Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scott McClanahan's Stories II

The excellent Scott McClanahan recently sent me his newest title Stories II, a follow up to Stories, published by Six Gallery Press in 2008. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing Scott read from Stories II live, when he came to The New Yinzer Presents in 2009.

My husband still talks about “Kidney Stones.” It wasn’t just Scott’s delivery, which puts him, in our book, as one of the most entertaining readers we’ve yet seen, it’s the story’s bizarre religiosity; the Biblical parallels; the hard-nosed, coarse-mouthed down-state characters. Lines like the following just pitch me into an involuntary spasm of snorting laughter: "The old woman just looked at me like I was some meth-taking crazy man and pointed towards the door at the back. ‘Ya got the shit pains, dontcha, boy?”

I know this woman. Perhaps not literally, but I have seen her type. Scott's single statement paints her character as vividly as if she were standing right in front of me.

Scott’s stories, like “The Prisoners,” are filled with insights and sadness. Others incorporate the delightful flavor of Appalachian superstition. Witness Scott’s lead up to a discussion of his ESP faculties in the story, “Future Teller”: “A bird flew in the house the day before, and if you’re a country person and a bird flies in your house, you better get ready, cause some shit is gonna go down.”

I’m a West Virginian by choice rather than by birth, and Scott’s “When George Bernard Shaw Visits Rainelle,” a one-page explanation of what the author will do if the world comes to an end, is both a affectionate joke about his hometown of Rainelle and also a West Virginia truism: our state is indeed about 50 years behind the rest of the world. And this is precisely what makes the state simultaneously frustrating and appealing: we’re eternally behind the frenzied stampede of progress. And I often think, really, is this such a terrible thing? Certainly, there is a different, even antiquated attitude towards family here. There’s a sense of self-reliance, as well. Folks make do with what they have. And I admire this. Here, we are small town and slower paced, sometimes down-at-the-heels and consistently isolated. Still, people smile at me here and bid others the time in ways they don’t even do in my small, comparatively stand-offish hometown in central Pennsylvania. Scott’s story speaks to this very realization in me.

Perhaps the story that affected me most was “Hernia Dog,” the tale of a lop-earred canine that used to play with Scott and his elementary-aged friends as a puppy. In the small, revealing vignettes that make up the narrative, we learn that the dog’s abusive owner gives him very little to live for. When Scott and his circle grow up and ‘Hernia Dog’ also develops into a mangy, beaten creature with an intolerable odor, the dog is shunned by the very group who lavished him with affection so many years before. It is devestating, both to the dog and to the reader. The ending made me cry. Here, Scott offers us a fable about the value of sympathy and compassion.

So! Scott is reading at The Gist Street Reading Series on Friday evening, June 4th. He is an excellent showman. Come out and let him tell you a story or two or three. Also, buy a book there or here. You will be amazed by his storytelling.


  1. Scott's work is great. Wish I could be in Pitt tonight!

  2. Hey, Jason! Let me know if you get back to the Burgh! We'll schedule a reading for ya!
    :) S