Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Barry Hannah

“[Airships] struck me–as a great upheaval of our literary expectations, a liberating force. . . . Hannah’s language is audacious, bracing and insistent, often at the ragged brink of control. Words slash in ways no one had thought of before. Not ever.” –Charles Frazier, Paste

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date March 01, 1994
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3388-5
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

“Barry Hannah is an original, and one of the most consistently exciting writers of the post-Faulkner generation. The stories in Airships are fiercely imagined fables in which hilarity and pain achieve a remarkable equipoise; sometimes funny, often terrifying, they are told in a captivating and unforgettable voice.” –William Styron, Salon

“One reads Barry Hannah and is amazed! Airships places him in the very first rank of American literary artists, and leaves us breathless with the force of its feeling.” –James Dickey

When Airships was published, it introduced readers to a literary New South–a region that grappled fiercely with the legacy of the Civil War and a present-day cauldron of friendship and violence, drinking and fishing, sex, love, and a virtuosic devotion to storytelling. It is now recognized by writers and readers everywhere as one of the most important and influential works of short fiction and Southern writing in recent years.


“Barry Hannah is an original, and one of the most consistently exciting writers of the post-Faulkner generation. The stories in Airships are fiercely imagined fables in which hilarity and pain achieve a remarkable equipoise; sometimes funny, often terrifying, they are told in a captivating and unforgettable voice.” –William Styron, Salon

“Strong, original, tragic, and funny in the same voice–a writer of violent honesty and power in the creative Southern tradition.” –Alfred Kazin

“These stories are wonderful in the ways Mark Twain, Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor are wonderful when they are working the great vein of fierce and pitiless Southern comedy. The war stories in particular–joining, as they do for me, the clownish misery and colossal overkill of Vietnam to the American Civil War–are masterpieces of their kind. Hannah is more than just a new voice–he is half a dozen brilliant new voices.” –Philip Roth

“Talents as broad as this thrive in novels but rarely take to the more constricting form of the short story. Airships proves Barry Hannah an exception . . . artfully rounded-off vignettes jumping with humor and menace. . . . The stories bounce off and echo one another, giving the book an impact greater than the sum of its parts. . . . Most young Southern writers resent being compared to such past giants as Faulkner and Flannery o’Connor. In embracing the gothic mode, Hannah has planted himself firmly on their turf. On the evidence of this book, their shadows are not stunting his growth.” –Time

“The short story was [Hannah’s] best form, and Airships, an ear-perfect array of voices from the American South, was his best book.” –Julian Barnes, The Times Literary Supplement (UK)’s Books of the Year

“Exhilarating! Hannah is afraid of nothing in experience. He runs to meet life and to transform it.” –Denis Donoghue

“Hannah’s stories are powerful, and powerfully original.” –John Gardner

“One reads Barry Hannah and is amazed! Airships places him in the very first rank of American literary artists, and leaves us breathless with the force of its feeling.” –James Dickey

“[Airships and Garp] deserve all the praise they can get . . . even the overpraise . . . because we are so thirsty for good fiction, for the art of storytelling, because we so much want the pleasure of encountering true (and therefore original) invention, vision, and voice, that only superlatives can express our gratitude. . . . Hannah has more force, in fact, explosive force. He has kicked free of the visible thematic scaffolding through which Irving’s people have to climb. . . . More writers have been smuggled out of the South than cartons of cigarettes, and Barry Hannah is one of the best. . . . He now gives us a collection of stories that has already amazed James Dickey, exhilarated Denis Donoghue, and lured the word ‘masterpieces’ from Philip Roth. And rightly so. . . . He can, as he says of a saxophone, “get up into inhumanly careless beauty . . . get among mutinous helium bursts around Saturn.” Reading Airships is like having lightning shark down at you in the dark. It illuminates where you are. It can scare you half to death. Wtihin all the raucous, lyric, sly, spooked, and innocent voices of his people, Hannah’s voice is unmistakable. . . . Almost always, his writing is pure and easy because perfectly self-confident. . . . Lost in a New South that is everywhere and nowhere anymore, Hannah is always reaching, with the communal hunger of his heritage, back into the past (the Civil War), out into the future (apocalyptic Gotterdammerungs), and up to the universe. . . . Hannah, in the Twain tradition, is what he calls “a great liar,” a teller of “big loose ones.” It is this oratory of hyperbolic Southern voices telling their largely luckless tales that reminds reviewers of o’Connor and Welty, but Hannah is more secular and less furious than o’Connor, and he’s more romantic and less forgiving than Welty, though he does have the latter’s sweetness of heart, her delight in the vitality of survivors, her faith in love. . . . Like Faulkner, Hannah is compelled by the past . . . but it is a painful, uneasy compulsion. . . . Also like Faulkner, Hannah is moved by macho romanticism, though he fights the impulse to pant after Faulknerian courage and pride and honor and sacrifice and etc., in their Colonel Sartoris manifestations. . . . Quite specifically, Hannah ties our Civil War to the one in Southeast Asia [Vietnam], and so the Old South to the New, for in both those sorry messes Southern Americans, black and white, found “all we had going was the pursuit of horror.” . . . Hannah is, finally, neither a nihilist nor a confirmed cynic. Finally, he’s a lover and even a patriot.” –Michael Malone, The Nation


Winner of the Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award


Water Liars

When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another. The line-up is always different, because they’re always dying out or succumbing to constipation, etc., whereupon they go back to the cabins and wait for a good day when they can come out and lie again, leaning on the rail with coats full of bran cookies. The son of the man the cove was named for is often out there. He pronounces his name Fartay, with a great French stress on the last syllable. Otherwise you might laugh at his history or ignore it in favor of the name as it’s spelled on the sign.

I’m glad it’s not my name.

This poor dignified man has had to explain his nobility to the semiliterate of half of America before he could even begin a decent conversation with them. On the other hand, Farte, Jr., is a great liar himself.

He tells about seeing ghost people around the lake and tells big loose ones about the size of the fish those ghosts took out of Farte Cove in years past.

Last year I turned thirty-three years old and, raised a Baptist, I had a sense of being Jesus and coming to something decided in my life–because we all know Jesus was crucified at thirty-three. It had all seemed especially important, what you do in this year, and holy with meaning.

On the morning after my birthday party, during which I and my wife almost drowned in vodka cocktails, we both woke up to the making of a truth session about the lovers we’d had before we met each other. I had a mildly exciting and usual history, and she had about the same, which surprised me. For ten years she’d sworn I was the first. I could not believe her history was exactly equal with mine. It hurt me to think that in the era when there were supposed to be virgins she had allowed anyone but me, and so on.

I was dazed and exhilarated by this information for several weeks. Finally, it drove me crazy, and I came out to Farte Cove to rest, under the pretense of a fishing week with my chum Wyatt.

I’m still figuring out why I couldn’t handle it.

My sense of the past is vivid and slow. I hear every sign and see every shadow. The movement of every limb in every passionate event occupies my mind. I have a prurience on the grand scale. It makes no sense that I should be angry about happenings before she and I ever saw each other. Yet I feel an impotent homicidal urge in the matter of her lovers. She has excused my episodes as the course of things, though she has a vivid memory too. But there is a blurred nostalgia women have that men don’t.

You could not believe how handsome and delicate my wife is naked.

I was driven wild by the bodies that had trespassed her twelve and thirteen years ago.

My vacation at Farte Cove wasn’t like that easy little bit you get as a rich New Yorker. My finances weren’t in great shape; to be true, they were about in ruin, and I left the house knowing my wife would have to answer the phone to hold off, for instance, the phone company itself. Everybody wanted money and I didn’t have any.

I was going to take the next week in the house while she went away, watch our three kids and all the rest. When you both teach part-time in the high schools, the income can be slow in summer.

No poor-mouthing here. I don’t want anybody’s pity. I just want to explain. I’ve got good hopes of a job over at Alabama next year. Then I’ll get myself among higher-paid liars, that’s all.
Sidney Farte was out there prevaricating away at the end of the pier when Wyatt and I got there Friday evening. The old faces I recognized; a few new harkening idlers I didn’t.

“Now, Doctor Mooney, he not only saw the ghost of Lily, he says he had intercourse with her. Said it was involuntary. Before he knew what he was doing, he was on her making cadence and all their clothes blown away off in the trees around the shore. She turned into a wax candle right under him.”

“Intercourse,” said an old-timer, breathing heavy. He sat up on the rail. It was a word of high danger to his old mind. He said it with a long disgust, glad, I guess, he was not involved.
‘maclntire, a Presbyterian preacher, I seen him come out here with his son-and-law, anchor near the bridge, and pull up fifty or more white perch big as small pumpkins. You know what they was using for bait?”

“What?” asked another geezer.

“Nutbin. Caught on the bare hook. It was Gawd made them fish bite,” said Sidney Farte, going at it good.

“Naw. There be a season they bite a bare hook. Gawd didn’t have to’ve done that,” said another old guy, with a fringe of red hair and a racy Florida shirt.

“Nother night,” said Sidney Farte, “I saw the ghost of Yazoo hisself with my pa, who’s dead. A Indian king with four deer around him.”

The old boys seemed to be used to this one. Nobody said anything. They ignored Sidney.

“Tell you what,” said a well-built small old boy. “That was somethin when we come down here and had to chase that whole high-school party off the end of this pier, them drunken children. They was smokin dope and two-thirds a them nekid swimmin in the water. Good hunnerd of em. From your so-called good high school. What you think’s happnin at the bad ones?”

I dropped my beer and grew suddenly sick. Wyatt asked me what was wrong. I could see my wife in 1960 in the group of high-schoolers she must have had. My jealousy went out into the stars of the night above me. I could not bear the roving carelessness of teen-agers, their judgeless tangling of wanting and bodies. But I was the worst back then. In the mad days back then, I dragged the panties off girls I hated and talked badly about them once the sun came up.

“Worst time in my life,” said a new, younger man, maybe sixty but with the face of a man who had surrendered, ‘me and Woody was fishing. Had a lantern. It was about eleven. We was catching a few fish but rowed on into that little cove over there near town. We heard all these sounds, like they was ghosts. We was scared. We thought it might be the Yazoo hisself. We known of some fellows the Yazoo had killed to death just from fright. It was the over the sounds of what was normal human sighin and amoanin. It was big unhuman sounds. We just stood still in the boat. Ain’t nuthin else us to do. For thirty minutes.”
“An what was it?” said the old geezer, letting himself off the rail.
“We had a big flashlight. There came up this rustlin in the brush and I beamed it over there. The two of em makin the sounds get up with half they clothes on. It was my own daughter Charlotte and an older guy I didn’t even know with a mustache. My own daughter, and them sounds over the water scarin us like ghosts.”

“My Gawd, that’s awful,” said the old geezer by the rail. “Is that the truth? I wouldn’t’ve told that. That’s terrible.”
Sidney Farte was really upset.

“This ain’t the place!” he said. “Tell your kind of story somewhere else.”

The old man who’d told his story was calm and fixed to his place. He’d told the truth. The crowd on the pier was outraged and discomfited. He wasn’t one of them. But he stood his place. He had a distressed pride. You could see he had never recovered from the thing he’d told about.

I told Wyatt to bring the old man back to the cabin. He was out here away from his wife the same as me and Wyatt. Just an older guy with a big hurting bosom. He wore a suit and the only way you’d know he was on vacation was he’d removed his tie. He didn’t know where the bait house was. He didn’t know what to do on vacation at all. But he got drunk with us and I can tell you he and I went out the next morning with our poles, Wyatt driving the motorboat, fishing for white perch in the cove near the town. And we were kindred.

We were both crucified by the truth.