Friday, May 4, 2012

The Promised Shore - Vic Rubenfeld

Author: Vic Rubenfeld
Date: 2011
Setting: uncertain- perhaps early 20th century- see commentary
Availability: Buy The Promised Shore on Smashwords

Story: A young man, Nolan, and his friends, find a mirror resting on the ice in the middle of a frozen lake. Nolan and Halstead walk over the ice to retrieve the mirror, and each sees a glimpse of some hidden portion of their soul. Taking the mirror back to the group, Malcomb also is shown something beyond his mere reflection. Isabel and Adrian choose to look at each other’s reflection and see such things as young lovers might find in the depths of their beloved’s heart.

But the mirror clouds, and this one brief vision is all that is revealed. Nolan, however, is not content to let the search for meaning end.

Commentary: This short story really needs to be read a couple of times to understand what’s going on, and there is room for more than one interpretation. Is the mirror magical, or was the timing simply right for the young people to briefly see past their shallow existence?

Nolan could be symbolic of the few people who strive throughout life to find meaning.

The story is written in long, complex sentences, with antiquated language. This adds somewhat to the sense of mysticism, but does make it difficult to read. You need to get your mind into the grove of the style for it to flow. Once you do this, however, it works well for the introspective nature of the tale. There is a sense that this happened in a past age. The language and the characters’ names suggest this.

However, later in the story a photograph is introduced, which is jarring. Suddenly, we are forced to accept that this is a relatively modern setting. The clothing in the photograph rather exactly dates the story, and then the characters’ names no longer made sense for that era. Personally, I had a hard time with the photograph. Before that, the story could have been in almost any time or place, or even any world– perhaps it was fantasy. After that, I began to struggle with the mechanics, and forgot to follow the thread of meaning.

One nice touch is that early on, Nolan sees himself in a regular mirror and barely recognizes the person. This sets up the reader for the value of what the mirror from the ice reveals.

Author info: Vik Rubenfeld Created the hit CBS TV Series, EARLY EDITION, which starred Kyle Chandler as a man who received tomorrow's news today. Vik is also a Director of Market Research. He is married and lives in Los Angeles. Vic Rubenfeld's web page

Language skills 8
Depth of meaning 6


Monday, March 26, 2012

Afterward - Edith Wharton

Author: Edith Wharton
Date: 1910
Setting: early 1900s
Availability: Read Afterward on line, free

Story: A young American couple buys a fixer-upper home in the English Countryside. They are looking for an old place with character where they can create their own mark. They also really want a house with a ghost. The house they buy is somewhat lacking in this regard. It may have a ghost, but supposedly people never know the ghost is there until much later.

Mary and Edward (Ned) Boyne fix up the place comfortably, and have no financial worries due to Ned's business successes in the States. Their relationship is loving, and everything is nearly perfect in their lives. One afternoon, they take a hike and are high on a hill near their home when they spot a man walking up their driveway. Ned, thinking he recognizes him as one of the workmen he wants to talk to, rushes down to catch him, but it's too far. The man has disappeared before Ned gets there.

Meanwhile some business news seems to be disturbing Ned, but he won't tell Mary what it's all about. She can only wonder at the lines in his brow and distracted air. Then one day, a letter arrives, and Ned is suddenly relieved, telling Mary that something he was very concerned about has now worked itself out, and all is well again.

But is it?

Commentary: "Afterward" is a psychological ghost story of the Victorian era. One should not begin reading this expecting some modern horror tale. Probably the most familiar ghost story of this time period is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This sort of tale was very popular at the time, and in fact, Wharton published an entire book of them, Tales of Men and Ghosts. They are meant to give you a shiver and things to think about, not leave you shaking in your seat, afraid to answer the door.

The suspense builds as Mary (and sometimes a third-party narrator) tells the story of what happened leading up to the crisis with Ned, when she realizes that the ghost has indeed been there, but she did not know it until long afterwards, just as predicted.

Mary's typical role, for that time period, as a woman who knows little of her husband's business, contributes to the suspense. It is ironic that the ghost they finally were able to find was not in the house all along, but was attached to them, personally. There is also more than a suggestion of the philosophy that the thing we want most will sometimes bring us great sadness, if we obtain it.

Author info: Edith Newbold Jones, 1862- 1937 wrote her first novel at the age of eleven, but her mother thought this was an unacceptable profession for a lady, and trained her to act properly in high society. The Joneses were so well off it has been suggested that the maxim "keeping up with the Joneses" was based on this family. When Edith decided to write for a living anyway, her society friends refused to acknowledge what she did. This insider knowledge of high society served as material for her many books and stories with ironic criticism of that time period.

In 1885 she married Edward Wharton, whose mental health deteriorated until she divorced him.

In 1920, she wrote The Age of Innocence and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, the first woman to be so honored.

Unusual Words:
coign- a high sloping hill (in this context)

Language skills 9
Depth of meaning 7


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shotgun Wedding - Steven Thor Gunnin

Author: Steven Thor Gunnin
Date: any time
Setting: a small-town chapel in Hobb's End
Availability: in the anthology Consequences

Story: Jake, wielding a shotgun, is determined that the preacher is going to make his wedding to Peggy legal. Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea.

Commentary: "Shotgun Wedding" is a very short story, and yet it manages to get in several good twists and a play on words. If I say much about it at all, I'll be giving too much away. The coarse speech pattern of Jake is totally believable. On the other hand, there are some repetitious or awkward phrases that detract from the readability, and one break in point of view.

On the whole, the story works well, and provides the reader with an interesting take on the title phrase.

Author info: Steven Thor Gunnin is a graphic designer who writes in his spare time, and is a big fan of George Romero (Night of the Living Dead). He has had other stories published in Elements of the Soul

Consequences is available as a paperback, or in ebook format.

Language skills 5
Depth of meaning 5