When I received Stories II by Scott McClanahan and first glanced at the cover I thought, 'this book is not ordinary' and I was right. I had watched video of Scott reading a couple of his stories, so I thought I knew what could be expected; and I did, sort of. But because I am the type of person who giggles during scary films, my fear reaction so entwined with my pleasure sectors, I had not expected to feel so humane, so connected, more fulfilled than titillated:
from ‘Hernia Dog’:
So here we were together.
And everybody else was getting ready to dance.
You know the kind?
It's the kind of dance where the guy puts his hands on the girl’s hips, and then the girl puts her arms around the guy’s neck. And then they move back and forth, back and forth until the song finally ends. Then the next song begins.
And then you're trying to sneak off—to go do...you know what?—to go find hidden skin in the dark.
In this post-modern age of hipsters, attention-whoring, and unashamed, unabashed capitalism, we don't often find many earnestly moving things that strip away the posturing and anxious twaddle, all the ego that hampers real communication, to show life for itself: a mess of emotions, of reliving childhood memories, of feeling regret and sorrow and empathy and joy, of paths taken and paths not, people struggling to understand the world and each other, people finding the awesome in the everyday, people living and people dying.
In Stories II, Scott McClanahan is our hero, but there is nothing fantastical or unreal about our hero's adventures. McClanahan is magic though, and he is our hero the way some people's dads or boyfriends or husbands or brothers are their heroes: there for them every day, doing what they can to be strong and reliable even when their own strength falters; trying, even when it looks like life doesn’t want them to.
Each story is spun around a basic universal human emotion: love, guilt, despair, shame, lust – and told with a bare honesty that blindsides. There are no overwrought sentences to hide any muddled thought, or to muddle any lack of thought, or to cover any lack of character. Each story illustrates its chosen emotion thoroughly, from how it is born to how it lives and breathes naturally through us until it resolves. Or maybe it doesn't, maybe it never does and that is just like life. McClanahan offers no answers, only pictures that we can choose to frame or touch up or put away in a box.
But Stories II is not all gut-wrenching and heavy knocks, there is much laughter throughout and a few moments that make us go soft and watery with recollection, with recognition, with awe. Everyone (yeah, even hipsters) can see themselves reflected in McClanahan’s tiny mirrors, glimpse into their own hearts and lives and feel understood by someone. Because most of us know exactly what it’s like to laugh at life’s cruel jokes, to feel a little out of place or lonely, to love and lose a stray forsaken dog.
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