Again, thats back humor as in the short-short story, Thats True when the narrator tells us he will never forget the summer when a man named Lardner from his home state of Louisiana posing as a psychiatrist, complete with thick glasses, mustache and fake gnarled hand, especially fake gnarled hand since patients identify with a shrink who has a physical defect, traveled to New York, set up office in midtown Manhattan with five phony diplomas displayed on the wall and instantly cured the mental ills of his sorry-ass patients. But, in a way, thats exactly what happens, as in Pete Resists the Man of His Old Room when Tardys Mama shouts at the approach of a mangy man with dirty fingernails, brandishing a dagger. Meanwhile, Tardy and Pete are necking on the front porch as their 30-year-old child rides on a custom-made tricycle singing Awwww . The mangy grubber goes for Pete with his dagger but gets caught in a huge rose hedge and shouts how he remembers Pete from college, how he was skinny, cried about a Longfellow poem and puked at a drive-in. Turns out, the story contains both truth and crucifixion not only for the narrator who is racked by jealousy over what he wife did or did not do back as a teenager but also a serious truth and crucifixion for one of the old men who takes on the role of a water liar. The longest piece in the collection Testimony of Pilot introduces a narrator from Clinton, Mississippi recounting his experience first as a twelve-year old prankster, then a drum playing high schooler and finally, a college student made deaf by drumming. And further on in the story the narrator spins out the tale of how Quadberry went off to Annapolis and eventually became a jet pilot flying bombing missions into North Vietnam.
"Nihilists can come their hair." She bit her lip, pouting." from 'Return to Return' I don't know if I like Barry Hannah or not. Hannah annoyed the fuck out of me a lot of the time. I get the feeling that Hannah wrote without knowing what he was going to say. Hannah is a "Southern writer" just like I'm a "Southern girl". I don't know if he transcended the short story form sometimes, in saying anything about some of these people. And there isn't one female character in these stories that is for more than fucking. Can't ANYONE write that a chick is bangable and that some guy wants to fuck her? I have nothing to do with the hot chick or the man that wants to fuck her. I have lived in Racist!South all my life and all I have to say about that is it just reminds me of any time I have ever read on the internet or in conversations with Yankees some random comment dismissing the entire South as racist as if they weren't just being bigots themselves, and are totally free from any inherent bigotry themselves because of where they happened to be born. It read like a marker of something, or another rise getter. Just like the war "heroes" or statistics (Midnight and I'm not Famous yet was different and still I have one of those assholey moments of mine of "Tell me what I haven't already read in other accounts". And the good parts are the writing to surprise yourself like when you are having a free for all with yourself on paper (or keyboard, whatever). I liked the story "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa" when one of the "niggers" disturbs the guy whose name I have already forgotten (several characters mock his name, though, or the way he holds the position of it. Hot women and fucking." The Jeb Stuart stories were boring in that bravado way. You can either relate to them without being the asshole that sits there and watches them eat their whole banana (or it could be a man, like in that one story), or you can just be the asshole that assumes you know how it all went down because it's too insubstantial to be much more than The whole world! I like the feeling of being bothered about something. That's what I like about Hannah. The I don't know if it was something I did feeling. I know that I will be happy if I never again read a book about super hot people with nothing else to them but what they look like to the novelist despite that they are NOT REAL and every damned character in books are hot, just about.
Did you guys know this? I think this approach was better than my usual habit of gorging myself on short story collections in two or three sittings tops. Working a tedious, repetitious job, I was able to get through one story, snuff out my cigarette, then sit and mull it over for two or three hours without the interruption of additional stimuli or the nagging desire to keep on with a continuous narrative, as happens when I attempt to read plot-driven novels on my breaks. I know a lot of you may begin to salivate at the words 'Southern Grotesque', and that is a lot of what Hannah writes. Jumping between various 19th and 20th century American military involvements, to 'first times' between hillbillies, to neurotic obsessives spying on their exes with binoculars, to The End of Days, Hannah draws parallels between various petty, self-defeating, circular, and void-induced violent and pathetic lows birthed in the darker extremes of human emotion. He's often overwhelmingly sardonic, but there is a generosity of understanding about we sad, frail humans hidden under the murky surface, even if that surface is a guy sleeping with a strung-out 'loose woman', then beating her over the head with a tombstone. Oh, and I should point out again that these are Southern stories set over a wide net of time periods, and that they are told mostly in first-person. As these are grotesques, these people are not exactly supposed to be idolized (rather, examined), but it can get a bit jarring to read so many ugly terms in such rapid-fire style from a white man who published this collection in 1974.
In this collection of 20 stories there are certainly pieces centered around mid-to-late century marginalized members of southern society; there's also a handful of fantastic works employing the American Civil War as the setting ("Behold the Husband in His Perfect Agony" might be the best five page story Ive read in an age) but there are enough stories between the covers that show Hannahs amazing range. Testimony of Pilot is the longest story of the collection and has the reader guessing the whole way through to the excellent ending.
Barry Hannah came very close to be counted as my 'new' author I discovered in 2017 through Goodreads recommendations. When he's good, he's every bit as good as the other great American short story writers, like Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor or Robert Coover. His style has a bit of the bleakness of O'Connor, the loneliness of Carver and the subversive exuberance of Coover, yet Hannah, in this first volume of stories I read from him, is unique and different from his peers. Together they work in unison, like a symphony with dark overtones, occasional laughter and a lot of impossible dreams (airships of different constructions) For me the definition of a good story is one that not only captures an emotion in the limited space offered by the format, but one that has layers of meaning that can be revealed through multiple readings and beautiful / poetic turns of phrase that make you go off the page and continue the story in your own head. Hannah does this in a lot of the episodes included here but, to be honest, he does it better in some while others left me with the impression of a clever craftsman turning tricks for an easy to please audience. Maybe I just need to re-read the ones that failed to impress. Another note I make is a reiterated point Hannah makes that people are liars, making me think he would have done well as a scriptwriter for the TV series "Dr. House". in place of a conclusion, I saved another good Hannah quip from "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa" : Precious are the hours we touch one another," the son of a bitch said.
Quite honestly, there are several stories here that I didn't like at all, but the good ones more than made up for them. Once a blue-suited man on the ground was holding his hands out after his horse fell over. My horse, Pardon Me, was rearing way high and I couldn't put the muzzle of my shotgun at him. The man knelt down, closing his eyes as if to pray.
Unilaterally, the small clutch of Jeb Stuart stories are beautiful in their depiction of Southern heroics and mendacityoften at the same timeduring the Civil War. Its when Hannah tries on his sci-fi pants, for instance, that he loses me. Maybe after I re-read the collected works of that notorious short story inkpot Chekov, for instance.
Barry Hannah was an American novelist and short story writer from Mississippi.