four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Barry Hannah
user_rating: 
0

New and Selected Stories

A-Long Last HappyAward-winning Southern writer Barry Hannah (1942–2010) published nine novels and four short story collections during his lifetime. The 31 stories in Long, Last, Happy, published posthumously, draw from his previous collections, with four new additions taken from an unpublished manuscript.

The Stories: Lovers, killers, alcoholics, soldiers, unhappy couples, whiskey, man-fights, and all manners of self-destruction abound in these tales. War is a constant theme: in "Bats Out of Hell Division," a severely maimed Civil War soldier travels around the battlefield in a wheelbarrow, and in "Testimony of Pilot," a Vietnam recruit turns into "a sneer in a helmet." There are also the wars between the sexes. In "Love Too Long," a white Southern man tries to win back his wife. "I want to sleep in her uterus with my foot hanging out," he says. Animals of all stripes also appear. In "Two Things, Dimly, Were Going At Each Other," a former drug addict (based on William Burroughs) befriends a doctor who suffers from canine possession; the semifantastical "A Creature in the Bay of St. Louis" considers monsters and tall tales. Some good--but mostly bad--things happen here.
Grove. 464 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 9780802119681

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This new work offers more proof of why Hannah should be considered one of our greatest, most original fiction writers. It's difficult to overstate Hannah's importance, both as an influence on other fiction writers and as a chronicler of the changing mores, hopes, fears, prejudices, and self-destructive tendencies of his fellow Americans." Brock Clarke

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories is a triumph: nearly faultless, every page a raging pleasure. ... The absence of [a credited editor and introduction] is conspicuous, and sometimes frustrating, but the decision to omit them was nonetheless the right one. It is better, for now, to present his work uncluttered by preface, chronology, etc." Justin Taylor

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"‘Bats Out of Hell Division' is, quite simply, brilliant, the best ever written about the Civil War, if only because it owes more to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead than to historians Douglas Freeman or Shelby Foote. ... For years, Hannah had been the only writer willing to push the limits of language and narrative in quite the way William Faulkner did: He was willing, that is, to risk being misunderstood, to risk offending, to risk failing; he had the artistic courage to try to do more than he or prose could possibly do." Noel Polk

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"What [James] Joyce and [Hunter S.] Thompson offer is simply the glorious experience of the English language knocking your socks off. Barry Hannah belongs in this noble company." Michael Dirda

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"A jazz lover, Hannah made improvisation a key component of his work. Transitions are minimal and unhelpful. We just have to hold on and ride the wave, wherever it takes us." Ariel Gonzalez

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Barry Hannah's work is one of the great and wonderful train wrecks of American fiction. ... His skewed angle of vision makes it pretty much impossible to sum up what his stories are about, but it is easy to focus on his cartoony, larger-than-life characters: the ornery and the randy, the obsessed and the grotesque, and liars of all stripes." Dana Jennings

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Displayed here is the essential arc of Hannah's achievement in the realm of the short story, the realm in which his genius, finally, had most of its fun. ... My own personal darling among Hannah's works is the 1993 collection Bats Out of Hell--the first stories he published after giving up drinking--and it is well represented here." James Parker

Critical Summary

Longtime fans will be thrilled to find so much of Barry Hannah's best short fiction collected here; newcomers will be gratified to discover that this Mississippi native is, indeed, a Southern gem, a fearless writer with a passion for language and an affinity for the absurd and the grotesque, "political correctness be damned" (Miami Herald). Although Hannah focuses more on ways of telling the story than on plot, readers will enjoy each tale's ribald quirkiness. Says the New York Times, Hannah is "heir to the bitter humor of Mark Twain, the Roman Catholic gothic of Flannery O'Connor and the South's outsize tradition of tall tales. ... all puréed in his own eccentric Cuisinart of hick postmodernism." All that, of course, is reason enough to delve into this Southern master's work, and there's no better place to start.

Also by the Author

Geronimo Rex (1972): F William Faulkner Prize, National Book Award Nominee. This grotesque coming-of-age story was Hannah's debut novel. Think stream-of-consciousness Catcher in the Rye, but with more misogyny and fewer likable characters.