The first outing in a decade from the great southern roustabout (Never Die, 1991, etc.) goes on a long tear through the lives of a motley crew of misfits living around a giant lake in the backwoods of Mississippi.
Hannah kicks it off on a raging blast of language and keeps winging higher and higher. The prologue is a standalone bit about a ramshackle roadhouse where men can buy bait, booze, and some under-the-counter pornography, and where the amenities are definitely lacking: “All this the parcels of its charm.” There’s little reason for this piece other than to establish the well-stocked lake as the central character of Hannah’s careening ode to those whose lives keep coming back to it. Among them are: Byron Egan, a onetime biker and addict turned tattooed preacher; Melanie, a 71-year-old widow with a patrician bearing that keeps heads turning—mostly, she stands by her window: “She watched for men like a teenager. She watched for wildlife like a child”; and Raymond, a disgraced ex-doctor who plays the saxophone in his wife’s band at a nearby casino. And then there’s the crazy couple on the other side of the lake who once tried to kill each other but now, in their post-traumatic dementia, run a camp for orphans. Lighting a match under everyone is Man Mortimer, a hustler and gigolo who hunts for women who’ve given up hope and recruits them for his rolling whorehouses: luxury SUVs with fogged windows and deluxe stereo systems. With hardly any more provocation than anyone else here (in true southern-gothic tradition, surreal violence flares up quite often in these pages), Mortimer goes on a random crime spree of nonlethal knifings that leaves everyone baffled, but ultimately not all that concerned.
A sprawling, nearly plotless novel: Hannah shows quite authoritatively that he’s still the master of his craft. The manufactured eccentricity of some of his recent short stories is absent here, but not his love of characters and language. A masterwork of southern beat terror gospel.