Tobias Wolff Goes to Key West – A Deal Me In Short Story Challenge

key west talesTo make the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge a little more challenging I’ve been drawing two cards at once and trying to come up with a way to connect the stories. The Deal Me In Short Story Challenge asks participants to assign one short story to each card in a deck and to draw a card at random on a weekly basis.  (I’ve also limited myself to anthologies in my TBR bookcase as of Dec. 31, 2013 as part of the TBR Triple Dog Dare.)

This time I came up with “Page Two” by John Hersey from his collection Key West Tales and “The Life of the Body” from Tobias Wolff’s collection The Night in Question.  These two were much easier to connect than last weeks pairing of Tobias Wolff and Isaak Dinesen.

“Page Two” by John Hersey is a collection of crime report items, the sort of thing that used to run behind the front page of small town newspapers as “The Crime Blotter” or something to that effect.    Hersey’s items are fun.  There is a burglar caught walking the streets in the antique Chinese clothes he has stolen who freely confesses asking the arresting officer if he has ever seen such fabulous shoes.

In another, an exhausted thief is found sleeping in one of the twin beds in the guest room because the master bedroom had such a hard mattress and the sofa was much too soft.  A third burglar uses a fishing rod to cast his hook through the open glass-louvers of a downstairs sleeping room and steal valuable items without waking the sleeping homeowner.  Almost without waking the sleeping homeowner.

While items like this don’t make up a plot, they do bring a setting to life.  Time was, you could learn a lot about a place from the crime blotter pages in the local newspaper.  Mr. Hersey’s Key West sounds like a charming town to me.

night in questionTobias Wolff’s story “The Life of the Body” could easily have been based on something found on the crime blotter pages.  It’s  setting in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood  isn’t that far from Key West, in spirit.  Both towns are famed for the unusual people who lived there and as being the farthest you can go in one direction without getting very wet.

While Mr. Wolff’s story has comical elements, it is much more series than Mr. Hersey’s crime blotter collection.  “The Life of the Body” is about Wiley who has always led a life of the mind.

He was an English teacher in a private high school.  He lived alone.  He didn’t go to bars much and almost never drank whisky.  He liked good wine, knew something about it, but was wary of kn0wing too much.  At night, after he’d prepared his classes, he drank wine and read nineteenth-century novels.  He didn’t like modern fiction, it narcissism, its moral timidity, its silence in the face of great wrongs.  Wiley had started teaching to support himself while he wrote his doctoral thesis, and then lost interest in scholarship as he began to sense the power of his position. His students were still young enough not be be captive to the lies the world told about itself; he could make a difference in the way they saw things.

Wiley is the sort of man other men trust around their wives.  His best friend Mac is comfortable watching his wife stretch out on the sofa, her head in Wiley’s lap while he reads to them.  But Wiley has started to feel uneasy about this.

Wiley knew that he was supposed to feel honored by all this faith, but he resented it. Faith had become an imposition.  it made light of his capacity for desire.  Still, he put up with it because he didn’t know what else to do.

One night, after a few too many whiskeys at the local bar, Wiley gives in to desire and makes a drunken pass at a woman he finds attractive named Kathleen.  After he finds himself thrown out of the bar for reasons he is too drunk to remember, Wiley waits for Kathleen to go home for the night and follows her up the hill to her apartment.  When he tries to talk to her, just to explain that he really isn’t like that, her companion beats him to a pulp.

The next day Wiley insists on going in to work, fails to keep his students under control and is sent home.  He then starts looking for Kathleen.  Since he knows her address and name and that she is a veterinarian, he is able to find her at work hoping to really explain what happened the night before and to ask for another chance.

He has given in to the life of the body at last, but one suspects his story is probably going to end up on page two.