AIRSHIPS by Barry Hannah


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Novelist Hannah (Geronimo Rex, Nightwatchmen) comes to the short story on a wave of acclaim--and there is no disputing his distinctive voicings, his jolts of ferocity, or his right to carry on and reshape the thematic cluster associated with such Southern forbears as Flannery O'Connor, McCullers, and Faulkner. But the primary impression given by these 20 tales, about haft of which originally appeared in Esquire, is that of limitation. Almost all are told in the first person--a taut, crude-lyrical, deceptively colloquial delivery. And far too many resort to one or more of the fever-pitched Southern gothic motifs: going blind, going deaf, cannibalism, brain damage, bloodlust, incest, sex and/or violence. Hannah is at his best, in fact, when his characters are at their quietest--good ol' boys trading careful lies down at Farte Cove; the lives of two boys who share the fortunes of the high school band and not much else. In such stories, the implicit violence in the Hannah style rubs up against everydayness with shattering effects. And on his battlefields, where blood comes with the territory, Hannah avoids overkill: a furious Johnny Reb challenges legendary Jeb Stuart (""You shit! What are we doing killing people in Pennsylvania?""), is captured by the North, and returns in blue to shoot Jeb right in the brow; an ""away""-seeking soldier and a fame-seeking photographer--old friends--find each other briefly, exhilaratingly, in Vietnam. But elsewhere Hannah is clearly trying too hard for arresting juxtapositions of words and images, for intense expressions of carnality or spiritual poverty, and the results are admirable, unlovely objets d'art that don't even come close to a direct emotional impact. Nothing here diminishes what we've already seen of Hannah's talent, but unlike some ""special,"" novelists, his-stories are not likely to open his small world to a wider audience.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1978
ISBN: 0802133886
Publisher: Knopf