Welcome to the first installment of "In Short," the aptly named new feature here on the blog in which I will dedicate a weekly post to a short story and its author.
I decided that I need to read more short stories and write about them here. I arrived at this decision after recently (and voraciously) reading a collection of short stories in a couple of hours. My husband had insisted I read this one short story by Harry Crews called "L.L. Bean Has Your Number, America!"
|Harry Crews. Photo by Tom Graves.|
Harry Crews was a beer-drinking man. And a vodka-drinking man. And a whisky-drinking man. And he wrote as if, after having been drinking all of those things all morning, he had gotten a little uncomfortably sober in the afternoon sun, irritated by anyone who happened to enter his periphery, and probably even self-consciously irritated by having to keep himself company if he was alone.
Yet, in spite of the jagged edge with which much of his writing is presented, there is a vulnerability that permeates each line-- the true brute masculinity of his writing is most evident in the moments of fear, melancholy, uncertainty, awkwardness. Crews has a remarkable way of looking shyly at something and then proceeding to describe it, always a little bashfully, in a savagely raw and accurate way. No frills, no apologies-- no attacks or accusations either-- just a timid observer with an unflinching gaze, a relentless power to see. The force of his narrative voice moves over his literary landscape with authority, but does not bulldoze it.
Here's an example from "L.L. Bean Has Your Number, America!":
The building in front of me, the L.L. Bean store, was a miserable-looking structure. ... For no good reason, I though it looked like the kind of building that would house a third-rate plumbing company on the verge of bankruptcy.
One of his former students, Lucy Harrison, describes the collection like this: "It's a funny book. It's also awfully sad. It's about living the best you can with whatever burden you've chosen for yourself. It's about getting rid of that burden and dancing around like a crazy person. It's a book, largely, about drinking. ... It's a man's book. It isn't a guy's book. But I'm a girl, and I get every word of it. Got it?"
Yep. That's about right.
The story is about two friends that don't shy away from demonstrating their "mutual admiration" by getting "locked up toe to toe and beat[ing] each other severely about the head and shoulders." One of the friends, Cody, brought a fish he caught that day into the bar and was estimating how much he thought it weighed. His friend, Jimbo, disagreed with that estimation. To settle the matter, the men took to the empty parking lot to put the powers of their pick-up trucks to the test in a reckless competition in which the friends, with trucks hitched to one another at the rear, tried to dominate his opponent's truck by putting full force on the gas peddle.
It's a funny story, but its also deadly serious, in the way you can tell a joke to a drunk who laughs at first but then suddenly becomes angry and dangerous. You watch two men take their lives into their hands, over the weight of a fish, on a Tuesday night, in a near-empty bar. And then they laugh about it and head back to their stools to finish their beers. Think about it.
how do you like your blueeyed boy
What are your favorite short stories?? Have you read any Harry Crews?? What are your favorite author tattoos??
Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers-- keep rustling!!