BCM’s Friday Fiction! Jessica – Chapter 9

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Chapter 9 – I called Dad on my thirteenth birthday.

Dad had only been gone a few months when I turned thirteen. I called him because I hoped he wanted to wish me a good birthday, and I thought he wouldn’t know a good time to call. Despite our situation, Mom was trying to make the day a good one for me. “You’re lucky to have your birthday on a Saturday this year,” she said. “We can go out for dinner later, but first, Stevie and I have something to do.” She looked at me and smiled. I knew Mom was trying to hide the strain in her voice. When she stopped talking, I could tell from her tight smile that her front teeth were clamped down hard and I felt the heaviness of trying to celebrate something when no one was in the mood. Maybe Dad would lift me up. I waited until Mom and Stevie were out of the house and climbed the stairs. I looked through Mom’s papers in her bedroom and I found Dad’s number written on an envelope.

I don’t think Dad would have answered the phone if he had known I was calling. He would never know that it had taken all the effort I could gather to say, “Hey Dad” as if I had just seen him that morning.

“Jes!” he said. He was surprised, but I was hoping there was also something glad in his voice. I pictured him standing in his kitchen, one I had never seen, holding the phone up to his ear and not knowing what to say. I wondered, but I didn’t want to think if other people were in the room.

I felt my mouth go dry. I had thought to call, but I had not planned what to say next. My hand was wet around the receiver and I felt a trickle of sweat go down my back. I turned and faced the open window and slid my finger through the curly phone line and twisted the cord tightly around my finger, thinking hard what to say next. How could I have been this stupid?

“How are you?” I choked.

“Good!” he said. His voice was suddenly loud, too cheerful. “Working hard. You getting the checks I’ve been sending?” Dad, the Money Maker.

“Uh, yeah,” I answered. Maybe he thought Mom had set me up to call him to check on the money part of their deal. As I stood upstairs in Mom’s bedroom, I caught a glimpse into the closet and saw a lone wire hanger move in the breeze. Dad’s side of the closet was empty and the hanger was the only thing left. My head raced for something more to say.

“Well, good,” he said, filling the silence. He paused for a minute. “How are you, Jes?” I caught the pause and I wondered how a father could feel the awkwardness of not knowing what to ask his daughter.

“Okay, I guess.” I lied. I had been waiting since Dad left for a call or for him to come back. I wanted him back, but I hated where he was. “I guess you don’t remember that today’s my birthday, do you?”

“It is?” he asked. “Well, of course, you’re right. Happy Birthday, Jes,” he added. I thought I was going to feel good catching him at forgetting my birthday, but I didn’t and I don’t think Dad felt bad about his mistake.

I heard noises in the background, voices, kitchen sounds, the echoes of another life. Then Dad put his palm over the speaker part of the phone and said something that was muffled and unrecognizable.

“Hey Jes,” he said, as he released his hand. His voice was too loud. It had a forced cheer and I thought how Mom had just talked to me with a similar false enthusiasm. “I’m glad you called, but I’m going to have to get going. I’m sorry I didn’t remember your birthday. I’ll send you a check so you can get yourself something, okay?” He was rushing me and I wondered if he was afraid of what else I might say.

I ignored his offer. “I thought maybe you wouldn’t know when to call. That’s why I called you, Dad.”

“Well, you’re right, Jes. I don’t know a good time to call. Really, I hope you’re having a nice day today. Now I’ve got to go, but thanks for calling. You take care.” The call was over. I looked at the clock. I had just taken up five minutes of Dad’s life.

That was the last time I called Dad. I decided then that there would never be a good time for Dad to call because I would never come to the phone if he did.

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When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde – simple and refreshing

When I Found YouWhen I Found You
Catherine Ryan Hyde

4 book marks

Nathan and Flora McCann have no children. That was their arrangement. But when Nathan goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, his life changes in unimaginable ways.

“I want to adopt that boy,” says Nathan.

“Don’t be absurd. Neither one of us is very fond of kids. We made up our minds against them,” she replies.

“No, you made up your mind against them. You decided for both of us.”

Nathan keeps the next thought to himself: “You simply didn’t say, to the person who has shared her life with you, that her company was not enough to fulfill you.” These thoughts foreshadow an awakened drive in Nathan to do something meaningful with his life.

The custody decision is made without Nathan and his wife when Ertha Bates, the grandmother, claims the baby. Despite the closure, Nathan feels an inexpressible connection and makes her promise to one day introduce the boy to him. He tells her, “I want him to know me…I want you to introduce me, and say to him, ‘This is the man who found you in the woods.’” Ertha reluctantly agrees and, in a weak tribute to Nathan, names the baby “Nat.”

Fifteen years later, the grandmother has had enough and turns the boy, now a difficult teenager, over to Nathan. Nathan promises to never give up on the boy, despite a series of inconceivable challenges.

I enjoyed this book very much, which takes many unpredictable turns. Catherine Ryan Hyde hasn’t just written a story about endurance. She has created Nathan McCann, a symbol of patience, careful words and steadfast loyalty to a promise. But this book isn’t just about Nathan. The author also does a great job showing Nat’s point of view and highlighting the contrast between his bad choices and his need to be loved.

Hyde has a plain and refreshing writing style. She introduces her characters through dialogue and simple activity, with a few teaser physical descriptions, as if to highlight instead the importance of their words and actions. In addition to a message about commitments, she includes lessons about self-worth, being truthful and pursuing dreams. Nathan says some very wise things:

The value of your life is your own choosing.

I feel that the truth is simply the truth. And that to shield someone from it is only a manner of treating that person with a lack of respect.

You can’t tell someone to pursue their dream only if it’s a good match for your own.”

When I Found You is a touching and refreshing change. It is appropriate for a Young Adult reader, but its appeal extends into a wider group, proof of quality writing.  Hyde has written a great many books and I’m looking forward to picking out another!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Suspense and survival in Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Book Club Mom:

Child 44 is now a movie – in theaters today!

Originally posted on Book Club Mom:

Child 44

Child 44
Tom Rob Smith
3 book marks1 half bookmark

How do you fix the mistakes in your life? When you are Leo Demidov, a disgraced member of the Soviet MGB and you are responsible for capturing, sentencing and killing untold numbers of regular people, people who are just trying to survive under Joseph Stalin’s oppressive regime, the question is hard to answer. Leo’s epiphany comes late. His wife, Raisa already hates him. He’s been demoted to the militia, a low-level assignment. He’s lost his privileges and has more than a few enemies. Leo and Raisa have almost nothing. They can only survive by staying together.

Someone is murdering young children, leaving their bodies to be discovered. The government claims to solve the murders as individual cases, but Leo sees a pattern and he knows someone is still out there, planning another attack.

That’s the premise of Child 44, the first book…

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“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” – another Hemingway classic!


“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Ernest Hemingway

4 book marks

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is another one of Hemingway’s favorite short stories. It was first published in 1933 and is a simple story of an old man sitting on the terrace outside a café, drinking late into the night. He likes the café and visits it regularly and there’s a dignified sadness about him. Although he is deaf, the old man finds a distinct peace in the evening quiet as he sits “in the shadow of the leaves of the tree.”

Hemingway leaves the reader to imagine why the man spends every night drinking alone. “Last week he tried to kill himself,” the waiter informs another.

The waiters, one young and one old, watch the old man. The young waiter is impatient for the man to finish. “I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” The older waiter understands the drinking man, however, and feels a connection to him and others who need a well-lit place to spend the lonely hours of night. “You have youth, confidence, and a job,” he tells the younger waiter. “You have everything.”

When old man leaves and the younger waiter goes home, the older waiter hesitates to close the café, reluctant “because there may be some one who needs the café.” He is alone and feels the nothingness of life, a preview of existentialist thought. Although the existentialism movement did not become popular until the middle 1900s, Hemingway has introduced this idea in his story, a tie-in to the aimless feelings of the Lost Generation.

I like this story because Hemingway uses simple dialogue to show the different viewpoints of the two waiters. And what Hemingway leaves out is just as important. He leaves the reader to guess why the old man is alone, what he has lost, why he tried to kill himself, how he became deaf. Likewise, Hemingway only hints at why the older waiter is lonely, leaving the reader to imagine.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a quick read, but one that keeps you thinking.

Have you read this one?

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“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” – Hemingway classic

Book Club Mom:

Here’s another Hemingway short story!

Originally posted on Book Club Mom:

Hemingway Ernest Hemingway

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
Ernest Hemingway
5 book marks

If you have a little bit of time and want to read a great classic author, here’s the way to go.  I always remember liking this story and recently found it in my college book of American literature, which has traveled with me for many years!  This story first appeared in Cosmopolitan in 1936.

Francis and Margot Macomber are on an African safari, a rumored attempt to add some adventure to a failing marriage.  And from the outset, this marriage is most definitely doomed.  The story opens following a lion hunt during which Francis has retreated like a coward, much to his wife’s disgust, and to the contempt of their safari leader, Robert Wilson.

Francis is thirty-five-year-old boy, Margot is the type of woman men hate but are drawn to anyway, and Wilson does what he wants. …

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How many Hemingway short stories have you read?

I got this for 50 cents at a used book sale!

“Hills Like White Elephants”
Ernest Hemingway

4 book marks

Almost everyone can name at least one of Ernest Hemingway’s great novels, but he was also a prolific writer of short stories. In a recent conversation, however, I could only name one of them, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” That conversation led me to The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. It’s a collection of Hemingway’s first forty-nine stories. In the Preface, which was written in 1938, Hemingway casually discusses his favorites, in the following crazy-long, but great run-on sentence:

There are many kinds of stories in this book. I hope that you will find some that you like. Reading them over, the ones I liked the best, outside of those that have achieved some notoriety so that school teachers include them in story collections that their pupils have to buy in story courses, and you are always faintly embarrassed to read them and wonder whether you really wrote them or did you maybe hear them somewhere are, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, In Another Country, Hills Like White Elephants, A Way You’ll Never Be, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, and a story called The Light of the World, which nobody else ever liked. There are some others too. Because if you did not like them you would not publish them.

Today I chose “Hills Like White Elephants,” first published in 1927. This bare story, very short on description, takes place at a train station in Spain, in the valley of the Ebro River. It is structured around a tense conversation between an unnamed man and a girl, named Jig, who sit and drink at an outside table while they wait for their train. The two are irritable and it’s clear they have a problem. After some bickering about their drinks, the man tells her, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig. It’s really not an operation at all.” What follows is an exchange between the man and the girl, in which Hemingway has hidden important clues about the couple’s relationship. The man encourages Jig to go through with the operation, assumed to be an abortion. Jig seems to have a better sense of how their relationship will fare afterwards, and of what the world has to offer them.

I like stories like this, because I like figuring out the dynamics between characters through what they say. Hemingway begins with an immediate conversation clash, as the girl looks out at the line of hills and says:

“They look like white elephants.”

The man shuts her down by replying, “I’ve never seen one.”

Her reply? “No, you wouldn’t have.”

His counter? “I might have. Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.”

When Jig compares the hills to white elephants, Hemingway makes an obvious reference to something that’s unwanted, but hard to get rid of, perhaps an unwanted baby, or a couple trapped in a relationship. There is plenty of additional analysis of this story, including the symbolism of the dry valley and the fields of grain, on SparkNotes , CliffsNotes, and Shmoop. You can check those out for a more scholarly analysis!

I like this story because, to me, it represents what is classic Hemingway. It reminds me of the tension hidden in the conversations between characters in his novels, especially The Sun Also Rises.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!


What’s up next? When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

When I Found You

It’s been a busy day today, and the activity is not over yet!   But when all the dust settles, I’m looking forward to starting When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The story is about a middle-aged man, Nathan, who is out duck hunting and finds a newborn baby boy. Nathan and his wife are childless and he hopes to adopt the boy, but the baby’s grandmother emerges and takes custody. Nathan makes the grandmother promise she will one day introduce the boy to Nathan as the man who rescued him, and life goes on.

Fifteen years pass and things haven’t gone well for the grandmother and the boy, who is now a difficult teenager.  At her wit’s end, she brings her delinquent grandson to Nathan’s doorstep, and hands him over. Nathan vows to never give up on the boy, but years of hard times are ahead, including a life-changing trauma.

Catherine Ryan Hyde (photo from amazon.com)
Catherine Ryan Hyde (photo from amazon.com)

Catherine Ryan Hyde is a prolific writer of novels and short stories.  She is the author of 28 published and forthcoming books, including Pay It Forward, which was adapted into a movie in 2000, and stars Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.

Be sure to check out the Catherine Ryan Hyde website for more information about the author and a link to her blog.

Additional information is available on Hyde’s Amazon Author page:

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