23 January 2011

The Art in Barry Hannah

"I go back to the dinette and sit with Rebecca. I smoked about four Luckies in a row and looked into her face without saying anything for a while. Rebecca's face is a charm. She goes heavy on the blue eye makeup. Her neck is a long-ish classic from the old paintings of what's-his-name. Her nose is forward and long. She lights a Lucky and the exhaust is gray through the large sensitive nostrils. She's half-Jew, the rest Greek. Okay, now I've come back from the humiliation of never thinking up a better poem than Mr. Hooch. Then we go through two cups of coffee apiece. Modigliani." --Barry Hannah, Ray

This is one of a dozen or so paragraphs in Ray that made me set down the book and contemplate the day for a moment. Hannah excels at self-contained prose blocks that are poem-like in their completeness. It's a brilliant, plainspoken description but circling back to Modigliani puts it over the top.

I've been a big Hannah admirer since his use of the n-word at a Bennington reading ruined the lives of a lot of middle-aged ladies. While perhaps not on Amy Hempel level of slavish WTT devotion, he's certainly a more palatable Lish acolyte than Raymond Carver.

The real Ray comparison I want to make is to Thomas McGuane's Ninety-two in the Shade, another great favorite of mine from the last few years' reading. The protagonist of the latter, Skelton, would certainly enjoy sharing a few six packs with Ray. I like to imagine the good doctor crashing the plane that Skelton eventually converts into his domicile.

Sure, McGuane is more reliant on a propulsive plot and Hannah more focused on portrait of the man. But both books are sunbaked to a crisp and enough to make me love reading about the South even if I'm not scheduling any visits.

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