cover image Bats Out of Hell

Bats Out of Hell

Barry Hannah. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $22.95 (382pp) ISBN 978-0-395-48883-6

In his long-anticipated but disappointing second volume of short stories, one of the gurus of contemporary ``guy'' fiction ( Airships ; Boomerang ) focuses on the red-blooded American subjects with which he has made his reputation--sex, booze, drugs and guns. The visceral description for which Hannah has rightly been praised in the past degenerates here into bad-taste verbosity and sophomoric prurience. ``High-Water Railers'' concerns fishing and old men, one named Sidney Farte, as they share sexual secrets and confessions of missed opportunity. ``Scandale d'Estime'' begins with great promise in Kosciusko, Miss. (Hannah's home state), as old reprobate Harold befriends teenage George and takes him to a production of Waiting for Godot ; the story line (which also includes the young man's infatuation with an older woman) disintegrates into short takes on paregoric addiction, attempted suicide, the Klan, and bondage equipment. The best story, ``The Spy of Loog Root,'' pairs the telescope-toting scion of a white-trash clan with the owner of a tobacco and magazine shop in Montana, and shows what Hannah is capable of in terms of characterization and emotional insight. For the most part, though, he seems to have invested more time in pompous, overwritten story titles--``Upstairs, Mona Bayed for Dong,'' ``Hey, Have You got a Cig, the Time, the News, My Face?''--than in polishing the pieces themselves (some of which consist of only a few paragraphs). Half of these 23 stories have been published in magazines; a few aren't ready to be published anywhere. Too much of this volume reads like the output of a writing group that meets in a bar; as the saying goes, ``You had to be there.'' Author tour. (Feb.)