BATS OUT OF HELL by Barry Hannah


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 Mississippi's literary powerhouse returns with another group of stories (Airships, 1978; the novels Boomerang, Never Die, etc.) in which the surreal social vision and subsurface savagery that have become Hannah's hallmarks are present in abundance. Twenty-three pieces ranging widely in length from one to forty pages make up this collection, and the various themes are no less diverse. The brief title story (``Bats Out of Hell Division'') re- creates a Civil War standoff in which desperate, starving Rebels finally assault their well-armed, well-fed adversaries with little more than a military band playing Tchaikovsky--only to win the field when the Union troops are so moved by the sight that they surrender. ``Rat-faced Auntie'' is a more substantial tale involving a talented trombonist who peaks too soon, losing himself to liquor and dropping into sociology as a consolation, with his bills paid by a sour, shriveled Auntie Hadley, who wants him to write her biography instead of telling the stories of the skid-row bums he met before she rescued him. Another biographer appears in ``Hey, Have You Got a Cig, the Time, the News, My Face?'' as a successful writer of celebrity bios--whose secret passion is shooting innocent passersby with an air rifle he keeps hidden in his car--tries to understand his angry poet-son, who loses his desire to write, his university job, his wife, and his sanity by the age of 30, turning to Mormonism before finally regaining his equilibrium and his voice. Warped family situations, individual frustrations, intimations of perversion, and the just-plain strange are common threads throughout here, combined in Hannah's dazzling, bizarre style. A compelling concatenation, even if sometimes overwrought or marred by seemingly superficial weirdness.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-48883-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992


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