Friday Tyrant - Scott McClanahan, Hick Christ

This post is destined to be one of those ones that, in years to come, people will go digging through the archives and find this article and be all, "Man, this fuckup knew way ahead of time what the situaish was with McClanahan."

Apr 1 2011, 4:21pm

This post is destined to be one of those ones that, in years to come, people will go digging through the archives and find this article and be all, "Man, this fuckup knew way ahead of time what the situaish was with McClanahan. He's huge now and this poor fuckup died trying to tell us." Like a blinking visionary, or a seer with a lazy eye, I can sometimes spot a treasure from far away, though I often err. But maybe I'm more of a hearer than a seer. I first discovered Scott McClanahan by hearing him, not reading him on a page. This was a first for me: discovering a writer through my ears rather than my eyes. His writing’s special in an ethereal way to me because of that fact--the fact that he came to me through the air and into my ears instead of from a page through my eyes. A clip was posted on HTMLGIANT of Scott McClanahan in Atlanta reading a story of his called "Kidney Stones." I remember clicking the play square and then getting up and walking away from my desk. As soon as I heard Scott's voice, I think I stumbled over my dog. McClanahan and I were raised about fifty miles from each other and, as I listened to him read his piece on, I heard a strange mixture of my childhood friends all speaking together in his voice. "A storyteller," I said. "Fuck, this guy's good."

If you have ever attended a literary reading, you know that 99 percent of them are unbearably boring and a huge waste of everyone's time. Being a good writer does not make you a good storyteller. I can be in love with any writer's writing and that still doesn't keep me from wanting to poison their drink after hearing them read their stuff out loud. I was just in D.C. last month at some faggoty-ass AWP "Writers Convention" thingy--which I will never attend again--and was fortunate enough to see and hear McClanahan do his thing. Man oh man, did I ever feel sorry for those who had to get up and read after Scott. I don't know how to describe it. He just brings the house down. He becomes possessed. He takes it home. He has figured out how to demand a crowd's undivided attention and keep them rapt without sounding like some retarded beat yelling for no reason and emphatically ruining whatever they've written. This is not an easy thing to do.

Along with his reading ability, McClanahan can also write, obvs. He has released two story collections (Stories I and Stories II, both from Six Gallery Press), has another collection coming out called Stories V from Holler Press (don't ask where III and IV went because I don't know). Then in the spring of 2012 his fourth book, Hill William, will be released. Below is a piece from Hill William. Sometimes I get tired of all of the forced poetry I read in today's literature. It's like, dude, you're trying way too hard and we can all see right through that. If you want to push any envelopes, you really have to make it appear effortless. Very few writers can do this. I'm always reading something and thinking, "God, you probably obsessed for weeks coming up with that line and it isn't even that good. What a waste of time." McClanahan isn't forcing anything. Not to mean that there’s any lack of poetry in his writing: It's there. It's just not standing in the middle of the street waving its arms like a spaz and screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!" McClanahan is more likely to be hiding somewhere up in the trees on the hill above your house, tossing tiny pebbles at your bedroom window every once in awhile. Not enough pecks at the glass to bother you, but just often enough to make you sit up in bed every once in a while and say, "What in the fuck was that?"

"But There Were Good Times Too" by Scott McClanahan

There were times we set the woods on fire. At first, Derrick took his mother’s lighter and lit the shit out of the leaves. Click, click, and then they lit. We watched the leaves burn across the ground for a second and Derrick shouted, “Put it out! Put it out!”

I tried stamping out the fire before it spread up the tree trunks and treetops and went over the hill. I stomped here and I stomped there and I shouted, “Shit! Shit!” Derrick started stomping too with his big boots. The flames flickered and almost got away from us, but then the fire was out. We let out our breath. We laughed, excited. We smiled. We caught our breath and Derrick said, “Let’s do it again.”

He lit the leaves again and this time they took off. The leaves lit red and shot fast up the tree, a torch covered in kerosene. I watched the fire hop from tree to tree in the treetops. Then it was all fire and we were inside a beautiful candle flame. We ran away. The fire trucks would be coming soon. We watched them come and fight the flames and then we watched them call the Army reserve in the next day, and the mountain became a mountain of fire. We sat on the Anger’s porch and we said nothing. We said nothing and smiled, watching the fire mountain we made sparkle.

And then the next week Sissy and I found the turtle. Sissy was Derrick’s younger sister who never wore shoes and whose feet were rougher than tree bark. She always had a brown dirt ring around her mouth. We were walking toward the dirt pile and over the logging roads when we saw it. It was a box turtle. We picked it up and laughed and passed it back and forth. We carved our initials in its soft belly with my pocketknife. We carved an SA and WM. We carved Derrick’s initials too, DA, and then a W for Gay Walter. The shell belly bled a little, and we were done with the carving. I tried to feed the turtle some grass, but the turtle wouldn’t eat. Then I said, “Let’s see how far we can throw it.”

“The turtle?” she said.

My eyes smiled, “Yeah.”

She looked at me with her wily worm lips and then her eyes said “Yeah,” too.

I stood up and Sissy stood beside me. We were doing it. I raised the turtle high into the air and then, with all my strength, I ran forward like I was throwing a shot put, and I let the turtle fly. It sailed through the air—the first supersonic turtle who ever lived. Then it fell to the ground where it crashed and bounced. Then it bounced again. We ran towards the turtle, wondering what we would find. Tracy kept saying, “Is he dead? Is he dead?”

I was worried that he was. We looked at the turtle for a long time. He moved. He wasn’t dead. He was doing something else. It was like he was smiling. He was doing something like smiling.

So we went to find Gay Walter. Gay Walter was Derrick and Sissy’s stepbrother who came to live with them a couple of years before because he had been “abused.” Gay Walter was always painting his fingernails red and smoking cigarettes and gossiping with the women on the street about soap operas and husbands. “He’s sweet, he’s just a little bit sissified,” my mom told my dad one night. “He’s just sensitive.” So Sissy and I went and sat at Gay Walter’s feet and watched him paint his fingernails and put medicine on his in-grown toenails. His swollen and bloody toes were wrapped in toilet paper. He was wearing flip-flops and a bathrobe and he had a towel wrapped around his head because he had just washed his hair. “What have you all been doing?” Gay Walter asked us. So Sissy and I told him about throwing the turtle. “What?” Gay Walter said, and then he laughed. He told us we shouldn’t have done that. He told us we should be kind to everything in this world, especially the little things. He lit a cigarette and turned the radio up. It was a song by Alabama called, “Roll On.” He stood and held his bathrobe tight against his body like a gown. Then he picked up his hairbrush and started singing, Roll on family, Roll on through, Roll on Momma like I asked you to do. He sang the song and I saw he was no longer Gay Walter but someone else. He sang and we watched, and we listened. He was no longer on a porch in the mountains, but on a stage somewhere. He was no longer lip-synching to the radio, but he was our own private superstar. He was singing our song and we were singing along.

The next day I sat on the side of the mountain and watched Gay Walter walking through the welfare apartments in the middle of town with his pet hamster. This was before they started clear-cutting the trees and strip mining the mountain. He was sweet talking to it, “O you’re such a sweet little hamster, sweetest little hamster in the world.” Then the Redneck showed up along with his eleven-year old son, Eddie Harris. The Redneck was this old guy who was always drunk and shitting his pants brown and yelling curses at Walter when he saw him. The Redneck started shouting at Walter, “Well, look at that little Anger faggot.” Eddie Harris didn’t say anything but stood beside his dad who kept shouting, “I bet that little faggot is a cocksucker. You a little cocksucker faggot?”

Walter acted like he didn’t hear him at first and walked faster, but they wouldn’t stop. The Redneck and his son picked up some chunks of broken cinder block and threw them at Walter. One of the chunks hit Walter in the head. Walter threw his hands up and screamed, “Ahhh!” He touched his head and then his dyed blonde hair was streaked red with stripes of blood. Walter screamed again and started running slow but with a certain style. The Redneck told Eddie, “Go knock the shit out of that queer, Son.” That’s just what Eddie did too. He ran over to Walter and caught up with him and hit him in the side. He hit him so hard Walter that dropped his hamster. When Walter bent over to pick it up, Eddie Harris hit him in the nose. Gay Walter’s hamster was getting away, but finally Walter grabbed it. He held it in both hands. Then Eddie hit him in the back. Gay Walter took off running and Eddie chased him. “That’s right, Son!” the Redneck shouted. “You chase him!” But Gay Walter was running fast now and kicking his skinny legs out long. “Go Walter, Go!” I shouted from the hilltop. Gay Walter kept running and Eddie Harris couldn’t keep up. Eddie Harris finally stopped because Walter’s feet had become feet of fire and nobody in this world could catch him anymore.


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