Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Barry Hannah R.I.P.

Until yesterday, when he died of a heart attack at 67, Barry Hannah was my favorite living writer. Now, he's just another one of my all-time favorites. He beat cancer and alcohol and struggled with heart problems, but this isn't Oprah and everyone has to deal with this shit, or shit like it. He was a Christian like my grandmother was a Christian, which is to say a real and complex and quietly personal one, not a spewing evangelical or a self-centered bore constantly banging on about his/her "relationship with Christ." He wrote specifically about the South and generally about everyone in a style that was unlike anyone. He broke rules of grammar and sentence structure in ways that never attracted attention to themselves and served to fit his style and move his characters where they needed to go. He didn't give a damn about plot, instead relying on feeling, character, and the careful construction of words on a page. Hannah's work gives me the same feeling I get when I listen to Neil Young's 1970s albums. Two people at their best, a little rough and raw, creating their own language, ignoring the dictates of fashion and the market, coming up with something both sorrowful and hilarious. I find every sentence of every published Hannah work completely fucking thrilling, and I'm sad to see him go. Is it too late to trade him for Neal Pollack or Dave Eggers or Chuck Klosterman or Terry Gross or the entire Onion A/V Club, vengeful God?
Hannah has a posthumous short story collection coming out later this year, according to some reports, an unfinished novel according to others, and a finished novella according to still other sources.

The first six paragraphs from a 2008 article about Hannah in Garden & Gun magazine:

One afternoon in July, the author Barry Hannah took to the small roads south of Oxford, Mississippi, where he lives, to visit the grave of friend and fellow writer Larry Brown. Hannah hadn’t been out this way in some months. He missed an important turn at a place called the Yocona River Inn and had to stop at a country store to ask directions.

“Excuse me,” Hannah said to the woman behind the counter. “Can you tell me which way is the Yocona Inn? We’re trying to find our friend Larry Brown’s place.”

The woman returned a vacant look.

“Larry Brown—he was a very fine writer,” Hannah pressed on. “He lived right around here. Do you read his books?”

The clerk did a weird abased shrug but didn’t answer. Hannah paid for his Coke and cigarettes and departed, vexed.

“It’s just unbelievable to me, the lack of pride and curiosity,” he said, pulling his Jeep Cherokee onto the blacktop. “If the people out here should be reading anybody, it ought to be Larry Brown. This is what he wrote about—these people, life out on these roads, and in these little stores. I guess they’re busy with their televisions. Man, it just nauseates me. It’s sick and dumb.”

Larry Brown and Barry Hannah
They're both dead and it sucks

Here's a link to a pdf of one of Hannah's stories, "Testimony of Pilot."
(UPDATE: There are a lot of bizarre typos in the pdf, probably from some kind of electronic transcription process, but I think enough of the story is salvaged to get a taste of his style.)

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