Scott McClanahan is from West Virginia. That’s the first thing you need to know. It comes up a lot in his writing. Second he has a bizarre sense of humor. His writing has a funny bleak quality to it. Usually this stems from extremely unfortunate circumstances, some of which he set in motion. A couple of times I re-read the story. Re-reads are greatly rewarded in his perverse universe. Good thing all characters and events are fictional otherwise this might have hurt my heart.
One hundred forty pages of weird await you. They’ll sit there until you bother picking it up. Patience is important in this literary world. Things take a while in West Virginia apparently. I like how he offers multiple endings for the stories. To me it felt reminiscent of one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, except this time this isn’t some shitty ‘sorry, you’re dead’ situation; it is a portrait of life after the action. Generally speaking the endings are ambiguous. Were they better off before? The mere fact Scott raises this question makes the stories much more engaging.
The first story is a test of faith. ‘Jenny Sugar’ deals with faith but in a different way. All I’ll say is Superman IV sucks nothing else. Faith plays an important role here too. His mother is present in both scenarios, in each instance calming her worried child. Nor is it the last time Scott’s mother plays a role in the stories as a force of calm, stability. The beautiful ‘Mary the Cleaning Lady’ returns to this theme of mother as a source of comfort, of calm, among a wrecked confusing world. Even the ending returns to this idea of parents as the protectors.
America may be the main character. In nearly every story it is mentioned as nearly a character. People interact with America. They learn or react to American culture, as shown in the two-part story ‘Terrorists’. 9-11 serves as the main focus in those stories, but more as a way to show how our culture changed due to the events rather than a focus on the event itself. Seeing the main character as a Professor felt good. Someday I hope to be a Professor though I doubt I’d use the Socrates method. Not sure what methods I’d use, but seeing how Scott did it gave me hope that perhaps I can get involved in America’s educational infrastructure.
Relationships show up throughout the stories. There wouldn’t be much of a story without them but the most relationship based (either of friends or lovers) are some of the most affecting parts of the entire collection. A few of the relationships end up hopelessly warped due to jealously, greed, or just information better left unknown. Out of all the stories, ‘Sex Tapes’ may be my favorite. It is disturbing. Actually it is probably the weirdest thing in the entire collection. It has an ending story to explain what came before. But man, is it creepy. I strongly urge you not to read ‘Sex Tapes’ before going to bed ever.
I really enjoyed this collection. Dark, weird, and funny is how I like my literature. Pop culture references are just the cherry on top. Read this oddity. Appalachia must be proud.