Yonder Stands Your Orphanby Barry Hannah
“A literary event . . . A new voice of the South whose characters roamed as far as
“A literary event . . . A new voice of the South whose characters roamed as far as
The first novel in ten years from a man who “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).
Barry Hannah has been acclaimed by Larry McMurtry as “the best fiction writer to appear in the South since Flannery O’Connor.” In his new novel, the first since 1991’s Never Die, he again displays the master craftsmanship and wickedly brilliant storytelling that have earned him a deserved reputation as a modern master.
In Yonder Stands Your Orphan, denizens of a lake community near Vicksburg are beset by madness, murder, and sin in the form of one Man Mortimer, a creature of the casinos who resembles dead country singer Conway Twitty. A killer who has turned mean and sick, he will visit upon this town a wreckage of biblical proportions. The young sheriff is confounded by Mortimer and distracted by his passion for a lovely seventy-two-year-old widow. Only Max Raymond, a weak Christian saxophonist, stands between Mortimer and his further depredations. But who will die, who will burn? Yonder Stands Your Orphan is a tour de force that confirms Barry Hannah’s reputation–as William Styron wrote in Salon–”an original, and one of the most consistently exciting writers of the post-Faulkner generation.”
Praise for Barry Hannah:
“Barry Hannah [is] the Deep South’s answer to Charles Bukowski and the man whom Truman Capote once called ‘the maddest writer in the U.S.A.’ . . . He seems to have worked himself back to the searing, jump-cut electricity of his earlier work.”–Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
“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
“Hannah captures the patois of the swamp and palmetto lands but wisely lets his own voice resonate the loudest. Bold and original.”–People
“The godfather of soul of contemporary Southern writing.”–Mark Richard, Spin
“There is ammunition enough to say it plainly: Barry Hannah is one of the two or three most exciting craftsmen of fiction in the country.”–Washington City Paper
“Mr. Hannah’s fiction [is] racy, raw, yet curiously baroque. . . . Like moonshine whisky, it packs quite a wallop.”–Merle Rubin, The Wall Street Journal
“I finished Yonder Stands Your Orphan in ecstasy. Hannah is the only novelist whose sentences I keep underlining and underlining. . . . I guess the effect of a great book is to make all other writing seem worthless. My burning desire, as I was reading its last page, was to jump out of bed and find all Hannah’s other books on my shelves. And then I did just that.” –Charles Simic
‘mississippi legend (and national treasure) Barry Hannah is out with his twelfth book, the novel Yonder Stands Your Orphan, a masterpiece of ensemble performances linked together by prose that is lustrous, baroque, and burnished with Hannah’s unique brand of beauty.” –Bomb
“A literary event . . . A new voice of the South whose characters roamed as far as
.” –Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
“Hannah possesses a rare linguistic inventiveness that seems to expand the story form, the same sort of manic talent that Bob Dylan shows for writing songs. . . . Hannah is the South’s most generous maximalist; his prose style is designed to explore the nature of obsessive behavior if not outright induce it. But with his latest novel, his first in 10 years, Hannah moves from the language of obsession to a kind of dreamy philosophical fear and trembling, asking his audience to listen to a whole opera of pain. Yonder Stands Your Orphan is the closest Hannah has come to writing a horror novel. . . . Hannah pits his Flannery O’Connor-inspired villain against two Walker Percy-inspired heroes, always teetering on the edge of doubt. . . . He is seriously grappling with the relationship among suffering, mortality, and spirituality. . . . The payoff is big. There are passages in his novel that rival the beauty of thematically similar books such as A River Runs Through It or even Moby-Dick.” –Brad Vice, San Francisco Chronicle
“Barry Hannah’s fictional worlds have always been populated with tormented souls and damaged people looking for happiness everywhere, even in depravity. His latest effort, the maddeningly brilliant Yonder Stands Your Orphan, features a stunning assemblage of characters: ruffians, high rollers, heartbroken lushes, prostitutes, bikers-turned-preachers, dead ringers, drug addicts, third-rate porn stars, lounge lizards. . . . They do not so much interact as collide, like atomic particles in a cyclotron. . . . Hannah possesses an ebullient brain, and his novel is a m”lange of burlesque and tragedy. It’s as if Fellini had taken a wrong turn to wind up in
“Hannah . . . etches brilliant, surreal sketches of
“Writers who can make you laugh are rare enough; writers who can make you laugh so hard your eyes water are another and even rarer thing. Barry Hannah of
“Compelling . . . Barry Hannah writing into the millennium is in a way as disorienting as that other old magician, Bob Dylan, turning sixty. Thankfully, Hannah’s talent for building a sentence to seem as rich, earthy, and casually flung as a handful of river mud while hiding its painstakingly assembled armature on the inside, has survived into the Information Age. What has changed is the aging writer’s point of view, which makes Yonder seem like a new trick from an old dog.” –Brian Farnham, Newsday
“An electrifying prose style, memorable characters, plot lines laced with violence and absurdity, and humor as black as an Ace comb . . . an expert navigator of the back roads of the human heart . . . Yonder Stands Your Orphan is an extension of this vision of Southern discomfort. It’s brilliant, though problematic in the way that ambitious fiction so often is. . . . The universe can be a rank place, and as a writer, Hannah has always known where the wharf rats dine. Yet amid the twistedness is the author’s whiplash humor. Hannah could make a dog laugh, and Yonder is no exception. . . . Vintage Hannah, vivid and wry and insightful, but coming at us sideways. Hannah remains a unique stylist. Along with the high-voltage prose, his plots are unconventional. To use a boxing analogy, Hannah isn’t an author who lumbers straight at you. He’s one of those darting little bantamweights, all shuffle and sidestep, bobbing and weaving and delivering blows from all angles. The punches crunch, too. . . . Hannah’s sentences are miracles of invention.” –William Porter, The
“A story that both confirms and overturns every Southern stereotype in the book . . . a wonderfully baroque orgy of fornication, degradation, and salvation. . . . It’s misleading to emphasize the bizarre in Hannah’s fiction at the expense of the beauty and the absolute control of his prose. His attention to language produces sentences so finely honed, they have the rhythms of poetry.” –Julia Hanna, The
“Barry Hannah brings his verbal fireworks and irresolute gaze back to the novelistic form. . . . A fabulous romp equally humorous and horrific . . . As in the work of his contemporaries, particularly Harry Crews, the characters in Yonder Stands Your Orphan exist in grotesque states, shot meaninglessly toward senseless goals. But still, the possibility of redemption is ever-present in this book, almost in spite of the absurdity and belly-laugh humor. . . . Hannah writes with soul, a captivatingly real Romantic hope in the face of rampant senselessness all caught up in the notion of home–the thing you cling to with your life.” –Todd Dills,
“Hannah’s writing is brilliant, his language luxuriant. . . . If it’s Southern Gothic you want, this is as good as it gets.” –Mary Jane Park,
“An unnerving romp . . . a Southern tale that pulsates with men and cars and guns and knives and sex and thwarted love and honor . . . a savvy book built on two skeletons and an orphanage . . . [a] fiercely parochial but universal drama . . . honest and true.” –Carol Herman,
“Fantastical portraiture of the characters who haunt the bogs and tackle shops of the deep South . . . [with] a sense of eerie reality that a simpler vision of humanity would not . . . If there is anything predictable in this novel, it’s Hannah’s mastery of the written word . . . thick, rich textures of the sentences and characters they form.” –Taylor Plimpton, Men’s Journal
“His characters personify a variety of themes that depict an irrational world given over to impulsive behavior, quick sex, quick violence, Sartrian nausea, modern dread, and various layers of addiction esteemed by William Burroughs . . . an expression of the barefaced power of the Id. . . . You are in the hands of a master, a dark-laughter raconteur. . . . Hannah is a writer that young writers should read to get rid of their inhibitions and become more fully aware of what it is possible to get away with in prose. He goes his own zany but clever way, and it’s a mesmerizing experience to follow him. . . . Hannah’s Yonder Stands Your Orphan captures the malaise of a spiritless world, with its daft zombies, its desperate isolates striking out blindly in all directions, hoping to feel whatever flesh is capable of feeling because that is all they can handle anymore. . . . A novel of being as almost nothingness, where hell is mostly other people and where, paradoxically, irony and love live braided lives.” –Duff Brenna, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“It’s been a while since Hannah put out a novel, but it’s time that obviously has been put to good use. . . . Somewhere in all of this intense mix-up of wretchedness is a message, that someone can be lonely without being alone. That redemption may be found in the strangest of circumstances.” –Susan O’Bryan, Jackson Clarion-Ledger
‘maddeningly brilliant . . . a stunning assemblage . . . Hannah’s sharp humor and keen eye for people’s quirks counterbalance the darkness of the universe he depicts. . . . Hannah possesses an ebullient imagination, and his book is a m”lange of burlesque and tragedy, as if Fellini had taken a wrong turn to wind up in the
“[Hannah’s] fiction . . . bristles with bizarre antics by zany characters, which reviewers and readers alike have praised since his first novel, Geronimo Rex. . . . His gifts are many, if quirky. . . . Crack open the cover and explore. Unless you’ve read his other books, you’ve probably never been anyplace so strange.” –Irene Wanner,
“Given that Barry Hannah is Mississippi-born, a brilliant prose stylist and often laugh-out-loud funny, he’s been logically compared to Mark Twain and Faulkner, but the deeper truth is that he’s a hardcore original working in a heavily fermented English of his own vintage. . . . His latest novel, Yonder Stands Your Orphan, . . . [is] Hannah’s most intricately structured and most successful long work–a thick gumbo of demon-driven souls. . . . A narrative poet on the Homeric model, specifically T.E. Lawrence’s prose translation of Homer. As with Lawrence, Hannah’s lived-in, scholarly fidelity to the wilderness and warfare that he must translate into prose causes words to detonate in such a way that they make moments of the most fantastic action and insight feel anchored in the everyday. . . . A treasure hunt rewarded by Hannah’s prose, whose least syllables teem with lost doubloons, gold sand, and underwater glitter. . . . One can’t deny the haunting totality of the novel’s effect. . . . His story’s meaning is embedded in the crowded riot of its events and the muddy thickets of people’s warring despairs, and hopes.” –F.X. Feeney,
“The thrill of a new Barry Hannah novel is in the guarantee of originality. Hannah’s characters are far=flung and troubled, usually operating out of a volatile mix of passion alongside introspection, substance abuse, longing and fear. It’s human weakness brought to the fore. . . . The overall effect takes on the spirit of the famous 16th-century painting by Hieronymus Bosch, The
“Yonder Stands Your Orphan finds award-winning writer Barry Hannah in full throat, releasing inimitable, word-sodden Southern wails. . . . A hilarious and incisive satirist of the contemporary South.” –Jay Jennings, Time Out
“Hannah’s masterpiece, a biblically violent morality play and something he could only write now, decades after Geronimo Rex and Airships. . . . His prose is volcanically consistent, solidified lava spreading over a landscape, still sparkling. Yonder Stands Your Orphan is funny like that: It creeps with the poetry of Blake and crawls with the pulp of a cheap Gothic.” –Shawn Badgley, The Austin Chronicle
“Nothing less than a modern allegory of good and evil . . . It may be acolytes of Graham Greene, in particular disciples of his long-suffering whiskey priest, who find the book most satisfying. . . . In the end, if it is true that the dark side of the force is more powerful than anyone originally thought, it is also true that not even old Scratch himself can squirm out of harm’s way if a few resolute souls follow the better angels of their nature.” –John Harper, The
“The writing is formidable . . . A dry Southern wit lurks just beneath the surface.” –Anthony Quinn, The New York Times Book Review
“Vintage Hannah, a book only he could write: lots of low-down local color, equal amounts of bigger-picture desperations. And plenty of sex and violence. . . . What a melancholy and hopeful book.” –Melissa Malouf,
“The ultimate compliment, for most writers, is to be recognized for having a voice, a style, a sensibility that is truly sui generis. Very few writers merit such praise. Barry Hannah is one of them. With Yonder Stands Your Orphan, his first novel in ten years, he has given us 336 pages of supreme aesthetic bliss. . . . Bizarre and delightful as the story is, Mr. Hannah’s hypnotic language and comic timing take center stage. . . . The peculiar pleasure of reading Mr. Hannah is such that one can open his books at random and without knowing a thing about the plot become immersed in the radiance of his prose. Fans have been known to run up long-distance bills sharing passages with friends. But when asked whom Mr. Hannah is like, the aficionados must reply, “No one.” Yonder Stands Your Orphan is further evidence that this is the only honest answer.” –Scott Morris, The Wall Street Journal
“Vividly cinematic . . . Hannah’s first major work of fiction in a decade.” –Alex Raksin, The
“Hannah’s first novel in ten years should finally rescue him from the dubious ghetto some critics have created for fine story writers whose novels have failed to win a larger following. It’s an ambitious ensemble piece with enough plot, psychology, and landscape–wet, crappy landscape stuffed with ruined cars and people–to fill four volumes. . . . The brighter side of people does not concern [Hannah], but he equally shirks the narcissism that can accompany a vision as dismal as his. The effect is of a cartoon made by Sam Peckinpah scripted by Preston Sturges: a witty, cynical bloodfest shot in primary colors. . . . Writing this good is somehow . . . tiring. A reader gets no downtime between the brilliant parts. It’s a shame that Hannah has so little contemporary competition, because his readers may be out of shape for such richness, such relentless, hell-bent writing. Line by line, Hannah beats on his sentences until they give in and turn beautiful. Readers who underline good sentences could put down their pens and consider the entire book underlined. . . . A fine novel.” –Ben Marcus, The Village Voice
“An aggressively strange novel of stories and ideas sewn together like a Frankenstein’s monster and told by a writer whose own legends suggests he knows of which he speaks. Episodic and often elegant . . . A labyrinthine story with a gloriously tossed-off feel to it, a ratting improvisation that perfectly captures the dying South that serves as both setting and theme. For Hannah, the South has become a cheap tourist wasteland, shackling its past and parading its dubious culture about for a quick buck. Throughout a dozen books in nearly 30 years, Hannah’s prose has been legendarily graceful, inventive, voracious, and startlingly direct. In Yonder Stands Your Orphan, the sentences still retain their almost supernatural ability to bend, warp, and angel, while his characterization–running the gamut from young boys to aging beauties to old farts fishing from the docks–is sly yet sharp. The plot takes its own sweet time, meandering occasionally but always into intriguing territory. Hannah remains in constant control. . . . Yonder Stands Your Orphan erupts in a sharp finale of blood and fire and death . . . creepy and concussive . . . An intricate novel that should completely overshadow his own extraliterary legend. Ultimately, Yonder Stands Your Orphan proves so original and so amazingly well wrought as to be absolutely unforgettable.” –Stephen Deusner,
“Black humor . . . [a] powerful sense of place . . . and what a splendid cast of eccentrics . . . Hannah is an amazing writer: master of the sentence fragment, with a colloquial ease that can rise to unexpected eloquence. Under the Grand Guignol lurk lofty themes: Christianity and the search for modern meaning, man’s proper relationship with the animal kingdom, the Old South and the New (bait store vs. casino).” –Nina King, The
“Barry Hannah is the Big Daddy of Southern letters, the mendacity-battling Colossus bestriding the cotton-growing, Wal-mart-shopping, history-haunted States the rest of the country calls ‘down there.” Except for Ernest Gaines, who’s at least the equal of the post-Faulkner boys (the women–
“In case you don’t know, the title of Barry Hannah’s new novel is drawn from Bob Dylan’s apocalyptic ballad, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” a fact that would be only incidentally interesting–there are orphans, there are guns–were it nor for the fact that Hannah, too, has written an apocalyptic ballad, a work of such gut-churning American gothic surreal-realism . . . that has to be compared not just to Flannery O’Connor, but to Dylan circa Highway 61 Revisited. Just as Dylan cracked open the simple vessel of the standard folksong, filling its spaces with an anger, violence, and desolation, nailing as no one had before the feeling of the times, so Hannah has in Yonder Stands Your Orphan stripped the Southern storybook back down to raw beams and flooring, then rebuilt the whole thing using twists of scene and execrated imagery that all but bypass the standard plot expectation, routing to the gut with the speed and efficiency that we ascribe to outlawed substances. . . . You can’t read and not feel the world pushing in through the meshes of the words.” –Sven Birkerts, Esquire
“A tour de force of dark humor . . . all wrought in the kind of eloquently twisted prose for which this Southern gothic master brooks no peer.” –”Elle Recommends,” Elle
“Lives up to his reputation for dark, brilliant, deeply weird storytelling.” –Teresa K. Weaver, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (preview roundup)
“A cause for celebration.” –Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Yonder Stands Your Orphan has captivatingly strange characters, arresting ideas about love, lust, faith, and family. . . . Hannah has a way with thumbnail description like nobody’s business. . . . When it comes to describing people, Hannah exudes pure eccentric brilliance. The curmudgeonly Sidney Fart”, for instance, may be known by his starched shirts, ‘so stiff they seemed to make the little man into a kite, whispering with curses, bouncing in agony from one breeze to the next.” . . . In a few deft, unpredictable strokes, Hannah can indelibly etch a character into the imagination, and into the literary landscape.” –Laura Demanski, The Baltimore Sun
“A wildly colorful, darkly comic, and ultimately sinister tale of madness and murder.” –
“A magnificently, almost magically, gifted stylist. His sentences . . . burn into the reader’s consciou8sness with their lush but never overly wrought metaphors. He cannot be bested when it comes to creating wildly eccentric, yet quite believable, characters, and this novel is a gallery of some of his most imaginative creations.” –Brad Hooper, Booklist
“Hallelujah! After a 10-year absence, Hannah is back with a vengeance with a Southern gothic novel full of every kind of excess: violence, sex, religiosity, creepiness and humor. Here we have Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, Peter Dexter, and Clyde Edgerton all squished together, baked in hush-puppy batter, dipped in honey and sprinkled with Jim Beam. . . . The plot is kaleidoscopic, with flashes and slashes of wonder, humor, and the macabre expertly mixed. Hannah tosses of linguistic gems on almost every page: “. . . sometimes he felt he was a whole torn country, afire in all quadrants.” Describing a car, “it smelled like very lonely oil men.” Reading today’s fiction is too often like eating stale bread. With Hannah, just imagine your most mouthwatering meal, take a double helping and you’ve come close to the pleasure of reading this book. . . . Arguably his finest.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The first outing in a decade from the great southern roustabout goes on a long tear through the lives of a motley crew of misfits living around a giant lake in the backwoods of Missisippi. Hannah kicks it off on a raging blast of language and keeps winging higher and higher. . . . Hannah shows quite authoritatively that he’s still the master of his craft. . . . A masterwork of southern beat terror gospel.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Named a Best Book of the Year by Esquire, The Washington Post, and The Denver Post
THIS SUNDAY MORNING MAN MORTIMER AND MAX Raymond sat in the pews of the same church, a little white steepled one in a glen set among live oaks and three acres of clover. The jungle swamps encroached on and squared the glen, deep green to black. Loud birds and alligators groaning in their mating season roamed in songs from bayou to bayou. Some fish walked on land in this season.
Cars, just a few of them, sat on the pea gravel under the trees just outside the windows of ersatz stained glass colored like the wreckage of a kaleidoscope. Mortimer and Raymond knew each other then only by automobile. Mortimer favored a rotation of expensive foreign sport utility vehicles. Raymond drove the same old Lexus he had bought when he was a physician.
Raymond came to worship, and to repent, and he wanted a vision. Life heretofore had not instructed him. He had won his wife, a raven-curled, writhing singer of Latin jazz, in a ghastly way that wrecked him as a docto
r. He was a dread-stuffed saxophonist in her band. Afraid of his own irony, his insincerity, his ambiguity. Now Raymond had come to repent. He loved Christ, but he yearned for a solid thing to witness, a vision undisputed, because his faith was by no means confirmed.
Man Mortimer was slightly drunk, a state unusual if not unprecedented for this quiet man, a gambler, a liaison for stolen cars and a runner of whores, including three Vicksburg housewives. He was small but substantial, with a big head of waved hair and hooded bedroom eyes. In high school he was a dead ringer for Fabian but in recent years was verging toward the dead country star Conway Twitty. At forty-five he still retained his looks, and the women he sold kept a crush on him and liked his stares, which seemed to invite them into a dangerous ring of power. His charisma assured the women their lives were broad, deep and special, and that half the money in their adventures around the boudoirs of this poor county and in the lacier rooms of Vicksburg belonged to him. The law could not touch him because his bordello was spread in myriad chambers throughout the suburbs and even underpasses in giant, newish sport utility vehicles with flattened rear seats, good mattresses, sunroofs tinted by creamy smoke and fine stereo systems, the aphrodisiacs of new-car smell and White Diamond mist working side by side. These perfumes and compact discs were chosen by Edie, a gal Friday of his who otherwise worked as a blackjack dealer in the casino. His books on the car business were excellent, prepared by an accounting genius named Large Lloyd for his build and his hang, an ex-wrestler and permanent bouncer whose pride in his math and tax savvy was so wild it intimidated the auditors who had once looked into the business. Lloyd was a casino employee, chauffeur and gigolo. Man Mortimer owned three homes, and he gave parties, or mass appointments. He made a point of being nothing like Hugh Hefner, whom he despised for his philosophy and aesthetic pretensions. At Mortimer’s parties there were no drugs, no guns, no liquor more than social.
The casino in Vicksburg was clean, even elegant, for these fly-specked counties, but its exits were full of ruined persons, many of them women. Edie and Large Lloyd could spot them and cheer them. Mortimer would appear in an exquisite sedan, as if happening in to end the night after some happy day with well-heeled Episcopals, and steer the women to their salvation. He knew the faces and the postures, and he never made the mistake of plying a busted gambler who was pious or gowned in unpurchasable pride. He couldn’t afford noisemakers. On the other hand, he could take another kind of woman right off the arm of her escort, who was likely to be broke and puny too. For a man in such despair and trouble, the exit of his consort might seem merely another cloud in a black evening.
Mortimer had come to the church service in a spell of nostalgic spite. He wanted to see if the preachers were still as feeble and funny as they used to be when he was a kid.
The preacher was Egan, a reformed biker, gambler and drug addict, still with a ponytail, brown-gray, and a large black Maltese cross tattooed on his right cheek. A man immoderate in both callings, dissolute and sacred. He was preaching against the casino now, this nearby hell, a factory of thievery and broken hearts. He preached about hollow and slick men and slot-machine hags with no souls. The leering zombies schooled to rob the poor and sad in the name of fun. Worse than the liquor were the glamour and baying of Mammonites, who turned the soul into nothing but the arithmetic of want. His voice boomed out like Johnny Cash.
Then at the pulpit he tied off his arm with his necktie and injected a hypodermic into a great vein and plunged holy water into it, then withdrew the plunger, and they saw the pale blood in it. This is what God gave us, not the green, gray dirty thing we call cash. Filthy lucre. Filthy, how the old scribe knew it. Mortimer had to agree the man was good. A woman near him fainted and hit her head on the pew. None moved to comfort her, not her children, not her paramour in common-law union. Mortimer almost did, spying a piece of business, before he stopped himself.
Mortimer was a bit afraid of this loon high on his own rhetoric. The preacher looked at him and seemed to know him.
People used to have work, with their hands. But behold, the zombie of the empty, the Middleman, the parasite and usurer. God damns too the Usurer of the lost and confused man, especially his precious time, which is given to even the poor, so they might make a highway to paradise of it in their minds. Using your time, your animal want of sport and folly, and at the heinousest high percentage, oh fools, higher than the Carter administration. And you saw the crashed, blackened helicopters in the desert of the Holy Lands. You saw yourselves, paying those high mortgage notes! Handsome, smiling faces, the manicured hand out to clutch you in that old handshake with sick, sick ruin. And behind that hand with its rings and its Vaseline Intensive Care–lotioned palm and fingers, a heart deep cold and black as a well! I give you, brothers and sisters, evil passing for man. The bleached-blond son of Ham. But we know you. Solomon’s robes can’t hide you.
I see Little Las Vegas. Are you, sir, Elvis, Wayne Newton, Sinatra or the wolvine Michael Jackson, child eater? Those Las Vegas–greased and damned? Or are you only some shadow Lounge Punk, wanting to be big in lights? I know you, friend. I have been kin to you. Check your footwear and your belt buckle, Mr. Wannabe Caesar’s Palace Puppy, oh you’re sick all right. Do they call attention to themselves? Is your hair some kind of Goddamned Event?
Man Mortimer could not be dead positive whether the man was speaking directly to him. There were moans from others near by. But he would not look away from the preacher. He would drill him right back with his eyes. He allowed the fellow his moment. He had come to mock. Nostalgic, sporting, a bit tipsy. Now the man was way past that. He was good. He might probably be maimed. He might probably die. Mortimer had once killed, in a way. Without laying a hand on them. Not a little finger.
Max Raymond bowed his head, relishing the casino’s condemnation, where people watched his wife onstage in her tiny dresses, her humid cleavage and thighs. He was her shill, he abetted her writhing with his horn. A jazz pimp, at worst. Her antiphonist.
Raymond heard the family beside him leaving after the service. A child asking, “Mama, who is Wayne Newton? Or Sinatra?”
“Old zombies with too much money,” his brother said.
“Who is a good man?” asked the littler fellow.
“Your granddaddy. Billy Graham,” his mother said.
“And Margaret Sanger,” added the grandmother. “Was a good woman.”
Ulrich lived alone at the lake but now, at Christmas, he was not lonely.
A bombardier out of England and over Germany for the Eighth Air Force, and a puttering aeronaut ever since, a tinkering veteran (though his only personal flight had been without an engine, some fifty yards during Hurricane Camille in 1969), he had thought science his whole life. But recently he had erupted in mourning over man’s treatment of animals. And without gratitude to them either, a holocaust without a ceremony! Even primitive Laplanders gave solemn thanks to the animals for their own survival. He could not bear Napoleon’s millions of dead horses. Nor could he forgive himself for the random horror he had visited on horses, mules, cows, deer and smaller creatures during the war.
He had no people, only a son back in Minnesota. He had been solitary a long time, and now another was present in his cottage. Death itself, which had a voice, which called to him not in English but he could hear it clearly, calling, saying, It is not long, you can feel me, you know it. You’ve had plenty of time, plenty. And God knows, your wides of space, over Germany, France, back to England. You killed others before you even had a train of thought. You always wanted to go over and shake hands with those you bombed in the Eighth Air Force, but you chickened out, Captain Hypocrite. Besides, how were you going to shake hands with a horse or dog or kitten or lamb, those sad ones who never got to look up and hide, just stood there and had your hell all over them. As if nature itself didn’t eat them up enough.
Oh you’re fat at the long table, stuffed with time, friends, your flat stupid brainstorms. Not long. You’re going to shake hands with every dead thing. You recall you were a captain, a flyboy, an assassin’s instrument barely beyond pubic. You could neither write a good check nor imagine any bill beyond a twenty. You had never had a decent woman’s bare breasts against you. All you had was your dog and your model planes and good eyes and baseball. You weren’t shit, and then your Minnesota yokel’s ass made its wings and you commenced gloating over your own worth.
I almost got your blowhard ass again in that hurricane. You knew I was close, as close as your window with those handsome live oaks with their drapes of Spanish moss your retired old stuffed ass had bought into, flat nasty sand and the smell of dead mullet outside the window, that was me.
Well now you’re fat, stubby, your spine packed down by gravity. Got emphysema, struggle about fifty yards without a blackout. I’m in the room, you can walk to me easy. Go ahead, light up another one, might as well make it an old Camel straight like you really want, and hack and hawk a spell, walk right into These Old Arms. You know me, flyboy to aluminum walker, you’ve known me. It’s always Veterans’ Day over here.
For Christmas he mailed his son’s family in Minnesota a Southern Gourmet Feast, a crate of tangerines and dry-iced jumbo rock shrimp. The son was back at the old farm with a gorgeous and pleasant Swedish wife and blond children, elfin beauties. They loved Ulrich and believed him to be a dear eccentric. Benignly senile, deafened to communication with any but the nearest friends, who whispered in his ear. They were unaware he was a fool who disastrously misconstrued aeronautical possibilities in his dreams of “personal flight.” Which is to say, a minimalist backpack and propeller raised above the buttocks of the pilot by titanium struts and powered by a camshaft spun by a featherlight nuclear pack almost invented by a renegade physicist and airport bum in Huntsville, Alabama, with whom Ulrich was in correspondence. There were problems of torque in free fall and necessary wingspan and even of where to place the rudder. Reversing the prop for braking also brought the complication of chewing up the legs, ass and spine of the pilot.
This much had in fact transpired in Huntsville as Ulrich and the inventor looked not so much upward but more at tree level. The half of the pioneer aeronaut that remained brought a staggering lawsuit against the inventor and his philosophical adviser, Earl L. Ulrich of Redwood, MS. Though he lived, correctly, at Eagle Lake.
Ulrich had not told his son or his pals about this litigation, which he, the inventor and the aeronaut were just after settling in an anteroom of the courthouse where the Alabama magistrate declared all three rampant idiots who owed the scientific community an apology and a pledge to vacate themselves from his jurisdiction–a jurisdiction that now included all continental airspace into which they might in future hurl a human fuselage–forever. Ulrich rose and began an excursus in rebuttal, citing correctable errors quite obvious to them now, as if this project were steaming full ahead despite the judge, as the sad wretch with his artificial rectum and main colon gawked on from his wheelchair, until Ulrich’s own lawyer hauled him away, then simply deserted him in a nasty alley near the courthouse. Cold, scrawny dogs drank coffee from Ulrich’s large Styrofoam cup, and he knelt, weeping in sympathy for them.
He had not told his son he had the emphysema either, or that he continued to smoke seven long ones a day, against the expostulations of his doctor and the crowd who gathered at the pier. His son believed him to be happy, lucky, if misdressed, and a fine old geezer cheered by others of his kidney, who kept an eye on him that he should want for nothing. In fact he was poor, pitied and increasingly avoided. Some feared he was headed for a breakdown, many were concerned that he might be giving a speech and just die on them.
On Christmas Eve afternoon Ulrich waited in front of the paint and body shop for the boys in the Redwood garage to hammer out a dent in the door panel of his dear old woody wagon, a Ford he boasted he might sell for a little fortune on the West Coast. He had had wonderful trips and thoughts in this car. He waited and smoked, holding on to his walker with one hand, enjoying the nippy air. He dreamed of Minnesota, where the breathing would be easier. He thought of freezing at twenty thousand feet in a flak-holed and strafed B-17, damned near a flying colander, the .50-caliber shell casings rolling back and forth on the floor beside the head of the waist gunner behind him. Until they landed, he had imagined the boy was vomiting bullets the whole time. It might be that a small madness lodged with him then. Flakked, then strafed, by the first of the German jets in the war. Who was he to live, who was he to have madness, even to speak of madness, after the others dead who would give anything to be melancholy just once again? He was old, but he had no wisdom. Age bore him no rich fruit or gain, only the stare of inconsolable amazement.
Ulrich watched while an odd vehicle came on toward him. A teenager in camouflage, speckled by acne in the face, rode an all-terrain cart across the front of which was tied a slain deer, its tongue out. The butt of a deer rifle rose from the frame in a hard scabbard behind his seat, handy to his reach. As the boy motored into the driveway of the shop, Ulrich saw the sparse and nasty whiskers around his mouth. A country girl came out of the garage, a high-schooler, with a body worker in overalls, greasy. The body worker held a rubber hammer. The boy on the cart was taken with himself. The deer flung over the hood, head and antlers down, the pink tongue out. Already the boy was spitting and acting as if this was not such an extraordinary deed. A killer with a sneer and a fine machine, that was about it. He spat. He could not help it, he was a stud with his booty.
Ulrich trembled in a sudden revelation. The deer’s full unearthly beauty. The punk who had turned it into trash. He was not poor, he was not hungry. He had driven miles to show it off. His bleeding trophy over the oily pavement.
“Young man! I sense a wrong here.” Ulrich left the walker and was soon at the seated boy, hands around his throat. Squeezing and squeezing to kill him. Choke the punk out of him. The boy could do nothing but claw and moo.
The boy reached back for the butt of his rifle. Nobody had sprung to his aid. Ulrich released one hand and yanked out the rifle before the boy could get an angle on it. The boy was very hurt in the throat and his face was only now unbluing. He gasped. A rag doll, he fell to the concrete.
“This is a thirty-thirty all right, and a fine one. You strutting little shit. All this fine equipment. So much. Here, let me–”
Ulrich beat on the vehicle violently with the gun. Its hood, its lights, its rear rack. The telescope sight flew off, then smaller pieces, and finally the stock split, and Ulrich flung the mined weapon off into the hard weeds in a yard next to the garage. Next thing, he mounted the vehicle and drove off, over the leg of the hunter. He roared out on the main highway awhile and made a turn for the lake, where they lost sight of him. He took the vehicle into the black deeps of the swampland, where only dogs or another ATV could pursue.
The hunter was in a condition beyond amazement. But he muttered, a sort of squall. “Crazy. Who is he?”
“That man is old, he’s really old,” said the body man, Ronny. “Man, that was some goofy-ass piece of work. He’s off driving your ATV into them swamps, Percy.”
“I ain’t believing.”
“He’s done left his old woody wagon right here.”
The girl had been giggling but trying to maintain her mascara and explosive dye job, newly teased, so you witnessed a kind of intermediate chemotherapy effect of the skull.
“What the hell you laughing at?” yelled Percy, holding his throat.
“Lookit there. He left his walker,” she said.
“Damn. The man can’t hardly breathe. This is one old sonofabitch who changed his life in fifteen seconds,” said Ronny.
“I’ll change him,” croaked Percy. He spat.
“No you won’t,” said the girl. She had gotten sad. “You go hunt out that old man, one on one, I bet he’d walk out of them woods with your balls in his hand.”
“Who the hell you think you are, Marcine?”
“Sick of this country is what. And all you puffed-up little dicks in it. All ’cause your daddies were too cheap to buy a good rubber.”
“That’s enough out of you now, Marcine,” said the body man, lifting the rubber hammer as if he might do something with it.
“I’m sick of my name and I’m sick of my hair and sick of pickups and guns and y’all raising dogs to kick and people calling deer sonsofbitches and wanting me to settle down with them in some goddamn trailer home to breed more like them and–”
“Well, Big Missy Marcine. If you think you so wasted here, why don’t you move on up to Vicksburg and sell what you got. I know the man can help you.” The body man thought she was his.
“It’d be a step up,” she said.
“And don’t let the door hit your butt when you leave.”
“Did anybody notice I’m hurt and robbed?” whined Percy, still sprawled on the concrete.
At the end of the doxology, Egan stood, a sinner. In his sweat he was miserable for his own former self as a drug mule. A methedrine bagman, a pavement thug. He himself had driven Mortimer’s car years ago, although he had no idea whose car it was. He sensed something heavy and odorous in the trunk, but he was not paid to smell or reason. He was sent to get the thing below water in a twenty-foot pool of bayou at the rear of his uncle’s land. A busted route of saplings and clipped post oaks was all there was for a path. He let it, a 1948 Chevrolet, below the chilly water, Missouri tag sinking, purple, at last. “Show me.” Then he strolled back, sopping wet, to his chain-smoking uncle’s house, careful to shout hello because the man kept a .22 Magnum rifle at his lodge. God knows what for, except for those who would poach or harm his many dogs and cats.
Egan’s uncle was a decrepit Irish ex-priest, sent to minister to Mississippi, which the diocese described as a third-world country, forty years ago. The poverty of blacks, whites, the paucity of Catholics. But slowly he had turned landowner. His name was Carolus Robert Feeney, but he had long since gone by Carl Bob. He bought a lodge near Eagle Lake and made his peace with the lord of the coons, lynx, bobcat, armadillo and the rolling vinery of the lower Delta jungle. Now he was a pantheist and fairly profane in this faith.
His nephew Egan still loved him and appeared at odd times to make repairs to the lodge. In these chores he had found scriptures in the house and converted to Protestant ecumenism although railed at by his uncle, who now despised all churches.
Feeney loved Egan too. He nursed him through the jitters of several whiskey and methedrine collapses. The old man knew nothing of the underwater Chevrolet, as Egan knew nothing of its story. Neither Large Lloyd nor Edie, Mortimer’s right hands, had any idea where it rested.
Scores of corpses rested below the lakes, oxbows, fiver ways and bayous of these parts, not counting the skeletons of Grant’s infantry. The country was built to hide those dead by foul deed, it sucked at them. Back to the flood of 1927, lynchings, gun and knife duels were common stories here. Muddy water made a fine lost tomb.
It was just seven years ago Egan had been the driver who felt silent forms in the car seats beside him wanting to scream and party. When the car went under, he loved even the sweat on his brow. Done. The Christian antiapotheosis. Now, he said, let’s really get wasted, brother monkeys. Mister Me, I be dead.
Two days later a deputation arrived at the body shop in Redwood. Dr. Harvard and Melanie Wooten in the front seat of her station wagon. The culprit Ulrich in the back, hangdog. Behind them they towed the ATV, dinged up and muddy. It was not Ulrich’s only misadventure with a local machine. Two years ago he had bought a used Jet Ski and had gone airborne with it on the other side of the cove. Went out of the lake and pile-drove into blackberry bushes and wild vicious yucca plants. The steering column had driven his scrotum upwards into some unprepared cavity, and the yucca spears had entered his thighs and stomach very deeply before he rolled off into the lesser crucifixion of blackberry thorns. He could not recall what he was trying to prove. Perhaps atonement for the maimed pilot in Huntsville. Or all of his life after the war.
Melanie came out to the body man, Ronny, who was waiting with the same rubber hammer, and with Percy and Marcine too. They had squabbled but returned because there was nowhere else in Redwood to gather. Marcine was much taken with Melanie, who was elegant and lovely, but in a natural way that would have suited any outfit. Marcine was not aware there were any women in this county, young or older, like Melanie. And the older woman did work her charm, as the dignified Harvard leaned on the car hood smoking a pipe, her ally.
Excerpted from YONDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN by Barry Hannah. Copyright © 2001 by Barry Hannah. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.