Long, Last, Happy
Before Barry Hannah passed away in March, there had been buzz about another book in the works. Some had it that it was a novel, others a linked story collection. It had been nine years since his last novel, but nearly 15 since his last book of short stories, the form best suited to his portraits of earnest losers and which best showcased his bucolic, circuitous sentences. Anticipation for a short-story collection? Truly, only Hannah had earned it.
Unfortunately, a heart attack struck before a final draft, and what we have is this new Hannah omnibus, which culls stories from the ’60s to the present, including four new ones. Only four newly collected stories, three of which have been previously published, is undoubtedly a cosmic disappointment, the kind of impossible impediment that Hannah’s characters might shake their heads over. But even if Hannah had not passed away, it’s clear he was due for a good anthologizing, and Long, Lost, Happy is a beaut.
When The New York Times eulogized Hannah, it claimed his essential writing could be found in his story collections, but left his first book, Airships, off that list. But I’ll place “Water Liars”—about a man jealous of his wife’s previous lovers who finds reluctant solace among some good ol’ boys—or “Testimony of Pilot”—impossible to summarize between em dashes—up against any of the latter greats. But listen: They’re all great. Hannah writes stories about characters newly recognizing their own vulnerabilities and figuring out how to embrace them. There’s a whole lot of lovelorn Southern boys doing themselves no favors. But if you turn to literature to tell you a good story, that has something to say about the human heart, and that surprises you with language’s beauty and, well, surprises, Hannah is your writer. And this book contains a lot of his work, even if it’s never enough.