‘Through a deep blue dusk that fell at the very end of a season of ruin he came up past the landscape of ruin itself.’
How’s that for an opening sentence? Not bad, eh? It opens a thin book by Tennessee author William Gay, which features a short story Wittgenstein’s Lolita, and the start of a supposedly upcoming novel called The Iceman. It’s a funny little book, I suspect it’s self-published by the author. It’s one of a few of Gay’s which I purchased recently and its length was what pushed it up to the top of the pile.
Have I mentioned that Twilightwas one of my favourite books from last year? And no, I don’t mean those adolescent bloodsuckers but the southern gothic chase-novel through the backwoods of Tennessee. Twilight is dark and misty, elegantly written and terrifying in nature. Anything involving the misuse of the dead is creepy, add in a brother and sister trying to blackmail the mis-doer, a sociopathic murderer hired by the corpse-fiddler to hunt them down and a spiralling, almost hopeless chase through a thick, dark, entangling, eerily almost-enchanted forest, where the hunter just can’t seem to be killed and you have a gripping nightmare. When I read Twilight I said to myself: ‘I need to read everything this writer has ever put to paper.’ And yes, I really did say it like that.
So here I am reading this funny little book, not sure what to expect but hoping to be enveloped in the ‘brutal beauty’ of Gay’s writing (as a Seattle newspaper described it). And you know, there’s bits of it there in the short story. That opening line, the odd description, a funny-but-not-funny (because someone’s going to end up dead) remark, the suggestion of a spirit, some mysterious deaths, a man who lives in a wooden shack and loves his dog and his books (a bit like Julius Winsome there…), lonely people who gravitate toward each other. But it’s just one story, so it feels a bit odd. A little, ‘what was the point?’. I wonder if I’d feel differently if it was part of a collection, but then other short stories I’ve read as individual things affected me greatly. Salinger’s To Esme, with love and squalor brought me to sobs when I first read it (but, God, high standards comparing every writer to that!).
The second part of the book, the beginning of the novel The Iceman, is equally strange. It has potential – mysterious down-and-outer, dusty rural towns, odd drunkard ice-man – I’m curious, and sure, I’d like to read more if I could, though I haven’t been able to find out if indeed a novel is on the way, or if it was just an extra bit they thought they’d stick in the book to justify printing the short story. Maybe he’s still writing it.
So I wasn’t overwhelmed, but Wittgenstein’s Lolita… still whet my appetite for the other William Gay books to come. There’s a definite Southern and rural American lit theme going on for me at the moment (American Rust is next). You could skip this funny little addition to the genre but do give Twilight a try (no, not the vampires) – it’s a terribly wonderful book.