In the more than 40 years covered by the collection, the South where Mr. Hannah spent most of his life became "new," but he pretty much stayed the same old Barry. Oh, he lost the easy (apparently ironic) racism of his early stories, and his fascination with bodily fluids eased a bit, but Mr. Hannah still relied on his singular and beguiling voice, his prose (even in the stories that didn't work) always a lovely spew, like a gasoline rainbow on a lake.
The New York Times
This posthumous collection includes four new stories and shows why Hannah's regarded as one of the best. Hannah's wit is caustic, shot through with social commentary and gleefully interspersed with bursts of slapstick comedy. One of his best-known early stories, "Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt," still holds up more than 30 years later, with the landlady in her dilapidated house, lying crumpled at the bottom of the stairs. Hannah easily links themes, characters, and places--particularly his longtime home of Oxford, Miss., and its flagship school, Ole Miss--without drawing unnecessary attention to connections. The new stories--"Fire Water," "Sick Soldier at Your Door," "Lastward, Deputy James," and "Out-tell the Teller"--can be read as a set of interlocking narratives, each presenting a different angle on a series of arson attacks on small churches. The subject matter may be serious, but Hannah never abandons his sly grin--just as he was able to shift, mid-story, between boyhood hijinks and the looming threat of Vietnam in "Testimony of Pilot." This collection reminds that Hannah, even in death, will always be "on the black and chrome Triumph, riding right into your face." (Dec.)
Taking the best from the four collections published in Hannah's lifetime, along with several stories uncollected at the time of his death in March, this book will likely serve as the definitive collection of Hannah's shorter work. Arranged chronologically, the volume charts his growth, from early stories like "Testimony of Pilot" that focuses on the difficult relationship between two youthful acquaintances, to later novella-like works such as "Hey, Have You Got a Cig, the Time, the News, My Face?" about the numerous complexities in the relationship between a writer and his adult poet son. Hannah's is a world of intelligent, though troubled (and often alcoholic) men, the women who are too good (or at least too good-looking) for them, hell-raisers, good old boys, and whole barrels of morning-after regret and remorse, all set against the convoluted history of the South. VERDICT Though working in the Southern gothic tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, Hannah is ultimately unlike either of them, with a wilder, more darkly comic edge, a Southern and an American original.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA
"In Mississippi it is difficult to achieve a vista," wrote the late laureate Hannah (Yonder Stands Your Orphan, 2001, etc.) of his native state. He was wrong: He provided some of the best vistas in American literature, as this collection of short fiction ably shows.
The early stories here, dating to the mid-1960s, show Hannah at his Faulknerian finest, writing small elegant tales in long sentences that loop and oxbow to rival Old Man River himself (a third of a representative sentence: "that is that part of his speech which I was able to hear persuaded me, for the jacking of the asses, the lament of the eunuchs, the cries of the lost, the general din of the vulgar in their ascent ahead were overpowering"). As the chronologically ordered collection progresses, the author's sentences become shorter and punchier, though no less poetic: "The dead sit around us in their great hats, nude, yammering away nevertheless." Hannah reveals early on a few recurring characters (the unfortunately named Farte family, for instance) and set themes, including a preoccupation with soldiers—the subject of his 1978 collection Airships—and particularly with soldiers who come into unfortunate play with civilians who often use them poorly. Throughout, no matter what the year, Hannah proves again and again his ability to compress whole lives into single paragraphs, as when in the title story he summarizes the soul of a librarian turned classicist deeply mistrustful of love and willfully self-sufficient ("Versed in her own degree in history and art, she was decorating the house") and elsewhere writes admiringly of a woman who, in quite a feat down in bayou country, can out-drink any man and then get up promptly the next day to make the world turn.
With the caveat that a certain racial epithet still retains its power to shock here, an essential book for any library of Southern literature—and a welcome guide for students of writing as well.