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Short Story Discussion: A Good Marriage

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

 

A Good Marriage is a short story written by Stephen King and published in 2010, part of the collection Full Dark, No Stars produced by Scribner.

 

Plot Synopsis

Darcy Anderson has been married to Bob for 27 years. Bob is a quiet, mild-mannered accountant. Their marriage is simple and uneventful. Together they run a small mail-order business that appraises and deals in rare, collectible coins. As such, Bob is constantly away on business, on the road appraising and purchasing coins.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

One night while Bob is away evaluating a collection of World War II steel pennies, Darcy is watching television when the remote control dies. She searches for batteries in the garage near Bob’s workbench. Amongst his belonging she finds a pornographic magazine specializing in bondage, S&M, and sexual violence. Darcy is upset by the discovery, mostly because it is so out of character for Bob to possess something so graphic.

Her curiosity piqued, Darcy continues to explore and finds a subtle hiding place where Bob has stashed several ID cards belonging to other people. One of the cards belongs to a woman named Majorie Duvall, recent victim of the newsworthy serial killer that calls himself “Beadie.” To confirm her suspicions, she looks up the locations of Beadie’s recent murders and finds that her husband was in all of those areas at the time of the crimes.

Darcy is shaken and emotionally distressed by what she finds. At this point, Bob makes his usual phone call to his wife for the evening. Darcy tries to feign that she is feeling ill, but Bob is very in tune with his wife and suspects that she has discovered his secret.

When Darcy wakes the next day, Bob is already at home waiting for her. Bob explains to his wife the nature of his “insanity.” When he was young he had a troubled friend named Brian Delahanty, or “BD.” When they were in high school, the two methodically planned a school shooting. However, before the plan could be brought to fruition, Delahanty was hit by a truck and killed. The shooting never took place and Bob concealed the plan. Though BD was dead, Bob felt “infected” by “certain ideas,” and has been killing ever since. Bob claims that is was Darcy and their marriage that kept him from killing in the last few years. He begs Darcy to drop the matter for the sake of the family and children. Darcy pretends to agree to put the events behind her on the condition that Bob bury all of his trophies behind the house.

Several months pass and things have seemingly returned to normal: Bob believes that Darcy has moved past his revelations. One night the two are celebrating Bob’s acquisition of a rare 1955 doubled-die cent and Bob gets uncharacteristically drunk. Darcy uses the opportunity to kill Bob: she pushes him down the stairs and then suffocating him by jamming a plastic bag and dish wiper down his throat. Darcy removes any evidence of her part in his death and calls the police, reporting his fall as an accident.

Several weeks after Bob is buried, Darcy is confronted by a retired detective named Holt Ramsey, one of the original detectives trying to catch “Beadie.” Ramsey is very astute and pieces together Darcy’s role in Bob’s death. Rather than arrest her, Ramsey tells her that she did the right thing and leaves.

 

Discussion

 

  • Who is “the dark girl?” What function does she perform in the telling of the story?
  • Describe the mirror world and how it is perceived by Darcy. What is the significance of the mirror world in regards to Darcy’s introspections?
  • What is the significance of the appearance and conversation that Darcy has with retired detective Holt Ramsey? Why include this dialogue in the story after Darcy dispatches her husband?

 

 

Source: King, Stephen. “A Good Marriage.” Full Dark, No Stars. Scribner, 2010.

 

Book Discussion: Bow Down to Nul

October 10, 2012 Leave a comment

 

The Interpretor

Bow Down to Nul by Brian Aldiss

Bow Down to Nul is a short science fiction novel by Brian W. Aldiss. The story was originally published in serial for the publication New Worlds in 1960 under the title “X for Exploitation.” The first book publication by Ace Double titled the book The Interpreter. Later in 1960 the book was reprinted in the United States under the current title Bow Down to Nul.

 

Plot Synopsis:

Earth is under colonial rule by the alien Partussian Empire. “Nuls” as they call themselves, are 10-foot tall, 3-armed, 3-sexed creatures who are secretive in nature, neither displaying their facial features nor emotions. The Partussian Empire is vast, having over 4 million planets under its control. In spite of the fact that Nuls look down upon all bipeds, including humans, the aliens tend to be fairly just rulers. Earth, however, is found in be in the grips of the tyrannical ruler Par-Chavorlem, who oppresses the people and skims off the top of Earth’s production for his own gain.

The story opens with a disgruntled Nul named Wattol Forlie, an employee of Earth who is fired for threatening to reveal the corruption in Earth’s governance. The Nul sends his evidence to a well-respected statesman known for being incorruptible. The statesman, Amajo Synvoret, chooses to investigate the claims. However, due to the great distance between Partussy and Earth, it will take two years before Synvoret is able to reach his destination and begin the investigation, leaving plenty of time for Par-Chavorlem to conceal his crimes, including the creation of a false city.

The primary focus of the story revolves around the protagonist, Chief Interpreter for the Nuls, Gary Towler. Towler is chosen to work directly with Par-Chavorlem and Amajo Synvoret during his visit. Such favoritism causes Towler’s fellow humans to further despise and distrust him. To complicate matters for Gary, he is secretly in league with Rivars, leader of the human rebels who are actively seeking to overthrow their Partussian overlords.

The goal Rivars has set for Towler includes placing indisputable evidence of corruption and cruelty in the hands of Synvoret, the ultimate hope being that Par-Chavorlem will be replaced.

Towler is constantly under scrutiny and trusts no one save a fellow interpreter, Elizabeth Fallodon, the only other person who understands the delicate situation Gary is in.

Elizabeth disappears, and Towler fears the worst. After bribes and threats by all parties have passed his way, Towler decides that the only way to bring about appropriate action by the empire is to kill Synvoret himself. Before carrying out the act, Towler presents Rivar’s evidence to Synvoret, but the statesman is too ignorant to comprehend its meaning. Towler savagely attacks Synvoret, who barely escapes with his life. Gary is soon smuggled out of the city with the help of another inside agent.

Outside the city Gary reunites with Elizabeth. They hatch a plan to ambush a convoy of Nuls at a disposal station. Following Towler and now armed with powerful Nul weaponry, the contingent moves into the city and quickly destroys the alien oppressors. Now that the humans have firm hold on the original city, fully fortified and impenetrable, Par-Chavorlem is forced to give the city up. He is soon replaced for mismanagement and for being “too lax” with the biped presence on Earth.

For the first time in over 1000 years, humans know hope.

 

Discussion

 

  • Consider the ending/resolution of the story. Towler laughs at the “irony” of the situation and Par-Chavorlem’s dismissal. What irony is Towler laughing at? What other ironies can be analyzed under these circumstances?
  • Language plays a critical role in this story and in the life of Gary Towler. How is language used as a source of power or a form of control?
  • Nuls and humans are portrayed as being drastically different, both physically and socially. However, both species are intimate with the concepts of imperialism and empires. In the context of the story, how would humans define the abstract notions of “freedom” and “oppression?” How would the Nuls define these terms? Why?

 

 

Sources:

Aldiss, Brian. Bow Down to Nul. Ace Books Inc. 1960.

Horton, Rich. Ace Double Reviews, 48: Bow Down to Nul, by Brian W. Aldiss The Dark Destroyers, by Manly Wade Wellman (#D-443, 1960, $0.35). SFF.net. Web. 7 October 2012.

Bibliographies.” BrianAldiss.co.uk. Web. 7 October 2012.

 

Book Discussion: Eaters of the Dead

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Eaters of the Dead is a short novel by Michael Crichton. This historical fiction was first published in 1976, and later retitled The 13th Warrior, to correspond to the movie released in 1999.

 

The 13th Warrior

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Plot Synopsis

The story opens in 921 A.D. in Baghdad with the narrator, Ahmad ibn-Fadlan, describing the circumstances by which he is sent by the Caliph as an emissary to the king of the Volga Bolgars in the distant north. The first three chapters depict this journey, and are actual historical events taken from the manuscripts of the true-to-life Ahmad ibn-Fadlan.

The factual accounts of Ahmad ibn-Fadlan end where his encounters with the “northmen” (Vikings) begin. Well into his journey, the emissary and his party find themselves in a northern encampment where Buliwyf, the new king, is called upon by a young prince to come visit his father and save their kingdom from an unnamed evil. Ahmad ibn-Fadlan is unwillingly recruited into this new party of adventurers. They soon make sail and travel by land to the northlands.
After much travelling and accounts by the narrator, the party finally reaches the lands of King Rothgar, who informs them of his people’s plight. For many years his lands have been under attack by an ancient evil known as the “Wendol.” Many have now been killed and his lands are defenseless. Buliwyf and his group agree to help Rothgar and wage several defensive battles against the fierce Wendol.

The battles cost Buliwyf and his men dearly and many have died. Seeing that a defensive battle is pointless, the men decide to attack the Wendol and ride out to meet them. The men discover that the Wendol live deep in the Thunder Caves. With a stealthy, well-planned attack, the party infiltrates the caves and Buliwyf kills the “mother” and female leader of the Wendol. Unfortunately, during his battle with the mother of the Wendol, Buliwyf is injured and poisoned. When the mother is slain, the adventurers have little trouble escaping the caves and returning to the kingdom of Rothgar.

Back at the castle Buliwyf rests and begins to struggle with his failing health. The rest is brief, however, as the Wendol wage one final attack on the settlement to avenge the death of their mother. The final battle is spectacular, many die, but the enemy is defeated. Buliwyf is slain in battle and given a royal burial. Of the original thirteen warriors that set out to aid Rothgar, only four remained, including Ahmad ibn-Fadlan. Shortly afterwards, Ahmad ibn-Fadlan returns home and records his journey.

 
Discussion

  • Compare Eaters of the Dead to Beowulf. How are the narrative styles different? How do these styles affect the manner in which the story is told, what effect does this have on the audience?
  • Consider Ahmad ibn-Fadlan as a historical/fictional character. Could any other historical figure of the same time/place have told the story as effectively? Why or why not?

 

Source: Chrichton, Michael. Eaters of the Dead. Ballentine Publishing Group, 1976.

 

Short Story Discussion: 1922

April 27, 2012 Leave a comment


1922 is a short story written by Stephen King and published in 2010, part of the collection Full Dark, No Stars.

Full Dark No Stars 1922

1922, from Full Dark, No Stars


Plot Synopsis

The story opens with a confession penned by the story’s narrator, Wilfred James. Wilf details a series of events that lead up to the murder of his wife, and the motivations behind it.

Wilf owns a parcel of land in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. His wife, Arlette, inherits a large neighboring piece of land but wants to sell it to a livestock company so that she can go live in the city. In time, Wilf manipulates his son, Henry, into assisting him with the murder. They proceed to get Arlette drunk, then Wilf slashes her throat and they stash the body down an old well on the property.

To avoid suspicion, the two develop a cover story about Arlette running off to the city, and take measures to conceal the body in the well. Even after investigation by the Sheriff, Wilf and his son are cleared of any wrong-doing.
Months later, Henry begins to succumb to guilt and seeks comfort in his girlfriend, Shannon Cotterie, accidentally getting her pregnant. When Shannon’s father learns of the situation, he sends her off to a boarding school. Henry runs off, rescues Shannon from the school, and the two proceed to go on a bank-robbing spree, making national headlines.

In his son’s absence, Wilf falls apart emotionally. He becomes convinced that his deceased wife is haunting him through the rats in the well that continue to plague him. Despite efforts to seal them in, Wilf encounters a rat that bites his hand. During a storm, the hand becomes severely infected and Wilf claims the corpse of his wife, carried by an army of rats, confronted him and delivered a prophecy regarding the death of their son and Shannon. After the storm and fever, the infection is so bad that Wilf’s hand must be amputated—and news reaches him that his son committed suicide following a botched bank robbery in which Shannon was shot and killed.

When Arlette’s premonition is verified, Wilf, shunned by the community, sells his property and moves to Omaha. He spends the next few years drinking, tracing the actions of his son before his suicide, and working odd jobs. The rats, however, have followed Wilf and continue to stalk him.

The story comes full circle to the opening, where Wilf is in his hotel room writing his confession—telling his story while the rats watch—trying to finish before the rats try to kill him. When Wilf is finished writing, he plans on shooting himself, but can’t find his gun.

The story ends with a newspaper clipping regarding Wilf’s death: his body was covered in apparently self-inflicted bite wounds and his papers were eaten and torn to pieces.


Discussion

  • Who is the “conniving man?” What is his function in the story? What is his function for Wilf personally?
  • Can Wilf be considered a reliable narrator? Why or why not?
  • Compare the concepts of haunting and guilt. What parallels to they share? Which does Wilf suffer from?
  • Is the time period critical to this story, or could it have been set in any time? Why or why not?



Source: King, Stephen. “1922.” Full Dark, No Stars. Scribner, 2010.