Grace Paley vs Alaya Dawn Johnson

paley bordertownThe title to this post should be one of those colon titles– Grace Paley vs. Alaya Dawn Johnson: or Grace Paley Wears Out Her Welcome.

One pleasant surprise I’ve had while doing this round of the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge is how much I have enjoyed Grace Paley’s short stories.  Her observations, her humor, her humanity, have all been very enjoyable. She deserves every bit of her reputation as one of America’s best short story writers.

But enough is enough.

For now anyway

This time around I read “In Time Which Made a Monkey of Us All,” a story about Eddie Teitlebaum, father of the stink bomb.

Eddie Teitlebaum and his friends spend their days planning large, somewhat scientific pranks.  The decide to try to release a stink bomb throughout their entire building by constructing a series of tubes that run through the walls and floors of every apartment in the building and the pet store that occupies the ground floor.

It works but it goes wrong.  Everyone flees the building, but the stink bomb is toxic enough to kill the animals in the pet store leaving the owner a  shattered mess.  Eddie is reprimanded to psychiatric treatment in a residential facility.  Eventually he is released and given a job working with animals that forces him to feed live mice to snakes on a daily basis.

Eddie, who cannot face his life or himself, chooses to go out of his mind.  The other boys involved in the elaborate prank go their various ways with different degrees of success. One of them even markets the stink bomb formula as a pesticide.

It really should have worked as a story, but I just found the whole think annoying.  Too much of the boyhood pranksterism that I don’t like about Mark Twain’s work, too much deserved, moralistic outcomes. It all just rang as “story” not as truth.

So, I’m giving Grace Paley a break for a while. I’ll keep the book around, but I’m not going to read it until we have a new president.  A two year break sounds about right.

Alaya Dawn Johnson did much better for me.  Her story “A Prince of Thirteen Days” takes aim at being a “story” and may hit a couple of notes of truth along the way.  The result was entertaining whatever her intentions were.

The prince has been turned into a statue and left in a park inat the edge of Bordertown, the land between our world and the world of Faerie.  The girl who falls briefly in love with the stature knows he is alive inside.  She lives with her mother, and grandmother who all understand some forms of magic, so she tries to release the prince from his enchantment.

But this is Bordertown, so we know the story will not go in the usual fairy-tale direction.  Enter a prophecy–In thirteen days you will lose your virginity and fall in love–and a graffiti artist who leaves messages on the park wall.

The result is really a charming story in spite of its more edgier aspects.

But that’s all for Bordertown this time around.  Which, I guess will have to do for my link.  I’ve been trying to find a way to link the pairs of stories I draw for the Deal Me In Challenge each time I play a round.  Both of the stories for today feature inventive main characters who try to work a form of magic in their own way.  Both feature “magic” that produces an unexpected result.  And both come from books that I’m putting on the shelf until we have a new president, at least two years.  It’s time for me to take a break from both Bordertown and Grace Paley.

I’ve only got four more cards left in my deck, but I’m already looking forward to planning another list of 52 short stories.  I do love me the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge.  I plan to dive in to another deck of stories without a break.

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6 Comments

  1. Trisha says:

    I know exactly what you mean by more story than truth. I’m annoyed when stories seem overly contrived.

    1. To be fair, this was the first time I felt this way with Grace Paley. I should also say that I greatly admire a well constructed “story” now and then.

  2. Candiss says:

    “Both of the stories for today feature inventive main characters who try to work a form of magic in their own way.” I really enjoy the creative ways you find to connect your story duos, especially when the stories don’t seem to have much in common on the surface. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Candiss. It was really fun to do at first. Now, I find it can be a chore at times so I’m not sure that I’ll do it with my next deck of stories. Thing is, I like reading a set of stories when I read stories. Two stores usually takes me about 20 to 30 minutes to read, which is a perfect, relaxing reading session.

  3. Jay says:

    Hi James,
    It makes me happy to read how much you’ve enjoyed Deal Me In. For my part, I always look forward to reading your short story posts.
    -Jay

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