Friday, November 26, 2010

Short-a-Day: Barry Hannah's "Rangoon Green"

Originally published in Harper's Magazine, November 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 46.

Hannah's story is from a posthumous collection, so I won't be overly critical, but boy did this story need editing. There's a masterful voice to the anti-hero Goon Green, a brash, rambling Southern-fried style that sucks you in (even though he tells us early that "On the mean-o-meter, if there was such a contraption, all right, I might score high"), and that goes a long way to explain this story's publication. At the same time, however, the story begins with his veiled complaints about being cheated out of first place in the National Storytellers Tell-Off (of Murfreesboro, Tennessee), and ends up with an encounter with a random woman (the saintly girlfriend of one of his most drunken customers) who speaks philosophically about "misincarnation, where millions [miss] being born to their correct art and [spend] their days in sorrow wondering what [is] wrong" and basically treats him like "a goddamn ear you work on till it's callused all over," all because he "werewolfs" up the sweat on her neck: "The price you pay for some harmless licking."

In between, we get Green's scarred blame-game distortions of life with his wife-abusing father, his time in a prank-disinclined military, and his shady business ventures, which involves "sleepy women" who sometimes occupy the cars on his used lot (and whom he can't be  accused of pimping out) and pawn shops that prey on the quick fix needs of thieving junkies. Crammed into this are descriptions, in no particular order, of the annoying Marshal Bitters, honest lawman, his two sidekicks in the explosives and fugitive-tracking business, Tico and Rez ("The one Latino as it sounds, and the other named for his hesitancy to ever leave his bass boats and trotlines on Sardis Reservoir boat launches..."), his far-from-refined kept woman, Louise ("I say the fly on the end of her nose can be setting up his flystand and tuning his fiddle and she'll stay transfixed before she moves to another cube of air that might be flyless"), and Wilkes Bell ("a common drunkard except he wears Armani and other Italian shoes, aristocratic shoes of a deep grained shine so you know it"). Because selfish Green is narrating, we don't get a real sense of these people, only a lot of confusing history about them, and unlike, say Rick Moody's The Four Fingers of Death, which tells a story to reveal something about the storyteller, Hannah's story seems more like the draft of something he was working on to use as fodder for an eventual story about Green.

To sum up: third-place storytelling that, due to the occasionally broken language and fractured plot, gives your ear a workout, all without a lick of payoff, beyond the intriguing Green himself.


  • This loose end I told I would fold him five ways and stick him where the sun don't shine.

  • Many a listener told me I was the clear winner. Explosion bears repeating. I love being a bad loser. I got a hard-on for unsportsmanlike.

  • You can take centuries old and cram it. I don't care a thing about naught but today. You get into your golden history and you just walk around with this paralysis of mud on your boots, ask me.

  • I free her to be a laboring feminist but her spirit is all fettered, an old-fashioned gal. Oh but liberated to hell when you show her a vacuum cleaner. "It ain't elegant," she says.

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