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Posts Tagged ‘Barry Hannah’

The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by


Photo courtesy of the author.

There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”

The vitality of Barrett’s prosethe special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town lifehas already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fictionlike the community it describescan develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”

Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?

I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »

Dude Looks Like a Lady

March 25, 2014 | by

Flannery O’Connor was born today in 1925.


O’Connor, right, with Robie Macauley and Arthur Koestler in Iowa, 1947. Photo: C. Macauley, via Wikimedia Commons


Flannery O’Connor was probably the biggest influence in my mature writing life. I didn’t discover her until I was at Arkansas, and I didn’t read her until I was around twenty-five, twenty-six. She was so powerful, she just knocked me down. I still read Flannery and teach her.


What was it that got you? Was there something specific?


“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and then I read everything.

I thought the author was a guy. I thought it was a guy for three years until someone clued me in very quietly at Arkansas. “It’s a woman, Barry.” Her work is so mean. The women are treated so harshly. The misogyny and religion. It was so foreign and Southern to me. She certainly was amazing.

—Barry Hannah, the Art of Fiction No. 184, 2004



Swamp Thing

January 7, 2014 | by

Bobby Charles album cover

Cover of Bobby Charles's 1972 album Bobby Charles.

When it gets cold, profanely cold, anesthetically cold, I like to put on humid music. It doesn’t cut the wind chill, but it helps. In a pinch, one could depend on Dick Dale or calypso; in dire straits, even a Key West bromide like Jimmy Buffett’s “Boat Drinks” gives off enough balm to suffice. But while such songs have heat, they lack humidity. At the risk of sounding like a sleazy bandleader: if you really want to thaw out, you’ve got to sweat.

Bobby Charles’s eponymous album, soon to be reissued on vinyl for possibly the first time since its 1972 release, is perfect for the job: it has the languor and stickiness of an August day in New Orleans. Battered but amiable, Charles, a Louisiana native who died in 2010, sings with the slightest of rasps through ten tracks of rhythm and blues, alternately bustling and lumbering. He strikes me as a man who knew how to take his time. His is the sort of music people like to describe as “homegrown” or “country-fried,” though both adjectives feel too tinged with condescension to apply here. In deepest winter, the mere sight of Bobby Charles’s cover is a salve. It has a brown-and-green palette both earthy and eye-popping. What felonies wouldn’t you commit to be that man, or that dog, reclining in such tauntingly verdant swampland? Read More »


Gary Lutz on ‘Divorcer’

December 13, 2011 | by

Gary Lutz is a wholly original writer of the short story. The first thing one notices are his startling sentences, like this one from the title story of his new collection, Divorcer: “It was in a dullard four-door with a brat of a rattling dashboard that I sometimes drove to, from, and through these places, then back to my wife and other things she was a baby about.” The sentences, and the stories, in collections such as Stories in the Worst Way, Partial List of People to Bleach, and I Looked Alive, are about sad men and women and their glancing and troubled interactions with the world. Men look for love in public bathrooms and find solace in women’s clothing; relationships inevitably falter and die, leaving behind regretful and longing ex-lovers. In his best work, Lutz displays an innate understanding of the grim compromises of modern life but heightens and glorifies these with his dizzying language. He refuses to let the dreary world force him to write a dreary sentence. I recently conducted this interview with him via e-mail.

Your new collection, Divorcer, contains a number of stories about the ends and aftermaths of relationships. Did you set out to write a series of thematically linked stories?

I had no expectation that these stories, written piecemeal, might one day mingle with one another in a book. It was Derek White, the extraordinary founder and editor of Calamari Press, who convinced me that the stories added up to something. The stories were written during stretches of four summers and the better half of an autumn. The longer pieces took months and months to finish, but one of the shorter entries, “Fathering,” was written in just one week—I’d challenged myself to come up with something quick.

How do you feel this collection differs from your previous ones? To me, the stories seem a bit more narrative driven and perhaps more “accessible" than some of your previous work.

I guess it’s more accessible, or at least a little less willfully disingratiating than my other books, which had more than a touch of solipsism. Even in the lengthier of these new stories, despite their elliptical and fragmentary nature, there is something at least approximating an ongoingness of a sort, if not exactly a plot.

To what degree does your personal experience influence your stories?

To no degree at all, practically. I suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit. Not much has ever happened to me, and I have never had much luck in making anything happen myself. Anyway, my personal life seems off limits, even to me at the center of it. Somebody should sell pocket-size lifetime diaries with just a quarter-page for each entire year—I could surely get my money’s worth out of one of those. Read More »