Who was it said we were invented by water as a means of its getting itself from one place to the other?" This novella is one of the best-written things I have ever read - there's nothing better, in a way: "Pick the football up, travel rearward on your legs, the way is clear, there is your receiver, arms up in the lights on the green field. I know the argument that these slurs are in character, and Hannah is smart enough to never have Ray think anything bad about a P.O.C., but in a way the fact that he knows better made it much more irksome. I know this book was written in 1980. I'm aware that it is likely going to be toward the top of the RAY page on Goodreads for the next stretch of time. Normally that sort of thing doesn't bother me, but a mixed review does not represent the achievement here, the beauty of Hannah.
I have been known to at least once mail his books to friends who don't even regularly read just because Barry Hannah is exactly the thing that will make non-readers read, and a lot, though they will admittedly mostly be reading Barry Hannah, because everything else will suck in the interim. Poor almost everyone.
Ray is a manual of the ways not to live your life but paradoxically they are our favourite ways of living. Life goes on Coming back from the convention in Omaha, I was thinking about my first wife. Life goes on I pass by the mirror and see Im still semihandsome.
Next time a friend asks for a book recommendation whip this short little piece out (Freudianism intended) and watch the looks you get in the next few days. When I was a kid, I spent a little time in a horse barn with an old marine type who trained horses. We all did so because while it wasn't our turn, we sat on milk crates and listened to him tell stories about the war, sex with all types of women, fights he won, and all sorts of lewdness we shouldn't have been yet exposed to. He's a wanna be poet, he's pretty much a loaded pistol intent on popping off about any chance he gets.
The whole Ray book can fit inside a Bolaño essay.
Anyway, the elephant in the room here is Gordon Lish, who apparently edited the hell out of the book, to Hannah's satisfaction according to this researcher. I felt rotten, cool, and unfaithful, yet I came with an enormous lashing of sperm, which made her writhe and lick.(This one jumped out at me because "writhe and lick" recalls a passage in friend-of-Lish DeLillo in which a woman's breasts "jump and hum," a phrase James Wood made righteous fun of back in the day.) None of this would bother me if Lish/Hannah didn't expect me to take it all as a serious statement on America and how violent and crazy it is. Zany, vulgar comedy can be its own reward, and I would have accepted this as a distant ancestor of Family Guy; considered as a sociopolitical novel, though, it just doesn't exist. Why, you ask, would I even want to consider it as a sociopolitical novel? To end on a more positive note, I liked this passage; it has a quietness in it that more of the novel could have been built on, instead of pursuing Civil War fantasies and tall tales from Southern living, so I'll end here:I'm dreaming of the day when the Big C will be blown away. I'm dreaming of a world where men and women have stopped the war and where we will stroll as naked as excellent couples under the eye of the sweet Lord again.
Years later, the controversy of Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish, became public and many voiced their thoughts on the process of such heavy editing of a writers work. I wondered if I had read more Lish than Carver in all those stories. So this year when Carter said I needed to read Ray by Barry Hannah, I listened. While reading Ray, a part of me wondered if Lish had done heavy editing on the short novel.
I'm not saying that Barry Hannah is any of the above things--this is the only book of his I've read, and writing an asshole doesn't make you an asshole. And it was frequently invaded by lines, comments, snippets of thought, that went beyond merely portraying a mind fractured by the Vietnam war, and moved into the realm of making a joke out of racism or sexism. Additionally, I read shortly after finishing that this book was edited by Gordon Lish--and so now I am wondering precisely how much of the short, chopped, discursive prose I liked so much was even Barry Hannah's. Maybe I'm hanging too much weight on Ray's characterisation--but the book is from his point of view, and he is written completely irredeemably. If this is really the mission statement of the book, as it is positioned to be, then the attempt for nuance in Ray is so shamefully off the mark that Barry Hannah must have written the book in one sitting and not looked back to see if it worked.
However, I can't be responsible for reactions to the actual content of the book.
Barry Hannah was an American novelist and short story writer from Mississippi.