Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scott McClanahan

Back at the end of January, I saw a post on Dennis Cooper's blog about a book called Stories II by a writer named Scott McClanahan. It sounded like a book I would really like and I made a mental note to grab it. Then, somehow, thankfully, Scott wrote me out of nowhere and sent me a copy of the book. So I got it last week, read it, and was amazed. I was so moved by the stories, felt a kind of electric appreciation for the world, or the world which Scott created in his stories. It made me want to cry a lot without totally understanding why.
Right after I finished the book, I ordered his first book, Stories, and I just got finished reading it and it did all those same things to me, but even more intensely. I love these two books so much. I'll try, though I won't do a good job, to explain why.
There is a simplicity to the writing that feels very much like traditional storytelling, like a conversation, the easy way the character allows you to come into his life for a little while to hear what he wants you to hear. Despite the humor, which sneaks up on you and floors you, the stories are bleak; almost all of them are set in West Virginia and the propects for most of the characters in the stories are not good. There is sadness everywhere in these stories. And what I'm going to say next is why I think I love these stories so much. Amidst the sadness, the ways in which everyone fails each other, there is such an amazing tenderness that lifts these stories up. I felt very tightly connected to these characters and was grateful for having been around their stories, because, even as awful things were happening, and sometimes they were totally responsible for the awful things, I felt like I understood them so clearly. Scott knows about ruined landscapes and he knows the people who inhabit these places intimately. And his love for these people, for these places, as complicated as it might be, did something magical to me.
I am not being very clear, I'm afraid. What I can say is that these stories are wonderful and I can't wait to read every single thing that Scott McClanahan writes from here on out. There are so many memorable lines, so many memorable images, that I can't stop thinking about the stories and wishing I had made them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah died yesterday. His fiction was some of the first stuff that really blew me away, that made me want to dig into weirdness and see what would come out of it. I read Airships in an undergraduate class at Vanderbilt and just went nuts for a couple of years, reading everything he had written, always being amazed at how much wildness he could allow into his fiction while still controlling it without any visible effort.
Barry came to the Sewanee Writers' Conference for many years and his readings were always the highlight of the conference for me. I heard him read "Testimony of Pilot". I heard him read "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa." I heard him read "That's True". I made tapes of these readings and would listen to them in my car over and over.
One of the first years I was on staff at the conference, I got to read and, right after I finished my story, I walked off the stage and Barry made a beeline for me, a super-intense look on his face. I went numb because I thought, "Barry Hannah is coming up to me to tell me that I am a good writer and to keep it up." Barry walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Tony, I have broken my glasses and I would really appreciate it if you could find me a little piece of copper wire so I can fix them." So I got Barry Hannah a little piece of copper wire. "You're a saint, Tony" he said when I gave it to him.
When we found out that Leigh Anne was pregnant, she said that I could pick out the name. My two choices were Captain America Wilson ("We'll call him Cap," I told her) and Geronimo Rex Wilson ("We'll call him Rex," I told her). Leigh Anne then told me that she would pick the first name and I'd pick the middle name. That worked out, but, damn, I wish I'd stayed with Geronimo Rex Wilson.