Friday, January 21, 2011

West Virginia Blues or A Review of Stories II by Scott McClanahan

Scott McClanahan sent me his book a while ago, and I read it as soon as i got it, but I hadn't gotten around to writing the review because I was being a procrastinator. I think I've done enough hibernation to really sink my teeth into it now. I really like this book and it's presdecessor - Stories - both published by Six Gallery Press. I'm actually not even sure which book i like more. They're both really good reads. There are some stories I really like from the first one and some that I really like from this sequel. This book continues the funny, intriguing adventures of Scott. Scott McClanahan has hit the jackpot of matter of fact, conversational, witty banter speak as narration. His voice is spot on as in captivating and realistic. The book reads like watching a very cool indi movie in Cannes. And I wouldn't be surprised if both books are ever optioned. Like I stated in my previous review of Stories I, Scott McClanahan's voice is very similar to Denis Johnson in Jesus' Son, but not as poetic. It's a very natural voice without any self concisousness at all. McClanahan does this thing where you don't know wether to laugh or cry and sometimes you end up doing both. I don't think I've ever read an author that can do that. But I'm not the most well read guy, either. For example, let's take the story Suicide Notes which is about Scott going to work one day to find out one of his co-worker's commited suicide. Pretty simple premise, really, and with such a premise, a writer can take it to a number of different places. The way Scott captures office talk is brilliant. He captures every beat masterfully. But what's peculiar about this story is that it feels like a horror story that could go on foreever as you're reading it. But the way he tells it, it's almost comical but it never crosses any line, and you almost feel morbid reading it. The tone almost verges on sarcasm so much that as you read it, you begin to wonder if he's trying to be funny or is he really being serious? Is there a punch line coming? The story treats suicide like a virus or disease that is going around the office, and everyone was so affected by their coworker's suicide that they all begin to wonder who is next. Eventually, Scott the narrator catches the fever or suicide disease and pens his own goodbye suicide note, not forgetting to tell matter of factly the reader that they will soon be writing the same note. After I finished it, I thought, that is fucked up! But that story comes right after The Future Teller, which has one of the most beautiful endings I've read in a story in a long time. The Future Teller can be considered the story foil of Suicide Notes. In Future Teller, Scott reveals he has a gift of seeing the future. He tells you from the first sentence, "O but I've always had the gift alright." As the story rolls along, Scott tries to convince the reader of his clarivoyance by citing different examples from his life. Most of the examples are in a gray area, because most of them were dreams he had about himself and his uncle. The story has the same feeling of waiting for a punchline that never really arrives, but in the ending Scott takes control by throwing away all the negativity of the piece with this great ending that could make any body smile: "So I ask you now - would you tell me I was wrong? Would you tell me I was wrong if I said I had a dream about you last night? And in this dream I saw into your future. I saw you living a long happy life. In this dream I saw you walking out the door tomorrow and finding true love, if you haven't already. I saw your children growing healthy and strong and throwing their arms around you saying, 'I love you Mommy. I love you Daddy. I love you forever.' I saw you living there in this future world without pain. surrounded by children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and knowing one thing in this world, knowing that you would never die. So I ask you now-- Would you tell me I was wrong?" Another one of my favorite stories is The Couple which is about Scott going on a date. Scott goes on his first real date with Kim and they have the pleasure of being witnesses to a scene right out of the TV show Cheaters or Jerry Springer. Scott and Kim are at a state park and he is broke, until they finally spy a man being caught by his wife and her brothers with another woman. Scott and Kim end up stealing the cheater's pizza and continue to watch the scene unfold. The prose at the end of that story is also brilliant: "And so Kim and I sat and ate their pizza and we drank their pop and we watched it all because this wasn't our life being destroyed." I really like Stories II, but Stories I is also very good. I recommend you buy both. These are the type of books that you can give to your friend that doesn't like to read, - I guarantee you will turn them into readers. The art of story telling is alive and well, and Scott McClanahan has his pulse on a new kind of storytelling voice that has a tradition that comes from Mark Twain himself. I can't wait until Scott McClanahan writes the great american novel because I will be first in line to get my copy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Kevin Fanning is the author of the short story collection Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity, which I advise your run out and get specially if you are a Party of Five fan. His stories can also be found online like here. A lot of his short stories that I've read onlne are brief but quite brilliant. You gotta give props to anyone that manages to write an extremely awesome literary short story collection with Jennifer Love Hewit as the main character/metaphor. Below are his answers to the questionnaire.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Not having to worry about anything.

2. What is your greatest fear?

That I'll never actually finish anything.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I am short-tempered and crabby almost all of the time.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Being jerks.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

My partner. She is super smart.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

Extravagance is hard in my tax bracket. I guess mp3s. Yes I pay money for music, and not only that, but it's how I take care of myself.

7. What is your current state of mind?

Worried, freaking out, stressed.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I can't even think of one virtue off the top of my head. OK I looked up virtue on Wikipedia. This questionnaire, honestly. Could it be rewritten with some questions that are more applicable to modern life? "How would you describe your entourage?" "Why should any of the good people of Brooklyn be interested in you?"

But OK so Wikipedia has a good list of virutes. I pick "poverty" as the one that is over-rated.

9. On what occasion do you lie?

When my kids catch me in a logical fallicy.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

When I look in the mirror I am disappointed that I am not just a brain in a jar.

11. Which living person do you most despise?

There are so many! I could not even choose. Basically anyone who ignorantly tosses around their notion of "values" in order to do me and my loved ones harm.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

I like a man to have a certain easy-going watchability. The man I am referring to is Ryan Reynolds.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

I like a woman who can write. I like a woman who can point out how little I know about the world.

And I guess the person who wrote this list did not know any transgendered people. The quality I like most in a transgendered person is that they are trying harder than anyone to be true to themselves.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

"Like," "OK," and "SHUT UP ARE YOU SERIOUS."

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My special lady friend. Come on, man, she's reading this. Like I was really going to say Ryan Reynolds.

16. When and where were you happiest?

I'm counting on this happening somewhere in the future.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

Finishing the things I start, and liking the way they turned out.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like it if worry and panic were not always my default initial responses to everything.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I'm not answering this. Check back in 40 years.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A duck or a kingfisher or something. Any kind of deal where you can walk, OR swim, OR fly. That would be ideal.

21. Where would you most like to live?

In the city, where I don't need a car. But also far off in the country, so I don't have to be around people.

22. What is your most treasured possession?

Does a family count as a possession or is that creepy. It's a little creepy, I guess. So, a necklace made of human eyeballs.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Holy smokes this questionnaire goes on forever, yeah? Anyone bored? Can I get you something? Lemonade?

24. What is your favorite occupation?

I have so much writing I should be doing right now.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?

I tend to get a little bored with overlong quesionnaires that take themselves too seriously.

26. What do you most value in your friends?

They put up with me.

27. Who are your favorite writers?

I have a lot of friends who are really good writers.

28. Who is your hero of fiction?

Honestly, come on.

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I'm getting stressed thinking about all the writing I'm not getting done right now.

30. Who are your heroes in real life?

Having heroes is dumb.

31. What are your favorite names?


32. What is it that you most dislike?

I am pretty sure this was asked somewhere up above, a couple dozen questions ago. Has anyone edited this list? Maybe I am farther down than anyone else has ever gotten before. At least I accomplished this one thing in my life.

33. What is your greatest regret?

I was never not easily distractible.

34. How would you like to die?

No thank you!

35. What is your motto?

What's next.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shosa by Isaac Bashevis Singer

"Haiml began speaking to me, to himself, and to no one in particular:'Where did all the years go to? Who will remember them after we're gone? The writers will write, but they'll get everything topsy-turvy. There must be a place somewhere where everything is preserved, inscribed down to the smallest detail. Let us say that a fly has fallen into a spiderweb and the spider has sucked her dry. This is a fact of the universe and such a fact cannot be forgotten, if such a fact should be forgotten, it would create a blemish in the universe. Do you understand me or not?'"