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Ghost Traps

Robert Abel

Publication Year: 2013

Ghost Traps is a collection of twelve stories about characters who are on the edge and under duress, individuals backed against a wall as they try to free themselves from their own limitations, habits, and destructive desires.

In the title story, Harper learns to fish from a man whose son is “catching hell” in the Korean War. When the son returns, he begins stealing lobsters from Harper’s traps, and Harper, out of a sense of obligation and guilt, teaches him to fish, vainly hoping it will help the man put together the pieces of a life that war shattered. In “The Connoisseur,” a wealthy collector on an archeological dig in the Himalayan foothills realizes he “knows how to stay out of jail, charge rent, build hotels, and pass Go,” but has not spiritual life. Unlike his guide, a Sherpa, who could remain content with nothing but the Himalayas, the collector finds himself wanting in all but material success.

Whether they win or lose, Robert Abel’s characters make the best of circumstance with creativity, wit, passion, and endurance. In “Lawless in New York,” Professor Alice Reinquist, the sole woman in her university’s delegation to an academic conference, maintains her sense of humor by thinking of Wonder Woman’s Gold Lasso, which makes “even the most cunning of evildoers unable to prevaricate.” Tracey Wynn, a woman who considers herself on loan to her aloof boyfriend, keeps her options open by always leaving a portion of her neck exposed because she “cannot stand being closed in by anything and because she knows it invites at least a fantasy kiss.” In “Appetizer,” a man fishing in Alaska resourcefully asks two hungry grizzly bears, “How much love can $600 worth of salmon buy?”

Although many of these characters inhabit a world in which the bottom is about to fall out, they invariably find good reason—and courage—to take the next treacherous step. From the salty waters of Cape Cod Canal to the mountains of Tibet; from a Puerto Rican pub to an elegant New York bar where “Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer had no doubt insulted each other,” Ghost Traps is filled with people hustling for survival and fighting for identity in a world reluctant to give anyone an even break.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-13

I'm fishing this beautiful stream in Alaska, catching salmon, char and steelhead, when this bear lumbers out of the woods and down to the stream bank. He fixes me with this half-amused, half-curious look which says: You are meat. ...

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A Good Investment

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pp. 14-31

"What is it, darling?" Victor spoke mildly, even though he had asked his wife not to disturb him when he was in his study, and had sometimes responded to her intrusions with impatience and sarcasm. But tonight he was not really working very hard. He closed the portfolio with an air of bored satisfaction. ...

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Commander of the Buffaloes

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pp. 32-48

The 104th Transportation Company was moved in May of 1942 from the West Coast to a tiny town in Missouri about halfway between Hannibal and St. Louis. Though the Army supplied no reasons, the troops, all black, assumed the recent attack on Pearl Harbor had alerted someone that coastal installations might be imperiled ...

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My Kline Syndrome

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pp. 49-56

Moses Kline is my enemy, and I don't think he even knows it. Sometimes it seems I'm forever playing Salieri to his Mozart and I don't like it a bit. ...

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Lawless in New York

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pp. 57-70

Ms. Reinquist did not want to be falling in love with Professor Potter, but it was already happening, and after only two Manhattans. He was awful, really, in his damned light gray herringbone jacket and bow tie, the white hair at his temples closely shaved, his mustaches neat as a car salesman's, ...

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New Line

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pp. 71-79

Walter is at the Cape Cod Canal, jigging, five-thirty in the morning. His left arm is killing him, thanks to Benoit's punches from the night before, and he has a hangover that makes the usually hard work of jigging even harder. He wishes he could quit drinking. ...

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The Connoisseur

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pp. 80-96

Money is so stupid, yet utterly plastic, like paint. We try to invent new laws for it when there are none. Believe me, this is the key to success. ...

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One Up

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pp. 97-108

The Fat Man had graceful hands and he held his cards in an almost effete way, or as if he thought them valuable, full of secrets, and he studied them as another might study cuneiform, runic characters, cabalistics, and somehow his eyes never lost the curious attention, never displayed certainty or doubt. ...

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Buck and Tracey Go Walking

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pp. 109-115

Tracey "The Tigress" Wynn and Buck Lord are walking down Henan Xi Da Jie, a street thronged with bicycles, taxis, minibuses. A kind of oboe is playing, but weirder, more insistent, like a snake charmer's melody. The music makes the new, the simply unfamiliar seem strange. ...

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The Deaths of Strangers

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pp. 116-129

Everything had been all right until Becker came down the thirty-eight stairs from his loft to find two men on the street in front of his door shouting at each other in Spanish and waving pistols. Wisely, he stepped back inside and watched the altercation somewhat sheltered, because the pistols started to pop only a moment later. ...

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A Sweepstakes Story

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pp. 130-135

Today I received another sweepstakes entry letter in the mail which promised that if I read it through, every word, I would learn the secret of just possibly, it just might be you, Mr. Abel of Lake Pleasant, of winning fabulous sums. This gave me an idea. ...

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Ghost Traps

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pp. 136-152

Harper had seen Earl Ganneker twice now snaking away in his beat-up Dog Days from the pots Harper had set around the Gorilla Hole and along the channel off Potter's Landing. This didn't prove anything, but Ganneker was selling a lot of lobsters for a guy just breaking into the business and with so few pots in the bay, ...

Further Reading

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pp. 165-166

E-ISBN-13: 9780820345741
E-ISBN-10: 0820345741
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820312521
Print-ISBN-10: 0820312525

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Fiction
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