realize that Matt’s father died in a house fire, and that Matt, himself, is badly scarred. Cassie hates the way that other people look at her son, since she is so grateful that he was spared, when she had first thought that both the boy and his father were dead.

The homeless woman, Rose, notices Mattie’s scars, but after a quick double-take just treats Matt normally. Matt loves Rose’s dog, and seems completely oblivious to the woman’s ragged clothes and layers of grime.

Rose encourages Cassie to tell her about the fire.

Commentary: This story offers counterpoint and harmony on the various types of scars that people can carry. Mattie’s are physical, but Cassie and Rose have their own kinds of emotional scars to deal with.

Cassie looks normal, but is struggling with her immense losses at the young age of 25. Rose is philosophical about her lack of family, friends or material possessions, but she is shunned by most of society. Mattie is the most outwardly scarred, but seems least damaged in his soul.

The story is told mostly in the present tense.

Author info: Jo Brielyn is a free-lance writer, mother, and host of the Creative Kids Ideas blog and blog talk radio show. She is an Air Force veteran, and holds a degree in Workforce Education and Development from Southern Illinois University. She loves writing for children, and creating educational and creative opportunities for them. Learn more about Jo at She is currently writing a fiction story for middle-age children

Language skills 7
Depth of meaning 7


Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Outstation - W. Somerset Maugham

Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Date: 1924
Setting: Borneo, in the 1920's
Availability: Read The Outstation on line, free

(note: there are numerous typos), or order a Maugham anthology below

Story: A British gentleman, Mr. Warburton, is in charge of an Outstation in the colony of Borneo. We learn that he is there because he tried to live a life rubbing elbows with the peerage in Britain, which was a little above his station. In so doing, he gambled a lot, and lost all his money. The standard solution to that problem, at that time, was to go to a distant colony.

In Borneo, Mr. Warburton has managed to create a nice little slice of the world, very much to his liking. He gets along well with the natives, and although he is revealed to be a snob in many ways, he does not feel that way toward the Malays at all.

The story opens as his new assistant, a young Australian, Alan Cooper, arrives by boat. Mr. Warburton has misgivings before Cooper even arrives. He has been the only white man in the area for years, and he’s quite content with that situation. But he greets Cooper politely, recognizing that travel is a dirty business, shows him to his bungalow, and invites him to come to the main house for dinner.

Mr. Warburton dresses for dinner, as is his custom, in full British formal style. Cooper shows up in his dirty, casual clothes. The clash between these two men’s attitudes toward civilized life begins, and goes downhill from that point. Cooper does not respect the natives at all and does not want to listen to Warburton’s recommendations of how to get good work from them. Cooper reads Warburton's newspapers, enraging the Brit, and finally calls Warburton “a snob” to his face, which is just the final straw.

Commentary: This is a realistic tale where there is no clear hero and villain. Each of the men has good qualities and serious failings. Warburton represents everything that is both bad and good about the British Empire of the 19th Century. Although he tends to think that he is better than most other white men, Warburton does not think of other races as inferior. Cooper represents the brash, new attitude toward life where no class of persons is better than another. But he is clearly racist, and treats the Malays as little more than slaves.

The inability of these two men to come to any sort of compromise leads to a self-imposed isolation from each other, at this outstation, where they should be looking for ways to find things they have in common. Once each has thoroughly offended the other, there is no way to extricate themselves from a descending spiral of attitudes and actions that leads to the tragic conclusion.

Author info: W. Somerset Maugham, 1875-1965, was born to an English family who served in the British Embassy of Paris. But his mother died when he was eight, and his father also died just two years later. Maugham was unhappy at school and developed a stutter, which he retained for his entire life.

Although his guardians had many ideas of an appropriate career for him, Maugham desperately wanted to be a writer. He did complete medical school, but soon thereafter, concentrated on writing. By 1914 he was already famous as an author.

Unusual Words:
prahu- a double-hulled sailing boat
topee- a pith helmet
Dyak- natives from the interior of Borneo, sometimes headhunters
songkok- a hat similar to a fez

Language skills 10
Depth of meaning 10