Hannah, Barry

Water Liars

In the Wells Tower profile of Barry Hannah I reference in the spoken introduction to today’s story (which you should treat yourself to), written before Hannah’s 2010 death, the following is offered:

Hannah is not a writer to be read idly, with half a head or heart. His work thrives in his sentences, the best of which require a couple of readings to fully wring their satisfactions. The syntactic rigor and strange music of his fiction occasionally get him classified as a difficult or, less appropriately, a postmodern writer, and are probably why Oprah Winfrey hasn’t called him yet.

It’s too bad Oprah didn’t jump at a chance to call him, I thought, then: it’s too bad I didn’t jump at the chance to write him a letter. Maybe it’s the sentiments of annus novus, or maybe it’s just the blade of edge needing sharpened. But, having recently driven through the parts of the country Hannah writes about, I can assert that “a lot of porches and banjos” wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all.

Lennon, J. Robert


A few weeks ago, there was a hurricane that you might have read about (unless it blew a rock on top of you and you decided to live beneath it, in which case, my sympathies). During this hurricane, I was away on what was supposed to have been a Caribbean holiday of a few days, which turned into one of a few days plus a few days more plus a few bonus days. Not a bad way to ride out a storm, especially when one is stranded with a good book. Photographic evidence:

I returned to find great areas of my city in all kinds of shambles, but I have every confidence that readers of these pages are already doing what they can to help, so I won’t indulge in (much) proselytising.

Instead, I’ll swoonily admit that had I not been stranded on a Caribbean island with Familiar (BUY: AMZN, INDIEBOUND), I might’ve ended up parched with an atrophied and shriveled brain, wasted and prone to mirage. So you might say that we owe my health, and by extension this podcast, to that book.

So to celebrate, here’s a short piece by the same author, originally published in print by Salt Hill.

Robinson, Rowland E.

Breaking Camp (from Danvis Tales)

If, while listening to tonight’s story, you come to the dialogue and have no idea about what I am talking, you won’t be alone. I staggered across tonight’s author by way of the great Hayden Carruth, whose introduction to Rowland E. Robinson’s Danvis Tales ranks among the most incisive layer-peeling short pieces of literary commentary I’ve read. And I assure you I’ve read a few. He says of the dialogue:

Robinson was an instinctive linguist; he understood the value of listening carefully and recording faithfully. And we may say as a matter of course that he applied the same care and fidelity to the larger aspects of his material, syntax, and speech rhythm…

… the most telling elements of Robinson’s skill are the least demonstrable, his sensitivity to the syntax and rhythm of colloquial speech. Notice the interplay of long and short breath-units in these sentences, and the mixing of grammatical structures, clause and phrase, different verb moods, and so forth. Only a very complicated chart could reduce all these elements to a form of linguistic analysis, but they are what account for both the verisimilitude and the esthetic liveliness of this speech. The truth is that Robinson’s dialogue, which is the largest and most important part of the Danvis Tales, is invariably better writing than his descriptive and narrative passages in the standard overblown English of his day.

So give it a chance, even if you have to suffer through my not entirely successful attempt at the colloquial speech of this time and place. “Folk tales” are not exactly my genre and narrative style of choice, but reading through these has been a welcome reminder of why I should slap myself on the hand with a ruler when I pigeonhole myself this way. And I’d slap you just the same; I care that much.

O'Connor, Flannery

Enoch and the Gorilla (Guest Reader: Patrick Scott)

Some of you may remember the sweet sounds of Patrick Scott from earlier Miette Bailouts. When I put out the call for guest readers, he was quick to the case. But Patrick’s a busy guy, now that he’s a famous filmmaker, and so when you listen to his lustrous interpretation of Flannery O’Connor, you will pick up the occasional whirr of what seems a loud computer fan.

I’m here to tell you resolutely not to mind this, not to let it interfere with the almost toxic pleasure you might receive from a Patrick/Flannery one-two-punch. If anything, think of it not as a probably loud computer fan, but rather, as a Flannery O’Connor story as broadcast from the other side of the buckle of the asteroid belt.

The next two weeks will be just full of guests, and if you’ve offered a story and haven’t delivered, I will remember this when your birthday rolls around. There’s still time to redeem yourself. You know who you are.

Wallace, David Foster

Everything is Green (Guest narrator: George Carr)

The voice you are about to hear is not my own, though today’s guest narrator insists his distinctive lilt can be attributed to “equal parts whisky, speed, and diction practice.” Which means that it’s probably closer to my voice than we’d think at first listen.

And so, I would appreciate no murmured speculation on rhinoplastic nasal blockage or testosterone injections on my part. For the next month or two, I’ll be hosting some featured narratorial guests, as I take care of some necessary business of a personal variety, which may or may not involve the sexual reassignment of my nose. Go ahead, speculate away.

My first guest, George Carr, is (on my authority) among the world’s most dedicated and assiduous close readers of David Foster Wallace, so it was with a blushing schoolgirl’s delight that my inbox received his reading of Everything is Green. It’s a story on the shorter side, when measured in minutes, but don’t let that stop you: every second is greater than itself. And if you’re as in thrall by George’s voice as I am, put your eyes back here next week for more. Enjoy.

I’m featuring guest readers for the next month or two. Stop writing to me with snoopy questions about my health! My health is just fine! Or at least, it is, and will continue to be if you don’t send me into a paranoiac hell of hypochondriasis. Nor am I in prison. Yet. I do have a talented stable of guests lined up, and if you’d like to have a stab at a reading, email me.

Sayles, John

At the Anarchists’ Convention by John Sayles

I yanked tonight’s story from The Best of American Short Stories 1980, a volume edited by the great Stanley Elkin. If you take one look at it, you’ll see that 1980, while not considered a boon year for American fiction, perhaps should be. Donald Barthelme, Mavis Gallant, William H. Gass, Elizabeth Hardwick Grace Paley, Peter Taylor, and I’m thinking that if Elkin didn’t already have a hell of a gig as the brain behind The Magic Kingdom and The Living End, pulling this collection together seems the stuff of dreamjobs.

I left some residual background noise in tonight’s recording for the sake of achieving verisimilitude with the subject matter. Also, because it’s Bloomsday next week, which means I’ve still got work to do.

Look again at that list of names. What’s a girl got to do to help make 2011 or 2012 another 1980? Maybe a new John Sayles novel can’t hurt…

Minor, Kyle

The Truth and All Its Ugly

Whenever an internet missive or twit crosses my screen with Kyle Minor’s name attached, I open it up in awe of his apparently continual reading and writing and thinking acutely about the finer side of the bookish life. I don’t know whether this relentless pursuit of the craft can be had without a truckload of drugs, but I also think the drugs necessary for his task probably haven’t even been concocted yet.

Tonight’s story was originally published on Fifty-Two Stories, and is here with the permission of the author, a fact that I am laying down right now in case Fifty-Two Stories happens to have an intellectual property lawyer in the family with some time on his or her hands. And actually, Mr or Mrs Fifty-Two Stories and all sister and parent companies, if you’re reading this and you do come from legal blood, we should get married.

For the rest of you, you could get your brain into top form fast by looking closely at the right 3/4 of Kyle Minor’s legendary reading list. Here’s his web site, if that’s your bag.

Daitch, Susan

Killer Whales, Susan Daitch

There’s a quite decent independent bookstore in the town in which I’m staying this week, a bookstore that will be closing soon for all the usual reasons. I plan to spend a fair amount of time later this morning vulturing my way through this store, and walk out picking my teeth with unsold reading lights and hauling overstuffed bags full of firesale booty that can no way be described as “carrion” no matter how many ways I stretch the metaphor.

Which means, of course, it’ll be impossible to celebrate my winnings by dumping the books on the bed and saucily getting to know them in satin sheets and slow motion. These are books to be treated reverently, I think. I hate bookstores closing as much as my wallet loves a sale, and I’ve been a part of too many such liquidations to share.

So, a few years ago, while trawling the shelves in a similar situation in a midtown shop, I found Susan Daitch’s Storytown, which sat unread until a few months ago. This was a shame, because the stories here are sui generis, told brilliantly, and inspired. I’m reading the first one for you as tonight’s bedtime story. And with that, a Archimedes moment of redemption: maybe you’ll like it, and buy it, and we can keep our vultures circling elsewhere.

In other news, this new journal looks wonderful, and I’ve been impressed with Broadcastr (in closed beta, but they’re giving out invites every day, so get over there), and plan to post a small story on that site next week.

Matthews, Jack

A Woman of Properties, Jack Matthews

Well, here we are having taken yet another circumnavigatory Gregorian tour together, and I hope that you’ve put away your party hats and crackers and are back to the grind, having disregarded all the unreasonable expectations you made of yourselves for the coming months. Because I have nothing but sympathy: it’s too cold to get up and run ten miles and do the laundry and tidy the front garden and write your best auntie a letter every morning. I understand. Stay in bed. Read a good book. Listen to a good story.

Here’s one, a good story, from an author you likely don’t know. I didn’t know of him either until Robert very kindly and generously shoved a book into my filthy mitts. I’m a bit of a busy reader, with a half dozen books open and a pile of books to read that the mountain certifiers are always interested in measuring. So, while I’m always interested, in a DROP EVERYTHING sort of way, of hearing about a new author, it has to really get under my nose for me to sit at attention. Fortunately, I think Robert’s been listening perspicaciously, and clearly has an idea how to do that. From his synopsis of the story: Lots of dialogue, odd situations, lots of internal musings and a Flannery O’Connor feel. No fooling.

In related news, there will be new chapters of The Man Who Can’t Die starting tomorrow. Catch up while you can. Also, I have a little something over here, if you need to listen to more.

Dick, Philip K.

Roog, Philip K. Dick

I got kicked in the inspiration after that bit of Nabokov (he has that effect), and was determined to give you new stories at least weekly. I’d cleared my schedule to dedicate more time to only these more self-satisfying projects, and then, disaster struck, in the name of green-biled phlegm and rancor of bronchitis.

So, I’ve spent the past few weeks dorking off, quietly (<-- likely to the great relief of those who have to tolerate me daily). As with so many things, my voice eventually came roaring back, and so at long last, here's some PKDick, in the hopes that another hard kick comes with it. (This is a metaphor. I will kick you back.)