Donald Barthelme, “The School”

 

This is my second entry in the “2019 Deal Me In Short Story Challenge” hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This week, I drew a 5 of Clubs, which took me to Donald Barthelme’s story “The School,” originally published in 1975.  I found the story in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor.

Donald Barthelme (pictured above), who lived from 1931-1989, was known for writing short stories that are “surreal” or “postmodern” or “experimental.”  These are all fancy ways of saying his stories don’t make a lot of sense.  (This is not a criticism, just an observation.)

“The School” is narrated by a teacher named Edgar.  He starts the story by explaining how his 30 students all planted orange trees as part of their education.  All of the trees died.  Then we learned that the children’s snakes all died as well. So did the herb gardens they worked on, as did the tropical fish.  The puppy, too, died, as did the Korean orphan, two children, and one child’s father.

Eventually, the children asked the teacher what happened to  all of these dead creatures? Where did they go?  The teacher said nobody knew.

And then the children asked “is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life.  Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of—

I said, yes, maybe.

They said, we don’t like it.”  (310)

In recompense, the children wanted the teacher to make love with the teaching assistant, Helen, in front of them.  They want to know how lovemaking is done.

The teacher said he couldn’t do that, but he kissed Helen a few times on the brow.  Then a gerbil knocked on the door and walked into the class, after which “The children cheered wildly.”

That’s how the story ends.

I would say this story is a postmodern experiment in surrealism.   Or maybe a surreal experiment in postmodernism.  In other words, I really don’t know what it means.  I would guess it is a meditation on the inevitable cycle of life, death, lovemaking, and gerbils.  But mostly death.  So you might as well make love with the teaching assistant.

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Six Degrees of Separation: “French Lieutenant’s Woman” to “Rebecca”

 

Kate of booksaremyfavouriteandbest hosts a monthly meme called “6 Degrees of Separation.”   She writes, “On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.”

This month, the starting book is The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.  I haven’t read this book but I did see the movie adaptation, which starred Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep also starred in The Hours, an adaptation of the novel by Michael Cunningham.  The Hours explores one day in the lives of three women.  One of these women is Virginia Woolf, who is writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway, the novel on which The Hours is based.

The main character of Mrs. Dalloway is a woman named Clarissa.  The novel also features a character named Septimus, a veteran of World War I who is suffering from shell shock. Septimus’s doctor plans to send him to an asylum for the mentally ill.

Veterans suffering from mental illnesses stemming from World War I are also featured in Regeneration by Pat Barker.  Rivers, the doctor, is portrayed as a complex and sympathetic character.

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel with a much more critical portrayal of a mental asylum.  The movie version of Cuckoo’s Nest starred Jack Nicolson.

Nicholson also starred in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.  That novel scared the bejesus out of me when I read it back in the 1970s.

Another book which scared me when I was younger is Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.

I travelled from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to Rebecca.  They seem like good companion novels to me.  Both feature lonely young women, and both are set on the southern coast of England.


Now it’s your turn to try!  Post a link to your Six Degrees of Separation in the comments section.

 

What Pegman Saw in Harare

Harare Zimbabwe

Benjamin does not know how long he has been walking.  The sun is battering his head. When will it leave him alone?  Just yesterday, his life was full of promise.  His car repair business was starting to succeed.  His boy, Solomon, was starting to walk.  He smiles as he recalls Solomon’s laugh.  Such an intelligent child! So much like him—his eyes, his nose.  Solomon, unfortunately, has his mother’s large mouth.

That woman could not keep her mouth shut.  Why could she not keep her tongue from wagging?  Always criticizing, always wanting more.  It was not his fault.  Last night, she knew Benjamin had a massive headache.  And yet she continued her harangue.  He just wanted her to stop talking, just to shut up for a minute.   He had not meant to kill her.  He just needed to keep walking.  If only the sun would leave him alone.

******

This piece of flash fiction was inspired by this week’s “What Pegman Saw” prompt.  The challenge is to write a complete story of 150 words or fewer based on the photo prompt.  For more information, click here.

Changing Seasons: February

vday-dinner

I am participating in Cardinal Guzman’s Changing Seasons photography challenge.

The challenge is to find one picture that best represents that month.

The highlight of this month for me was a weekend getaway my husband and I took to the Outing Lodge.  (See here for more photos.)   We stayed on Valentine’s Day weekend, and the trip included a lavish Valentine’s Day dinner at the lodge, followed by tango lessons.  This photo serves as my souvenir of that evening.

How was your February?

 

The Kim Jong-un Weight-Loss Regime

Who wants to be fat when the apocalypse comes?

This post is part of my Live from America! series.  For information that series, click here.

Dear ALF:

I wish you and your fellow Advanced Life Forms a happy new year.  (Now that I think of it, though, I don’t know if your creatures have years—be they old or new.  Oh, well.  Whatever.  (“Whatever” is what my people say when they do not want to be required to use language to communicate.)

In today’s headlines are reports that North Korea has detonated its first hydrogen bomb.  Since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is bat-shit crazy and runs a bat-shit crazy regime, this news probably means the world will probably be coming to an end in the next few years.

You know what that means, right?  It means there is no time to waste in achieving our weight loss goals! Yes, ALF, I have made a New Year’s Resolution to lose some weight.  This is what my people do in early January of every year.   Statistics tell us that 70% of Americans need to lose weight and the other 30% believe they should lose weight.  That means everybody is either on a diet or should be on a diet or feels guilty for not being on a diet or is in such a Big Mac stupor that they do not know what the word “diet” means.

Our weight-loss obsession is actually excellent news because the diet industry is what keeps the American economy from collapsing under the weight of all of the McDonald’s arches.   According to ABC news “the annual revenue of the U.S. weight-loss industry, including diet books, diet drugs and weight-loss surgeries” is $20 billion.

$20 billion is a lot of money, ALF.  To give you some perspective, the annual gross domestic product of Namibia, a country in southern Africa, is $13.11 billion   Clearly, the Namibians need to go on more diets in order to increase their GDP.

But, I digress.  My point, ALF, is that I am doing my part to keep the economy alive by beginning my weight loss journey.  Knowing the world will end soon, thanks to people like Kim Jong-un, is a wonderful motivator for me.  Who wants to be fat when the apocalypse comes?

I do not mean to imply that Kim Jong-un is all bad.  In fact, I admire his leadership style in many ways and have implemented some of his ideas in my own job.  For example, I learned last year, that he requires his people to sport haircuts that mimic his own.

kim-jong-un-ppcorn2

Who wouldn’t want that haircut?

I think this is a great idea, and last year, I tried to enforce it on the minions in my department.  My hair looks like this, by the way.

Debra xmas

My people are not as docile as North Korea’s, though.  Some of the male members of the department muttered something about their baldness getting in the way of the requisite haircut.

But again, I digress. Back to weight loss.  I am focused and motivated to succeed on my Kim Jong-un nuclear weight loss diet.  Who wants to join me?  (You will need to copy my hairstyle, of course.)

When are you reading? Challenge

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is hosting a When are you reading? challenge that I am pledging to complete.  The challenge is based on when a work is set (or written).  I have reproduced her rules below.  Check it out and join me!

Thanks, Sam!

—–

Happy New Year! It’s January 1st and that means it’s day 1 of the 2016 When Are You Reading? Challenge! In case you missed my previous post, I’ve put the ‘rules’ below. Please let me know if you’ve decided to join, I’d love to have you all be a part of this fun challenge.

I’m hosting the 3rd annual When Are You Reading? Challenge! It’s a short challenge, only 12 books, which challenges you to read books set or published in different time periods. Those periods are:

  • Pre 1500
  • 1500-1599
  • 1600-1699
  • 1700-1799
  • 1800-1899
  • 1900-1919
  • 1920-1939
  • 1940-1959
  • 1960-1979
  • 1980-1999
  • 2000-Present
  • The Future

At only one book a month, this one has always been fast and fun. Often I find the books I was going to read anyway fit into the time periods. There are very few ‘rules’ associated with the challenge. I put it in quotations because you’re free to do what you want with it.

‘Rules’

  • Determination of what year a book belongs in is the decision of the participant. On the whole, choose a year where the largest part of the action occurs or the most important event.
  • I will compile a list of those participating on this page but you must link back to this page to be added to the list so that other participants can find us!

It works best if you dedicate a page or post to tracking your books so I can link to it. I had four participants last year and I’m hoping to up that again this year.

If  you’re interested, let me know and grab the graphic my fabulous husband designed (isn’t he great?!) to let others know you’re participating. I can’t wait for you to join!

Pages for the 2016 challenge are up now. Please click on over here and here for more info.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!