Tag: articles & criticisms

An Author’s Gambler

Alexi Ivanovich and the Mind of a Gambler

A good number of stories that are centered on gambling tend to either glamorize or demonize. The protagonist is often portrayed as an individual we should either envy or pity. One exception to these extremes is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. Dostoevsky’s protagonist is a gambler we neither aspire to be or view as a cautionary tale we should avoid.

The Gambller Book Cover
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alexi Ivanovich, the narrator and protagonist, is at times admirable and other times pitiful. You may find yourself sympathizing with Alexi at the end of one chapter and then infuriated with him by the middle of the next chapter. In short, Alexi is a flawed man. If one wanted to get all literary one could make a case that Alexi Ivanovich is an antihero of sorts (I’m not one of those literary types, at least not before another bourbon or two). Dostoevsky develops a relatable character who shows us the inner thoughts, motivations, and fears of a gambler without pandering or preaching to the reader.

There are many stories that present gambling as alluring and profitable. There are also many stories that present gambling as bewitching and detrimental. Few gambling stories present the reader with the inner working of the gambler’s mind. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler provides insight into the mind of a gambler and how gambling impacts all aspects of his life. 

-K-

The Gambler (1964/1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

How We Spend Our Time

May Be How Others Spent Their Time

How often do we wish we could have a little time to ourselves? Time is something that we can keep to ourselves. Time is also something we can borrow (and steal), but it is also something we can share with others. I find how others spend, or spent, their time fascinating. I’ve felt this way ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank way back in 8th grade. Learning how somebody else spent their time can be informative, entertaining, and even humbling. Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s is one such example.

Sartor’s diary can be read on a couple of levels. If you want to take an academic approach to the diary it can be read as a first person account of life in the American South in the 1970s. Reading the diary as a historical document can provide you with as much insight as some textbooks covering the same time period and geography. You can also approach the diary as a record of an adolescent girl’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs.

Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor

I took the second approach when I read Sartor’s book and was amazed with how much I had in common with her. Upon closer study I realized that it isn’t so much that Ms. Sartor and I are some sort of kindred spirits as much as we were, at one time, both adolescents. I’m not implying that all adolescents have the same experiences, but that time period of our lives does present similar struggles. This is what I find most appealing about Miss American Pie. We all may be individuals moving through life on our own paths that on occasion run parallel and sometimes intersect, but we often share similar struggles during the same time periods of our lives.

Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie is at turns informative, entertaining, and subtlety humbling at times. Seeing how somebody else spent their time (even if it is a decade or century a part from your own) can help us put our own lives and times in perspective.

-K-

Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s (2006) by Margaret Sartor.

An Hour, A Day, A Lifetime

The Use of Time to Create Tension

Tension is wound into time. I could come up with some sort of watch metaphor here but most people don’t even wear watches (especially the kind you wind) anymore so let’s just jump right into it. Tension drives conflict in fiction, and conflict is necessary for a good story. Utilizing time to build tension is a good storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway incorporate time into “The Story of an Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to build tension that drives their respective plots forward.

Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

The titles of these short stories (and I mean short-added together they aren’t seven pages) establish specific time frames in which the stories take place. These time frames, an hour and a day, create a limited amount of time for the action of the story to unfold which adds to the tension. These timeframes also show us how an hour or a day can feel like a lifetime depending on the conflict the character faces. Both stories build subtle tension toward their dramatic reveals. Both Chopin and Hemingway use time to build that tension which in turn makes the stories’ climaxes all the more powerful.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Using time to build tension is an effective storytelling technique. Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway use this technique in “The Story of An Hour” and “A Day’s Wait” to drive the plots forward and develop powerful climaxes. I don’t want to spoil the stories for you, I’ll just say that both are worth a read (or should I say worth your time, yep I just had to add that).

-K-

“The Story of An Hour” from Complete Novels and Stories by Kate Chopin

“A Day’s Wait” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

Kevin Smith’s Relationship Advice

Chasing Amy as Romance for Realists

This post isn’t about Clerks. Someday there will be a post about Kevin Smith’s Clerks but today is not that day, but if I didn’t watch Clerks then I probably wouldn’t have sought out Chasing Amy. February is drawing to a close this week so now is the time to have a brief discussion about Chasing Amy, the first ‘relationship’ movie I saw that I could really identify with (although there is some interesting relationship advice in Clerks worth discussing at a later date). Some elements of Smith’s 1997 movie may be a bit dated but the core message of the movie holds true today and is worth a viewing.

Chasing Amy 2
Chasing Amy

Much like Clerks which has the ability to speak to those of us who have worked in retail Chasing Amy speaks to those of us who have been in complicated relationships (complicated is a cliché word but using a word like problematic is putting a dime word in a penny sentence). You don’t need to be in the same romantic relationship as Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil to empathize with his situation. If you have ever allowed friends, or those who call themselves friends, to guide your relationship decisions then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you have ever allowed preconceived notions and feelings of inadequacy whisper in your ear then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you never allowed these things to sway your relationship decisions then this movie can give you an idea of how the rest of us muddle through life love.

Chasing Amy is a realistic portrayal of two people trying to work through their issues and develop a meaningful relationship. It is a movie that speaks to any of us who have struggled with similar issues. The movie may have some 90s vibes in it but Smith’s story is still relevant and worth a view.

-K-

Chasing Amy (1997) with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

Desire, Jealousy, Love

and The End of Things

What is your relationship success rate? If you’ve experienced the end of a relationship (one that wasn’t ended by you), then Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair may cover some familiar ground. If you’ve never been in a relationship that ended poorly, then these books can give you insight into the lives of the rest of us. The narrators of these books offer views of the end of their relationships (don’t consider that a spoiler if you haven’t paid attention to the titles of the books).

The End of the Affair
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

These books, written 40 years apart, address desire, jealousy, love, and how all three overlap in a relationship. From the first to the last sentences (the first and last sentences of both books are quite memorable) we are privy to the relationship woes of Jesse from Suicide Blonde and Bendrix from The End of the Affair. Darcy Steinke and Graham Greene draw us in with believable characters we may not like at times but can definitely empathize with.

Suicide Blonde
Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

Not every relationship has a happy ending. Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair are stories of two not so happy endings. Steinke and Greene show us some relationships are tragic, but tragedy is part of life, as are relationships.

-K-

The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene

Suicide Blonde (1992) by Darcey Steinke

The Importance of Place

In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

What’s your favorite place to hang out? Is it a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar? Regardless of your libation of choice it is important to have a place that you feel comfortable spending time at. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” stresses the importance of having a place to spend your personal time.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a study of the three stages of life through an existential lens. You’ll get no argument or questions from me regarding that analysis of the story. But Hemingway also presents the reader with an explicit message regarding the importance of having a place one can feel comfortable spending time at that is not his home. One of the characters, an older waiter says, “…there may be someone who needs the café.” This comment follows an exchange between two waiters who agree that drinking a bottle of alcohol at home is not the same as drinking at a café. There is some special quality the cafe can offer that home cannot. The story ends with the older waiter heading home after failing to find a place that that meets his requirements of clean and pleasant.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s story shows us the importance of these special places in our lives (mine is a local bar). The implication is that sometimes a home away from home, a special place or hang out, is necessary for any number of personal reasons. We may outgrow security blankets but we still look for comfort, and that comfort can come in finding a special place to hang out, to call our own (even if we share it with others).

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an existential study of growing old if you use Hemingway’s iceberg theory. Sometimes you just need forget about what’s under the water and look at the iceberg itself and see what is explicitly conveyed in a story. Whether it is a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar there is something comforting about having your own place to hang out. When you are drinking that next cup of coffee or pint of stout think about Hemingway’s idea of the importance of a clean and pleasant place.

-K-

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

The Point of “Pointless Drinking”

Is the Point

Any sort of serious drinking requires some serious thought about drinking. Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking” shows us that drinking without a point is to end up in a world of hurt when you get to the bottom of the bottle. Whether you have a glass in hand or hip flask in pocket be deliberate in both choice of drink and point for drinking.

The narrator of Ms. LaVere’s song stumbles from bar to bar and drink to drink without any point or purpose. Without any point for drinking the narrator has nothing but the thing she doesn’t need (or want) and that is another drink.

Anchors and Anvils Album Cover
Anchors and Anvils by Amy LaVere

So what is LaVere’s eternal barfly, that aged drinker at the end of the bar willing to dispense a bit of 80 proof wisdom, telling us? Is “Pointless Drinking” meant to be some sort of cautionary tale, a prohibitionist’s treatise against the evils of alcohol? No, but there is some sound advice in our narrator’s tale, some choice wisdom that can be gleaned from the bottoms of those empty glasses. It is not alcohol that should be avoided. What should be avoided is poor choices, and alcohol and poor choices (like cheap and Walmart) tend to go together. Have a point to your drinking before the bartender pours that first shot. Make the choice to know what you want from your alcohol and know what you are in for when the bartender makes last call.

I did my share of pointless drinking in years past. I’m older and wiser (more old than wise) nowadays. I make certain there is a point to each pour and pint, but I can’t say it any better that Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking.” Give Anchors and Anvils a listen and you tell me.

-K-

Anchors and Anvils (2007) Amy Lavere.