HIGH LONESOME by Barry Hannah


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 Thirteen vivid, scabrous, and noisy stories from the Mississippi romantic whose earlier volumes (Airships, 1978; Bats Out of Hell, 1993) contained most of the essentials, and even some of the particulars, of the more recent pieces gathered here. The characters in Hannah's rowdy tales are almost always the same: Eccentric misfits or disaffected intellectuals who are afflicted by love and lust the way Flannery O'Connor's people are obsessed with God and religion. Booze and regrets are key elements in this latest collection, which differs from Hannah's previous work only in its nagging emphasis on midlife crisis. Even in the slightest stories (e.g., ``The Ice Storm'' and ``Ned Maxy, He Watching You''), the sense of wasted opportunity and of a persistent longing for a better life are almost always preternaturally strong. We seem to be hearing, with minimal narrative variations, the ongoing confession of a single self- castigating protagonist. The best tales include ``Get Some Young,'' in which a moody Korean War vet and his moodier wife are transformed by their encounter with a handsome young boy; ``Carriba,'' about a former journalist who tries to bring peace to a family traumatized by mass murders; and the affecting ``Drummer Down,'' which portrays a would-be-writer who killed himself and vibrates thereafter in the memory of his more ``successful'' friend. Most memorable of all is ``Uncle High Lonesome,'' the first-person story of a boy who simultaneously idolizes and despises the title character, a romantic hunter and boorish racist. It takes off onto an exhilarating higher level with the narrator's revelation that his uncle once murdered a man, and that the murder and its attendant guilt has become a kind of inheritance passed down through the generations. When Hannah's stories are really about something--other than the omnipresent comic-depressive mood that has long dominated his fiction--they can get under your skin and haunt you. Only fitfully, however, are such sparks struck here. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1996
ISBN: 0-87113-668-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1996


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