Nominated for the American Book Award, Ray is the bizarre, hilarious, and consistently adventurous story of a life on the edge. Dr. Raya womanizer, small-town drunk, vigilante, poet, adoring husbandis a man trying to make sense of life in the twentieth century. In flight from the death he dealt flying over Vietnam, Dr. Ray struggles with those bound to him by need, sickness, lunacy, by blood and by love.
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RAY is thirty-three and he was born of decent religious parents, I say.
Ray, I didn't ever think it would get to this. The woman I love and that I used to meet in the old condemned theater and we would wander around looking at the posters and worshiping the past, I just called her Sister like her parents, the Hooches, did. Her mother lives in that house with that man. Her grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary killed by the gooks.
Ray, you are a doctor and you are in a hospital in Mobile, except now you are a patient but you're still me. Say what? You say you want to know who I am?
I have a boat on the water. I have magnificent children. I have a wife who turns her beauty on and off like a light switch.
But I can think myself out of this. My mind can do it. It did it before, can do it again, as when I was pilot of the jet when I was taking the obnoxious rich people in their Lear from Montreal to New York to Charlotte to Pensacola to New Orleans to Mexico City to the Yucatán to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because they had an old friend there.
You can do it, mind and heart. You can give it the throttle and pick up your tail and ease it on. You can do it, Ray.
For instance, look at this male nurse. He weighs three hundred pounds. He's got flab in his eyes, but he used to weigh four hundred. Now he's divorced his second wife and has no remorse and is moving to Key West for a higher-paying job. He has no care for other people because his own elephantine system keeps him employed. You would fire him, Ray. Except you can't fire anyone now.
Nether. That's a good one. Hang on to a word like nether.
Her nether hoot. No, I don't, nether. This is the netherlands and it will nether get worse. That is the awfulest netherest laughter.
I just threw up my netherest soul. There's nothing left, nether. My eyes are full of yellow bricks. There are dry tiny horses running in my veins.
That was three weeks ago, Ray. Now I am clean. My head is full of light. I am a practicing doctor again and it is necessary I go over to the Hooches.
My heart, my desire. Sister!
The stacked tires, the station wagon half-captured by kudzu and ivy, the fishing boat on wheels, the tops of an ash and a pine rising from the falling ravine behind the backyard, and in front, the house, a peeling eyesore, the complaint of the neighborhood. The Hooches!
The Hooch children are afraid. The car seems to have plunged up from the ravine. The smaller Hooches are fearful.
The roof of the garage has fallen in and around it clay pots are scattered through the lustrous ragged fronds.
The Hooch family is large and poor.
I have seen the moon make an opaque ghost of the backyard, and I have seen the Hooch animals roam out into it, smelling the life of themselves. They enter the border of visibility and pass through it into the uncanny.
Time and time again it comes back. Where the Hooches buried Oscar in the backyard near the fallen garage. Where the broken flowerpots were pulled away to make a place for Oscar. Where a single white wild blossom occurred under the forever stunted fig tree, making no sense at all, certainly not to dead Oscar.
The others of the street are not of their homes as much as the Hooches. The loud and untidy failures of the Hooches pour from the exits. Their broken car is on the curb in front, pasted over with police citations. Around the base of a ragged bush near the front door is wrapped an old rotten brassiere. In the small front yard parts of toys and soaked food lie. A rope hangs from a second-story window. The drainpipe has been beaten out of place by the children.
The Hooch family has a familiar, I am saying, a certain familiar joyful lust and ignorance. They are mine. They're Ray's.
I say they are mine.
"Hi, Doctor Ray. You got that morphine for me?" says Mr. Hooch.
"I do like that fog."
Mr. Hooch climbs up on his crutch.
"I guess I'm a fairly worthless bastard, aren't I?" he asks.
"You are. You've perfected it," I say.
The old man is tickled.
"Are you horny, Doctor Ray? You want me to call Sister?"
"There's nothing to drink. I've drunk everything there is to drink." Mr. Hooch throws out a cough, very nearly pukes. Revives. "Didn't you say you used to be a drunkard, Doctor Ray?"
"I did," I say. "Almost got kicked out of the trade for it."
I can see it makes the old man feel better to hear it. "Ray," he says. "Ray, boy, that old morphine is sudden, hey? I'm fogging away."
"Your leg already better?"
"Already. Listen to this, Doctor Ray. I know life all round, up and down. I have become my dreams. I have entered the rear of Mother Nature and come out her mouth, and I am the sin that is not ugly."
"That's fine," I say.
"It hurts my leg to talk like that," the old man says.
From the back of the house, looking over the fishing boat and past it to the wide, brittle leaves at the crown of the unhealthy magnolia, there comes Mrs. Hooch with her Pall Malls, a blotched woman in a bravely colored wrap, her legs lean and veiny. She arrives out of breath. She sits in the flaking chair.
"What are you looking at, Doc?" she says.
"Everything in your backyard looks hungry," says I. "There's a bird that looks like he doesn't know what to do."
"It's all we got."
Looking out at the unhappy foliage.
"Ever since I wasn't a virgin no more, things have slid down," she says.
"There must have been love or something," I say.
"Sure, but it was all downward."
I say, "Are you hopeless?"
"Close," she says.
"Well," I say, "I brought another bottle of Valium."
"The preacher was here," she says. "He couldn't do anything. I told him every time you came you left us happier."
"God bless the pharmacy," I say.
Outside, there are two small heads wobbling in the fishing boat. The Hooch twins, the young set. They have older twins too, and three children between these pairs.
"You want to talk today, Doc?" Mrs. Hooch wants to know.
I say, "I get tired of people. All of them driving around in their cars, eating, having to be. All of them insisting on existing."
"But you help people," Mr. Hooch says.
"I'm one of them," I say.
"If you're sad, do you want to see Sister?" Mrs. Hooch says. "I think she's still in bed."
"Maybe I will," I say.
Sister is always in love with somebody, sometimes me. There is a capricious wisdom she has about attaching herself to anybody for very long, although her loyalties are fast. She plays the guitar well and has a nice voice that she keeps to herself. Life has been such for her that she has no attitude at all. She expects no sympathy. Two of her teenage lovers died in an accident at the railroad tracks. That's when I met Sister. I rode down to the tracks, and she was standing there in a long sleeping gown, two weeks after the accident.
"What's wrong, girl?"
"I growed up."
"You want to go home? I'm a doctor. The preacher called me. They're worried about you."
"Ain't nobody should worry. I'll be here."
"I can give you a pill."
But she said to leave her be.
So I drove back to the fancy rich thing of my home in my Corvette. In back of my house is the swamp, where all the creatures are either singing or angry or sexed up. My three well-fed and luxuriously moving furred Persian cats roam around with their big eyes. The back door was open and in front of one of their feed dishes there sits a mother raccoon. She's got two little raccoons with her, who are having a really good time. One of the cats tried for them, but I kicked it back through the kitchen. "Listen," I said, "I am the emperor here. I reign."
Ralph and Robert, my rich brothers, approve. But because of them, I can't even say my name.
But then I had to go back, to see Sister, to see if she's still there at the railroad tracks.
She was. Her gown was wet with tears and she was shivering bad.
"Nothing'll help," she said.
Henceforward we were together.
"Sister, do you have a real name?" I said.
"Sister's enough," said she, "but my real name is Betty, and my age is eighteen. My grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary, but the Chinese Communists killed her. My pappy's from Mississippi. He ain't worth nothing, but there he is. He never worried about too much and his words is always kind. It was hateful for him to get shot in the kneecap in World War Two. But there he is. I don't want to talk about my momma too much because I don't like her. Her name's Agnes and she acts like that name."
"Well," said I, "I did my part in hurting the gooks back for you, Sister. I flew support missions for B-52 bombers in Vietnam."
"You flew what?"
"An F-4, called the Phantom. It's a jet airplane."
"I've seen them jets pass over me and thought about them," Sister said.
Her figure and face were lively and charming. Her legs were open, dark- skinned, negligent, as in the posture of lust. She had Cajun blood from her mother. Her hair was thick and black, and I suppose her beauty was astounding, even in the dirty gown and her eyes red with nervous grief.
I don't feel that good about women anyway, nor gooks, nor sand-niggers, nor doctors, nor anything human that moves, with its zealous raving habits. Then I met Sister and my trust came back, my body was flooded with hope.
"You hear about Uncle Sweat?" she asked me once while we were making love. "He tried to take off a plane and crashed it into the state pen, Parchman, over in Mississippi. They didn't even have to get a judge or nothing. He was already there."
"Never heard about him."
"Last week Aunt Viola was in a rage about Uncle Tom's carelessness and she dropped a chain saw on her foot."
The thing I like about Sister is that every hurt she mentions, every hurt she has, she gives it back twice in love. She beats the hell out of my wife, who looks like somebody on television.
My town now is Tuscaloosa. I want you to know about some of the people here. My friend Charlie DeSoto, for example. He and his sweetheart Eileen came in, both of them wanting the drug that would help them stay in love without the grinding nervousness they had, because they were in love and they wanted to make it stick. Yet they induced tension in each other. Charlie was going for the booze, Eileen for the Compazines and coffee.
The name DeSoto was important, Charlie thought. He's a manager of the soap factory to the south of town and has made happen important steps toward antipollution of the Black Warrior River, into which his factory used to dump all the chemical wastes it had. It killed fish, and generally screwed up the water vegetation for fifteen miles downriver.
One night Charlie was waked up by a noise in his backyard. He caught hold of his hatchet, hoping it was a criminal, for his life had been dull lately. But when he went outdoors in the cold air, DeSoto — who was of course the namesake of Hernando de Soto, the discoverer of the Mississippi River who perished in 1542, probably of greed and arrogance — saw there was no criminal. The man in the backyard was not running. He was crawling, almost wallowing, toiling on the brown rye grass of Charlie's yard. The man lifted his face and said, "Listen, friend, I can't take it anymore."
DeSoto considered that for a while, a whole day, actually. Charlie liked considering things. Best of all, Charlie DeSoto liked considering Mr. Wently. Now this Wently was a man who came by DeSoto's house every morning, every morning at exactly 7:45. This Wently was a man somewhere in his seventies, and he was regular. But so was the dog, Albert. Albert belonged to two gentle lesbians, Marjorie and Jane. And the minute Wently showed himself on the block, Albert came out viciously and barked. But the old man was never appalled, for he knew Albert was just a loud coward.
DeSoto wanted to kill Mr. Wently, was the problem. He could murder Mr. Wently for the regularity of his habits. Wently had a three-piece suit and sunglasses and a cane. DeSoto owned no gun, but if he had one, he would have killed Wently first thing.
One day it was a glorious day, and the red and yellow leaves were falling all around the street, since it was fall, the dying beautiful season of the year.
DeSoto was reading about the original de Soto according to Rangel, his diarist on the expedition from Florida.
Sunday. October tenth, the Governor de Soto entered the village of Tuscaloosa, which is called Athlacia, a recent village. And the chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one end of the square, his head covered with a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor's, which gave him an aspect of authority. He also wore a mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing. He was as tall as that Tony of the Emperor, our lord's guard. A fine and comely emperor of a man.
Hernando remained seated with him a short time, and after a little he arose and said that they should come to eat, and he took him with him and the Indians came to dance. And they danced very well in the fashion of rustics in Spain. At night Tuscaloosa desired to go, and our Commander de Soto told him that he must sleep there. He slept there notwithstanding his reluctance.
The next day de Soto our Governor asked him for carriers and the rest of them he said he would give at Mobile, the province of one of his principal vassals.
Monday. October eighteen, St. Luke's day, the Governor de Soto came to Mobile, having passed that day by several villages and mountains with two Christians slain by Indians who did not take our passing through their village peaceably. The soldiers stayed behind to forage and scatter themselves, for the region appeared populous. And there came with the Governor only forty horsemen as an advance guard, and after they tarried a little, that the Governor might not show weakness, he entered into the village with the chief, Tuscaloosa, and all his guard went in with him. The Indians danced an areyto. While this was going on, some soldiers saw them putting bows and arrows slyly among some palm leaves and other Christians saw that below the cabins were full of people concealed.
The Governor put his helmet on his head. He warned the soldiers. Luis de Moscoso and Baltasar de Gallegos, and Espindola, the captain of the guard, and only seven or eight soldiers were present. Gallegos went for Tuscaloosa, but the chief was hidden in a cabin and Gallegos with his knife slashed off the arm of an attacking Indian. Some got to their horses and killed the savages with lances. I was hit thrice by arrows. Women and even boys of four years fought with the Christians. Twenty-two of us died until the other Christians rescued us with the firearms.
At the last, we had twenty-two dead and their fortification was empty. We had killed four thousand of them.
Many pearls and a great store of corn were found.
Tuscaloosa and all his family were dead. We turned the great tall Indian over. A soldier named Stellus had fired the buss straight through his chest from five lengths.
Sometimes Charlie DeSoto read that passage to renew himself with his old perhaps ancestor. He got neither any special horror nor delight from it, but it reminded him of the adventurous perversity in himself that he cherished.
Then he thought: What was the it that fellow was talking about he said he couldn't take any more of?
This was a friendly city, Tuscaloosa, though there were sirens to be heard most parts of the day and the state asylum across the way was full. On the streets you might see such as this: a small man wearing a football helmet, walking in front of a man in a black suit and white Panama hat, the larger man in black frequently striking the smaller one over the helmet with a broom handle. They were inseparable companions, and the man in black always tipped the clerk five dollars for a Coca-Cola at the Jiffy Mart.
But we were talking about this time in the morning, 7:45. And here comes Mr. Wently by DeSoto's house. This time DeSoto more than ever wanted to slay Mr. Wently. Wasn't there an old bow and arrow in the house somewhere? The hatchet — where was it? Quick!
The dog, Albert, from the lesbians' house attacked. But Wently's routine allowed him nothing but routine, and DeSoto's rage allowed him nothing but passion. It is terribly, excruciatingly difficult to be at peace, thought DeSoto, when all our history is war. Look at that whining half-poodle, half- schnauzer Albert. Half-bred to sit at home, look elegant, and eat and fart. Half-bred to throw its vicious teeth into the unknown villain. Wently is killing everything.
DeSoto called in to the soap factory to say he was sick, which was true. He was sick with thought. He lingered awhile, watching a few joggers pass his house — healthy, harmless, in love with the thought that health promised the whole thing — bigger breasts, penis, chest. Endurance. That's it. If you can cut through it with peace and joy. If you can give health to those around you. But DeSoto didn't feel like it just now.
I want Wently, thought DeSoto. I want to purchase his death.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ray"
Copyright © 1980 Barry Hannah.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First, you should probably make time to read this in one sitting, but read it slow. I read it too fast and got lost at a few points, but the problem is that the book, in a way, has a style which asks you to fly. It will draw you in, but at the same time, you'll likely end it being a bit confused and need to go back, go back, and perhaps reread. It's entertainment, and certainly something to get lost in, but it left me wanting a great more, or else a bit less.
One of those post-modern experiments, it's weaker than Hannah's other books, which carry more traditional narratives.
Bloody Revenge Summary: <br> Fourteen year old Twili Alexander led a normal life. Until one of her sisters ran away, then her life was a messy adventure. Seventeen year old Stella Alexander is on the run. She is clinging for life with her bestfriend, crush and his two brothers. Tragedy awaits in every door. Twelve year old Kenzie Alexander leads a life connected to the devil. Every turn she takes, there is some sort of mysterious misery. <p> The beginning of my story will be at the next result. :)