Ray – 4/5 Stars
A small novel from the Mississippi writer Barry Hannah, and not a first novel, though it feels that way at times. I was a told a story that may very well be true or apocryphal about the writing of this novel. According to my source, that is both reliable and unreliable in different, Barry Hannah turned in something like 600 pages worth of writing for this book, and his editor whittled it down to this slim 125 version. I have read it twice now and it does feel cut down. So the book itself is a meditative and also frenetic series of vignettes and narratives involving one Doctor Ray, a Vietnam veteran and medical doctor, who has sort of messianic or atavistic visions of fighting in the Civil War, who cannot hold down life back in the World, who clearly has PTSD, who cannot seem to be functioning in life with alcohol, and who pursues a seemingly unending number of sexual (and highly sexualized in a further kind of purely physical and dysfunctional) affairs. Where this book feels especially cut-up is the very short chapters that will sometimes contain a single image described briefly about an idea, a feeling, a sense of oneself, before moving quite sharply to the next chapter with a full chapter break and chapter number. This does not have the kind of narrative flow that those musical novels will often have of one melody or theme shifting to another, but a harsh break, like a thought.
LT’s Theory of Pets – 2/5 Stars
This is a singular short story apparently not collected in other places and I am not entirely sure when this was written, but it seems to be somewhere in between Hearts in Atlantis, which I haven’t read, and Just After Sunset, which I have, and would fit fine into the latter book. Regardless, what stands out about this story are a few things: one, while there’s a lot of good writing in this book, it still feels unfinished because of a decidedly rough ending; two, that rough ending should be the exact kind of thing that people should use to illustrate Stephen King’s issues a lot of time in creating women that populate his writing; three, it’s a really interesting audiorecording because it’s from a live reading and you don’t often hear off-the-cuff Stephen King, and hearing a full, complete, otherwise unpublished story is a pretty good treat for an audience.
So the story is a story of a story (with a backstory and a context), and in this way it’s pretty squarely layered in complex ways. The narrator is telling us of a coworker LT’s go-to story about a failed marriage where LT’s sidles up squarely with the cat, while the wife sidles up with the dog, and each hates the other’s pet. The pets to their credit get along fine. This story wraps up with the wife leaving LT. So we get the story through the narrator’s sharing how LT always tells the story to new workers.
Then the story shifts to a dinner party where the narrator’s wife and sister-in-law, also hear the story, and out of context of work and male bravado, there’s a darker and sadder version embedded within it. So that’s the story, but it closes with some additional ideas and meditations by the narrator that sour a lot of what came before.