Grand Opening of a New Local Bookstore
Overton in Newport's East Row neighborhood, a little more than a mile from its main store near the Suspension Bridge in Covington. So it's a local business -- and a bookstore. I everything right about this.
I first fell in love with McClanahan's writing soon after I moved to the commonwealth some 40 years ago, and a colleague suggested -- nay, insisted -- that I read The Natural Man, McClanahan's first novel..
I did. I was hooked.
McClanahan has led an extraorinary 20th Century life. Born in Brooksville, the seat of rural Bracken County, he was a part of the pre-war generation -- too young for World War II, and smart enough and pacifist enough to avoid the Korean War. McClanahan is a contemporary of the legendary Kentucky poet and author, Wendell Berry, along with Pulitzer-prize winner Larry McMurtry and beat/hippie author Ken Kesey. He ran with the Merry Pranksters. He was an author, professor, and lecturer under the moniker, "Captain Kentucky." Along with Mason, Berry, James Baker Hall, and Gurney Norman, McClanahan was part of the group called the "Fab Five" of Kentucky literature.
In Not Even ..., McClanahan pens a ragtag collection of tales stretching from his boyhood days to his current elderly strolls around Lexington. The result is funny, yet touching, a feeling that you are listening to an old man in the latter years of his life lightheartedly recalling his earlier days of glory. He explores his relationship as the hippie, ne'er-do-well son of an upright, businessman-father who brokers little nonsense and was unusually proud of the cut of his nose.
The nose, my father firmly believed, is composed of certain pliable matter that one can mold and shape over time like a lump of gristly modeing clay, if -- if --one develops the proper habits of life and sticks to them assiduously. Such as: When said olfactory apparatus itches, son, do not scratch same by rubbing it with the heel of your hand as if you want to smear the gaddamn thing all over your counternance. Rather, delicately grasp it between the thumb and forefinger, just below the bridge -- thus; yes; just so -- and gently pull forward and down, thereby addressing the offending itch while simultaneously helping the nose to become all that it can be, which is to say a nose not unlike the paternal beezer itself.
Some of the stories may be true -- one he claims to have video proof he found on the Internet. Others, like the one above, he admits, might be a teensy bit exagerrated. There are those he says are true to the best of his recollections. A few, perhaps, might just well be, perhaps, merely allegorical.
It's a memoir in the best sense of the term -- self effacing, forgoing sentimentality if he chooses, grumbling about memory loss if it provides a convenient escape hatch.
It's short, and sweet, and funny as hell. Go read it.
You'd see him coming on O'Connell Street -- the hanging jaws, the woeful trudge, the load. You'd cross the road to avoid him but he'd have spotted you, and he would draw you into him.
In Roma Kid, a young immigrant girl leaves her family in despair and travels the country looking for food and a new life.
Her mother had told her nothing but the girl knew that soon the family would be sent home again and she would not go back there. She was nine years old and chose for her leaving the red pattern dress and zipped her anorak over it.
In most of the writings here, the actual story is limited or is pointless. What is important is Barry's style, his descriptions, and his characters. His words are meticulously chosen, sculptured with care, and with preternatrural sense. He shows a variety of voices, yet his characters are familiar as a favored aunt or hated uncle.
Read this book. Savor it. Re-read it again and again and discover anew the sheer pleasure of great writing.