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Posts Tagged ‘Scott McClanahan’

Staff Picks: Road-tripping, Heart-eating, Earth-fucking

July 29, 2016 | by

Danny DeVito in a still from Wiener-Dog.

I could tell you the ending of every story in Scott McClanahan’s collection Hill William, and it wouldn’t spoil a thing. His stories are all about the telling, like oral tradition captured on the page. To be honest, I don’t know the extent to which this is a book of fiction—it’s based on McClanahan’s childhood in Appalachian West Virginia, in the town of Rainelle, where he grew up, and the narrator is named Scott—but it doesn’t matter; a story is a story, whether true or invented whole cloth. McClanahan’s youthful tales swing between an outlandish realism (a guy named Bobbie B. describes how his cousin was once so lonely “he went out and fucked the earth”) and a vague religious fervor that makes sense coming from a kid who’s trying to figure out the world. In the same way, amid the characters’ grotesque behavior are transcendent moments—not least Scott’s mother, who appears indistinctly in the book, as though always off-screen, but who is a wondrous light in his life; he also finds unlikely reprieve in a church chorus: “And there was something about those voices, so ugly by themselves, but beautiful together, that seemed like the meaning of the world to me.” —Nicole Rudick

At least it’s been a good summer for road movies. First there was the dachshund picaresque Wiener-Dog, which has everything I could want from a Todd Solondz film—including a deep, dark performance from Danny DeVito as an adjunct professor at the end of his rope. Then there was the continuous, two-hour surprise of Captain Fantastic, directed by Matt Ross, with Viggo Mortensen as a Washington State survivalist who takes his kids on a bus trip to suburban Santa Fe. Don’t let the premise fool you: with each turn of the plot, this amiable family drama gains in complexity, ambiguity, and pathos. It’s hard to imagine two big indie releases that have less in common, but I loved them both. —Lorin Stein Read More »

Staff Picks: Absolution, Antipodes, Air Raid

November 28, 2014 | by

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From the cover of the new translation of Alexander Kluge’s Air Raid.

Last night, I finished Gerald Murnane’s The Plains, and this morning I started reading it again. It’s the story of a filmmaker who travels from the coast of Australia into the plains of the interior, where instead of flyblown pit stops he encounters a society of vast estates—latifundia meets British manor house—whose culture is based on avant-garde poetics and the art of heraldry. The plainsmen are melancholy philosophers whose koans would have made T. S. Eliot proud: “I’ve spent my life trying to see my own place as the end of a journey I never made,” one says into his beer. Murnane is a careful stylist and a slyly comic writer with large ideas. I know it’s the antipodes, but it’s hard to fathom why he isn’t a little better known here. —Robyn Creswell

I’ve been caught up in Alexander Kluge’s masterpiece Air Raid (1977), finally available in English—an unsettlingly oblique remembrance of the events of April 8, 1945, when Americans carpet bombed Halberstadt, a German town of no particular significance to the war effort. Eighty percent of the place was destroyed and thousands died; Kluge, who lived there, was thirteen at the time. Air Raid is composed of fragments: diagrams, photographs, interviews, vignettes of survivors. In Kluge’s affectless prose, the manager of a bombed movie theater watches as her patrons’ corpses are boiled by the hot water gushing from an exposed pipe; a confused cemetery groundskeeper goes to sleep in an open grave. The book is part fiction and part reportage, but Kluge makes no effort to say which is which; in fact, many of its more explicitly documentary sections, such as a long interview with an American brigadier, are entirely fabricated. It’s an affecting puzzle about the destabilized narratives of war. The reader has to construct some semblance of a story from the rubble. —Dan Piepenbring

While everyone is talking about Serial, you should be listening to another This American Life alum’s podcast, StartUp, in which Alex Blumberg attempts to launch his podcast start-up. (He’s aware of how meta this is.) Blumberg makes a failure of a pitch to venture investor Chris Sacca; he compares the search for a business partner to the awkwardness of the dating world. The podcast is a fascinating and insightful look at the nature of business. As Blumberg reflects, “You think it’s about numbers and bottom lines—but really it’s just about raw feelings?” —Justin Alvarez

Scott McClanahan has a new essay on The Fader’s Web site about how his love for Little Jimmy Dickens, and his wife’s dislike for the diminutive country star, broke up their marriage—or at least he should have taken her antipathy for Dickens as a sign. The essay traces his understanding of an aspect of his life through the filter of music, but it’s not the kind of autobiographical piece that retrospectively bestows wisdom and clarity on one’s life—the artificiality that ruins so many memoirs. McClanahan’s writing, both fiction and nonfiction, has the feel of real storytelling and often of catharsis; he writes a kind of ballad (or, in this case, maybe an antiballad) that country music does so well. Of Dickens’s most famous song, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” McClanahan writes, “It was a song not interested in telling you about the mind of the insane, but one that wanted to produce that state of mind in the listener. It was a spell, a fever, a curse.” That’s a good description of the way McClanahan crafts a tale, too. —Nicole Rudick

As a kid, I would watch Forrest Gump every day. I don’t remember why, but I do remember the day the VHS tape started to deteriorate: as Forrest ran out of the football stadium, the crowd yelling for him to stop, the sound morphed out of sync with the image. I enjoyed this: it was a kind of personal imprint, like a folded page in a well-read book. I thought of this moment as I made my way through Nicholas Rombes’s excellent and nightmarish The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, about a writer’s search for a lost filmmaker. Through various conversations between the writer and filmmaker—who has destroyed many of his own films—Rombes explores the thin line between fiction and reality, “something there, in between the frames, something that wasn’t quite an image and wasn’t quite a sound ... an impossibility that, because it expressed or represented a new way of being, had to be destroyed.” As my copy of Forrest Gump further deteriorated, I would have to describe the missing scenes whenever my friends and family watched the tape. Over time, my descriptions transformed into something much different than the scenes themselves had been, as a DVD copy later proved. Rombes’s novel is a love letter to this art of misremembering: these “destroyed films” become as real as any film playing in a theater near you. —J.A.


It Involves Breaking Stuff

November 21, 2013 | by

Scott McClanahan’s readings are always highly memorable. As he wrote me about this, the video of his avowed final such reading ever, “I’m quitting. Yep, I’m just straight up quitting. It’s in Ohio which will make you want to quit anything—including LIFE. It involves breaking stuff.”

Apologies to Buckeye readers.



What We’re Loving: Crapalachia, Welty, Animalia

February 22, 2013 | by

crapalachiaThough the book doesn’t come out until the middle of next month, I can’t wait until then to say how much I liked Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia. It’s about his youth in rural West Virginia, where he spent his formative years under the influence of his Grandma Ruby and Uncle Nathan, who suffered from cerebral palsy. The book is subtitled “a biography of a place,” but it’s more a biography of a handful of people, and Ruby and Nathan are easily its star characters: beguiling in their weirdness and utterly charming in their deep affection for each other and for Scott. His voice is wholly unaffected, and his account manages to be both comic and unpretentiously sentimental. —Nicole Rudick

 My worst reading habit is not reading too fast, or too slow, or stopping books in the middle, or right before the end (though I do all of those things). It’s my persistent impulse to read books that reflect my mood—an impulse that, if indulged often, reduces my reading list to a positively uncatholic range of authors and subjects. But one recent evening, my initial, “safe” pick (James’s The Golden Bowl) was thwarted by Geneviève Castrée’s Susceptible, which, when spotted in a pile of neglected books, looked too intriguing to let alone. An autobiographical comic, the work is less like an illustrated diary and more like a scrapbook; it shows rather than tells, pasting together a series of vignettes to build a narrative of the author’s troubled early life. Castrée’s beautifully toned black-and-white drawings even read more like vintage photographs than they do sketches. The book’s pervasive melancholy is still lingering with me, a reminder of why we really read: to feel things besides our own emotions. —Clare Fentress Read More »