cover image High Lonesome: Stories

High Lonesome: Stories

Barry Hannah. Atlantic Monthly Press, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-668-8

Though set mostly in the Mississippi of the recent past, these 13 unsettling, masterfully crafted fictions bring to mind not only the work of great Southern short-story writers like Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers but, in their brutal candor and tragic masculinity, also echo voices as diverse as those of the New Englander Raymond Carver and the urbanite Charles Bukowski. Exploring themes of contorted sexuality, voyeurism, guilt, prejudice, identity, familial dysfunction, death, aging, improbable friendship, alcoholism, creativity and self-destruction, Hannah (Bats Out of Hell) evokes a dolorous and sometimes darkly comic South peopled by desperate losers, weathered survivors and unexpected innocents. Robert Snerd and Cornelius Niggero become fast friends on the death of Niggero's wife, a woman both were in love--and involved--with. In ""The Agony of T. Bandini,"" Tiger Bandini and the ""lean black man"" known only as Cruthers form a mysterious, lasting bond in the police drunk tank. ""Drum"" Dummond, a middle-aged, Christian dilettante in Paul Smith's writing class, befriends and encourages his troubled teacher but ultimately takes his own life (""Drummer Down)."" In the briefest tale here, ""A Creature in the Bay of St. Louis,"" a young boy out fishing hooks onto a sea monster. ""It took place in no more than half a minute, I'd guess, but it had the lengthy rapture and terror of a whole tale."" Just so, in these stories Hannah evokes an astonishing depth and range of emotion, as he economically blends notes of wistfulness and nostalgia into the dark, complex moods of his resonant, often disturbing tales. (Oct.)