Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Long, Last, Happy

New and Collected Stories

by Barry Hannah

A career-spanning collection from the beloved master of the short story and the Southern Gothic idiom, Long, Last, Happy is a fitting tribute to a writer deeply mourned by the literary community.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 464
  • Publication Date November 08, 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4550-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.95
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date November 02, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9620-0
  • US List Price $15.95

About The Book

Barry Hannah was widely recognized as one of the masters of the American short story and his death in March 2010 brought writers and readers out of the woodwork to mourn an irrevocable loss to American letters. Now, combining the best of the four story collections he published during his lifetime and the final manuscript he left behind, Long, Last, Happy will cement his legacy and serve as the definitive collection of his finest work in the story form.

From his first collection, Airships, Barry Hannah made the literary world sit up and take notice. His ferocious, glittering prose and sui generis worldview introduced readers to a literary New South—a fictional landscape that “Vanity Fair Daily” has summarized as covering “Women, God, lust, race, nature, gay Confederates, good old boys, bad old boys, guns, animals, fishing, fighting, cars, pestilence, surrealism, gritty realism, the future, and the past . . . tossed together in glorious juxtapositions.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Hannah “the mendacity-battling colossus bestriding the cotton-growing, Wal-Mart-shopping, history-haunted states the rest of the country calls ‘down there.’” The definitive collection of a giant of the American short story, and including never-seen new material, Long, Last, Happy confirms that Barry Hannah was one of the most brilliant voices of our time.

Praise

“It is often noted that Hannah is a descendant of the great southern writers, such as Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor; but he is also a literary heir to Mark Twain and Ring Lardner, even Nathanael West: like them, he mixes caustic comedy, a bit of madness, and hope, and gets at the deeper truths about what it is to be alive, to be human in the largest sense.” —Vince Passaro, O: The Oprah Magazine

“If you turn to literature to tell you a good story, that has something to say about the human heart, and that surprises you with language’s beauty and, well, surprises, Hannah is your writer. And this book contains a lot of his work, even if it’s never enough.” —Time Out Chicago (5 star review)

“Hannah . . .was a one-off, a kind of stylistic hippogriff: The least phrase that he wrote was stamped with his uniqueness. . . . Displayed [in Long, Last, Happy] 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. . . . with the short story he could simply set himself down in the middle somewhere and explode. . . . How to describe his language, to get at it—that Barry Hannah feeling? There’s lyricism in it, but with an accompanying sense of gleeful defilement, of vandalism almost, as if some more elegant piece of writing, in another tongue, has fallen into the hands of a whimsical and violent translator. . . . a lovely book, and a worthy testimonial.” —James Parker, Wall Street Journal

“[Barry Hannah] is like Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Grace Paley, and Nathanael West, writers who borrowed what they found useful in American traditions, and left the rest behind. . . . [His stories are] so full of agony in one paragraph, so irreverent in the next, and so beautiful as a whole.” —Boston Globe

“Never dull . . . Hannah’s prose is an antic mix of highbrow and lowbrow, in which time and place can shift abruptly in the space of a comma. The posthumously published Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories find[s] Hannah, some forty years into his writing career, as unpredictable as ever.” —Lee Ellis, New Yorker

“Audacious, thrilling, and astute, the stories in this collection—written over the course of nearly half a century—showcase the genius of the late, great Southern writer.” —Karen Holt, O Magazine

“What’s remarkable about these stories is their density, how much they pack into a concise space . . . Hannah revels in the flexibility the short story offers, the way it can zero in or stretch out wide.” —David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“[A] wonderland of stories . . . A presentation of active, vibrant, nearly throbbing fiction. We have come to not only accept but also appreciate and even cherish his over-the-top characters and plots as the key to his imagination. He was a king of the greatly enticing opening line . . . Humor seals the deal in a Hannah story.” —Brad Hooper, Booklist (starred review)

“This posthumous collection includes four new stories and shows why Hannah’s regarded as one of the best. Hannah’s wit is caustic, shot through with social commentary and gleefully interspersed with bursts of slapstick comedy. . . . The subject matter may be serious, but Hannah never abandons his sly grin . . . this collection reminds that Hannah, even in death, will always be ‘on the black and chrome Triumph, riding right into your face.’” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“He was always looking for the next outrageous character, outrageous scene, and he was never satisfied with the mundane, even stylistically. He was just fearless. There are very few people who can put together sentences and words like Barry Hannah.” —John Grisham

“Hannah’s language is audacious, bracing, and insistent, often at the ragged brink of control. Words flash in ways no one had thought of before. Not ever.” —Charles Frazier

“Barry Hannah’s idiom has stayed incomparably fresh . . . recasting the world in the way obviously great writing does.” —Richard Ford

“Barry Hannah is the best fiction writer to appear in the South since Flannery O’Connor.” —Larry Mcmurtry

“Southern, wacky, and utterly original, Barry Hannah reminds us in this posthumous collection why he belongs in pantheon of America’s finest writers . . . He is like Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Grace Paley, and Nathanael West, writers who borrowed what they found useful in American traditions, and left the rest behind. . . . [It’s] impossible not to marvel at how a story can be so full of agony in one paragraph, so irreverent in the next, and so beautiful as a whole.” —Brock Clarke, Boston Globe

“Barry Hannah drank deeply from the well of Southern discomfort, and this unquenchable thirst made for some of the most dynamic prose in contemporary American fiction. . . . Hannah’s stories were wired to deliver high-voltage jolts. This was achieved partly through the subject matter, often weird and always randy, but mostly through the head-snapping language and images, and plot twists that came at you sideways.” —Denver Post

“Hannah’s best stories are . . . a poetic wail that is both distinctly Southern and all his own. . . . Hannah will live on because of the dynamic and innovative prose of the fever-dream stories.” —Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Barry Hannah was a lit firecracker in a whiskey bottle, and no one who’s ever experienced his work can forget it. . . . I’d never realized Southern literature—any literature—could do this before. . . . The new Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories [is] not only the perfect introduction to Hannah’s fiction; combined with the previously unpublished stories, it forms a stunning, defiant and wholly original valediction from the second king of Mississippi literature. . . . The man wrote the way Django Reinhardt played guitar—you have to experience it to believe it, and even then, you’re not entirely sure how the hell he pulled it off. He was an American original, a bona fide Southern hell-raiser with the voice of a drunk angel, shot full of the world’s best good.” —NPR.org

“The very best writers we love for the sound of their sentences, the shiver of pleasure delivered by unexpected words and astonishing turns of phrase, by the way their language makes us feel glad to be alive. You don’t pick up James Joyce’s Ulysses because you want to learn about the events in Dublin on June 16, 1904; you don’t read Hunter S. Thompson because you want to find out about the nightlife in Las Vegas. What Joyce and Thompson offer is simply the glorious experience of the English language knocking your socks off. Barry Hannah belongs in this noble company. And then some. . . . Go immerse yourself in the heartbreakingly funny, word-drunk world of Barry Hannah.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Hannah’s lines invigorate and intoxicate, his language delivering us into an American version of what Rilke called ‘a more powerful reality—rising and circling, poised but wild.’ Hannah was a storyteller, an enchanter with a refined eye for the outrageous and an ecstatic worldliness worthy of Rabelais. Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories is a triumph: nearly faultless, every page a raging pleasure.” —Justin Taylor, The New York Times Book Review

“You have to wonder about Mississippi: Faulkner and Wright, Welty and Morris, and now Hannah, whose prose at once shines and burns like a piney-woods fire. They do say Delta soil is the best in the South—maybe it grows our language, too.” —Diane Roberts, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“As this compilation amply proves, Hannah was a master of the sentence.” —Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“‘In Mississippi it is difficult to achieve a vista,’ wrote the late laureate Hannah of his native state. He was wrong: He provided some of the best vistas in American literature, as this collection of short fiction ably shows. The early stories here . . . show Hannah at his Faulknerian finest, writing small elegant tales in long sentences that loop and oxbow to rival Old Man River himself . . . Hannah proves again and again his ability to compress whole lives into single paragraphs.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Barry Hannah takes fiction by surprise—scenes, shocks, sounds, and amazements: an explosive but meticulous originality.” —Cynthia Ozick

“The first praise of Barry Hannah’s work you’re likely to hear will rest on the gushing pleasures, the verve and song, of his sentences . . . The emphasis on Hannah’s language is wholly deserved, long overdue, and in full throat now with the publication of his posthumous collection of stories, Long, Last, Happy . . . Hannah’s Martian contortions of language, his stupefying mixes of the high and low, wow and startle at the clip of several sentences per page. . . . Wonder-struck and earnestly strange . . . these gobsmacked juxtapositions of language betray a perceptive apparatus in constant, boyish awe before the world. The intensity of Hannah’s prose [is] a faithful rendering of ecstatic perception. Reading him, one encounters a man exponentially more alive than most.” —Jacob Rubin, Slate.com

“Hannah . . . writes with twangy vividness, creating sentences that hum with energy and unexpectedness. . . . [A] blunt, unvarnished vision of the human species.” —Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

“Barry Hannah writes the most consistently interesting sentences of any writer in America today . . . with moods and interior storms that cannot be found anywhere else in fiction.” —Sven Birkerts, The New Republic

“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, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Visceral and disturbing and, god! That voice! The characters seemed so alive! . . . Hannah was known as a writer’s writer for most of his career. He deserves a wider audience, and I hope this collection finds him one.” —Cari Wade Gervin, Metro Pulse (Best Books of 2010)

“Hannah was both a writer’s writer and a Southern everyman whose serpentine narrative licks can stop your heart and jump-start it at the same time.” —Elle Magazine

“Barry Hannah is the Jimi Hendrix of American short fiction; an electrified Mark Twain—a wailing genius of literary twang, reverb, feedback, and general sonic unholiness that results in grace notes so piercing your heart melts like an overloaded amp.” —Will Blythe, Interview

“Barry Hannah is an original, and one of the most consistently exciting writers of the post-Faulkner generation.” —William Styron, Salon

“No one has ever written, and no one ever will write, like Barry Hannah. His prose mangles the English language to the point of incomprehension, which then emerges, uncannily, as music. . . . I can’t imagine any serious American writer not owning this book, or anyone reading it without a sense of awe.” —Tom Grimes, The Outlet (Electric Literature Blog)

“The best short story collection I’ve read this year.” —Bookslut (online)

“Hannah’s style blistered everything it touched, blinding the night like a shot of white phosphorous. For a decade or more he was America’s only answer to the miracle of Martin Amis.” —Robert Baird, The New York Observer

“When asked why he read biology textbooks at leisure and what the appeal was exactly, this was [Hannah’s] answer: ‘Awe and wonder for the savage and beautiful life around me. I’m drop-jawed like an idiot, and delighted. Unknown and hidden, ambitious tissue. I tell my students it’s living tissue we are wanting on the page. The rest is nonsense.’ In fact, for all the wildness and unexpected that happens in Hannah’s work, there may not be a better example of an ‘openness to the world.’” —Outpost 19

“A virtuoso like Hannah put words in juxtapositions so startling they rattle the cage.” —Barnes & Noble Review

“If you want to spend a few hours in the company of somebody who wrote like he enjoyed the hell out of life, [Long, Last, Happy] isn’t a bad place to start.” —Katherine Smith, Austin Chronicle

“Hannah’s style is sui generis . . . He affixed rhythm to ribaldry, tone to transgression. . . . Hannah could still leave glorious black on the page.” —Ariel Gonzalez, Miami Herald

Awards

A New Yorker Best Books of 2010
A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
On of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month (December 2010)

Excerpt

1964-1978 — Airships and Before
Trek

Our host energetically stamped the brake and whipped our station wagon into a space that seemed to me to have burst out of the metallic desert from nowhere. Although assured by our host that we were indeed lucky, I held doubt as to our advantage. In fact, a single backward glance convinced me that we were no farther than a red light from our host’s home. The host never looked back, strangely enough, so convinced was he that we were indeed lucky. We unloaded the asses and Negroes from the back end of our car and managed to get a look at the map and have a cigarette while the Negroes loaded the donkeys’ backs.

The noise of passing caravans and their personnel almost obliterated our host’s admonitive plea, which I thought, from what I could hear between the jacking of the asses and the work songs of the Negroes, was well put and persuaded me, after a perusal of the horizon and the frustrations involved between our intended ascent and its gleam, that we should and would just have to stick together, that is that part of his speech which I was able to hear persuaded me, for the jacking of the asses, the lament of the eunuchs, the cries of the Lost, the general din of the vulgar in their ascent ahead were overpowering.

After a short while of walking, I settled into the comfort that we were in the hands of competence with our host. He indeed was directing our little sortie ably, never once flinching from the cries of desperate souls who burst wide and panic-eyed from the aisles of cars, stumbling along in opposite direction to us, earnestly tilting their compasses to the light, grappling or dragging collapsed or semicollapsed wives and children wailing behind them, nor either from the occasional and increasingly frequenter parties heading back toward us either gasping resolutely or displaying on crudely lettered and upraised billboards: “There is no use” and “Turn back now, Brother.” We encountered even several of those pathetic shades of men running bearded and half-naked among the chrome searching for their cars, their families, a hint of the Outer or Inner Passage, or those more pitiable skeletons who had lost all hope, babbling, imploring alms, or deliriously polishing their underwear. These, our host explained, as he beat away one of these very safe refugees from the tail of our caravan (they had been known to pillage supplies or even masquerade as eunuchs in desperate hope of attaching themselves to the successful caravan), were the ones probably befouled by imperfect compasses, lost maps, of cars identical with many others, the Lost. He hastened to add, and I could easily see his point, they were giving the game a bad name.

Meanwhile the Negroes faithfully prodded the asses and hummed pep songs. Three of the poor fellows fainted under their bales, those always seeming especially ponderous to me—until one of the perspiring Negroes explained to me that within the sheaves of burlap and wire was housed our liquor. I fully understood and appreciated then and could not help admiring our host for his elaborate and clever concealment of bliss. Two of the darkies, by the way, gave no indication of ever reviving and so our able host, over the protests of the eunuchs who I understood later were strictly and conscientiously union, recruited two of the Lost, floundering into our route, more than eager to take up the burdens. We proceeded then down and across infinite aisles, up grade, the entire first night of the journey. All the way the surrounding clamor alerted us to the need for sticking together, which was constantly the admonition of our great host. The humble music of the bearers had noticeably changed into a vigorous dialectic chant diatribing the impossible incompetency of the ofay. Deaf to this prejudice, the two Lost, as it were, the laboring minority, and dumb except through energetic eyes, peered passionately toward the horizon and its dull glow, from which sprung our Hope.

Since dawn hid the glow of our destination, we rested then, and fell to singing songs to the glory of our team. The clamor around us, nevertheless, sustained itself in the merchants who dared venture as far back as we were, screaming their offers, which entailed, at what I thought to be highly irregular fees, such entities as the True Maps, relics from the Destination itself, survival pamphlets, Dexedrine and other narcotics stimulating fervor and perseverance, and even such optimistic and far-flung symbols of the Contest itself as partisan flags, medals, and swords.

Night fell finally and we each rushed for our binoculars. Sure enough, in the very far East, lights again charged the air and the resilience of our destination hung even brighter on the horizon. Our host persuaded our caravan into action, enthusing each constituent with optimism and hope. Beside us, the anxious eyes of the two Lost fairly trembled in their sockets. Generally, the great inverse exodus gathered its paraphernalia around us, sending up a terrific din and repleting with victory and other earnest shouts. At this time we encountered a strange party intersecting our particular aisle. They were, doubtless, members of the Filthy Rich, for they snobbed us, high upon the backs of camels. I did think their transport indeed rare and their garb was fine, I’m sure, although of a longer cut than ours, and very elaborate you may be sure, even to the degree that they were thoroughly out of mode.

These fellows looked earnest enough, however, and so I ceased to suspicion their intent. There was not time, actually, for me to make their acquaintance since our relations with them were terminated when a darker member of their trio prodded his camel alongside our train and addressed our host.

“Is this then the light in the East?” he implored, whisking the curtains back from his face, which displayed solemnity and an almost inordinate degree of wiseness. “Is this then the light of the promised?” he again asked. I must admit he was incoherent to me and must have been to our host, for he threatened them against using our aisle and our dexterity of voyage. “Alas, we have come from afar,” one of the other two lamented rather anachronistically. And while I sympathized with our host and held faith in his judgment I suspected that we should have been more courteous to this party, for actually, if it must be known what I was thinking, I feared they were UN delegates gone astray, as I have also heard is not inordinate. The fellows, at least, left passively and disappeared over the next promontory shortly, for their camels were swifter than our own caravan. The incident, however, did not cease to impress its moment on my mind for the remainder of the journey; the thought of the Three hunting back and forth between cars, scrounging the aisles unshaved and desperate as members of the Lost disturbed me, for I knew it would not breed any too good international relations to have them doing so.

After perhaps another two hours our host halted the train and had eunuchs lay our gear into a large square pile, perhaps twelve or fifteen feet high, on which he climbed with their help. So enthused was he over something he saw in his large binoculars that he toppled headlong off the platform and twisted his neck. The two of the Lost shivered and vomited with anxiety, poor fellows, and lifted themselves up on tiptoes to glimpse something over the hill. “What?” our entire train asked in unison. “Is it?”

“Perhaps?”

Our joyous host leaped from the ground and held up his arms. Silence, except for the enthusiastic, staccato moans of the two Lost, thrilled the train.

“I have seen it,” he uttered simply. “The stadium is just over the hill a few miles.” With this announcement we shook hands, even congratulated the eunuchs, and for the occasion split one of the bales. Around us, the shouts of similar discoverers thrilled the air, there was much song and dance, with liquor flowing freely. I can say there was only one sad incident that wonderful night. The two Lost, in the head of expectation, completely lost their wits, broke from the train, ignoring the whip of our host, and scampered over the hills like goats. “A common temptation,” the host had termed it in his Preparation for the Journey speech, and I was glad I had listened. Scanning the metallic jungle of rooftop aerials and infinite aisles and ways, the host offered a toast. I drank, but probably with less gusto than the rest because I realized we wouldn’t, nor anybody except other fans on chance in their journeys, ever see those two of the Lost again.

Water Liars

When I am run down and blocked 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 lineup 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.

“MacIntire, a Presbyterian preacher, I seen him come out here with his son-in-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.

“Nuthin. 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 teenagers, 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 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.

Sam Lipsyte on Barry Hannah

5-6-10 3:43PM: Sam Lipsyte said . . .

Dear Mr. Hannah,

One morning many years ago, early, too early for a hung-over narcissistic nineteen-year-old cretin like me, our intense young college literature instructor, a man with crisp trousers and the tight but slightly permissive haircut of a Coast Guard officer, chalked a series of diabolical diagrams on the board: mythos, dianoia, thought, thought-content. The entire lesson seemed ingeniously designed to menace and finally dismantle people like me, otherwise known as those who have not done the reading. Eventually the instructor caught me drowsing, snapped something mean and sporty in my direction, the bark of the coach who maybe doesn’t see the buried potential in his new recruit at all. Later he took me aside after class and asked why I was there. I told him I wanted to write literature, figured learning how to think about it was a good way to start.

“Let’s see some stuff,” he said.

I’m not sure he ever read whatever nonsense I gave him, but when I saw him next he told me to read Airships. “Barry Hannah,” he said.

The man ruined and saved me, and I can’t even remember his name.

But Mr. Hannah, your name has been thrumming in me ever since. I was a Jewish kid from New Jersey. My literary heroes were meant to be Roth and Bellow and maybe Updike, for ethnic variety. Their accomplishments rightly endure. But your books burned me down. You sang, you startled, you dreamed, you mourned and exulted and laughed with new sounds, new sentences. Perhaps they bore the magic of the languages your character Ned Maximus (“thirty-eight and somewhat Spanish”) speaks: “white, Negro, some Elizabethan, some Apache.” And no matter how reckless your leaps, your sentences, your paragraphs, like tiny genius gymnasts, stuck every landing. I’ve known a lot of Southern writers who understood deeply the what of your writing—the fishing, the drinking, that sense of being both enriched and hounded by geography and history, the hypocrisies of the over-cultivated white Southern identity, the sad hilarity and nobility of nearly everything, the ongoing crucifixion by the truth, as one of your more famous stories has it—with greater nuance than I could ever manage. Sometimes I even needed a diagram. But the how of your work was a perfect and enthralling wonder. For an apprentice writer your example was both a hand up and a knife to the neck. Such is the double bind of meeting your master. Most people emulate a career, a reputation, but your many acolytes yearn to understand how so much poetry and story can bloom so swiftly on a page. I wish I’d written you sooner, or met you, as all have attested to your generosity and wit. Perhaps I did write you once, a decade ago, but I was younger and my intentions were not pure. I believe I hoped you’d read my first book. But that was never the point. The point was for us to read yours, to dare ourselves to live up to the motto of Mr. Maximus (AKA Maximum Ned): “Ride, fly, penetrate, loiter.” Yes, this is really just another fan letter, and maybe such drool means nothing to a dead man. Maybe it’s a fake, sick thing to write letters to the dead. But your books live on and we serve them now.