Ahead of Odie Lindsey’s visit to BookPeople next week, our Events Coordinator Lindsey reviewed his short story collection. We hope you’ll join us Thursday night to hear him in conversation with local author John Pipkin.
I have always delighted in the southern story: the quiet grotesqueness of Breece D’J Pancake’s West Virginia, the dark edges of Eudora Welty’s Mississippi. As a southern writer myself, I gravitate toward reading fiction of landscapes and voices I recognize. I gravitate toward sprawling tobacco fields, wirey pines, and the long drawl of vowels in speech. But, as with all fiction, I delight also in feeling surprised, whether that be by turn-of-phrase, or by the eccentricity of a character. Flannery O’ Connor, another favorite of mine, believed there were two qualities that make for memorable fiction: mystery and manners. There is no lacking of manners in the South, she believed, whether they be good or bad. “We in the South live in a society that is rich in contradiction, rich in irony, rich on contrast, and particularly rich in its speech.” (O’Connor)
After just a few minutes of reading Odie Lindsey’s stunning short story collection, We Come To Our Senses, I was taken aback by the richness of mystery and manners in this debut. Lindsey’s stories are, as Flannery O’ Connor would probably put it “rich in contradiction”. The loneliness in these stories is so tactile you could carry it in your hands, but the language is beautiful, lyric, and, at times, hauntingly heartfelt. In these stories, the narrators have returned from war or, in some stories, are days away from leaving for it. They do what they can to order coffee at McDonalds, to enjoy themselves at music halls, to hold relationships with their loved ones, but war hangs heavy on their minds. In the story “So Bored in Nashville”, Lindsey writes of friendship: “We are all chasing better narratives…yet he does not seem to care about my military aptitude score, of the fallout with my job, or about what happened with her, how she never even called me back to tell me goodbye, or about my need to prove to her and my dad and my boss and everyone that I am worth something. That I am a Man from the South.” In this moment, and many others like it in We Come To Our Senses, Lindsey captures the complicated nature of war culture: the obligation of war and the traumatic homecoming to small, southern towns.
In another story, one of my favorites called “Darla”, we experience what must be one of the many “difficult, complicated truths” Lindsey sought to include in these stories. In “Darla”, we can assume the narrator is back home after a time at war, and is rebuilding his relationship with his partner, Darla. Their relationship is quietly deteriorating, and this deterioration has amplified in the narrator’s time away. What do I say about this story other than I loved it because it is deeply sad? I loved this story because somehow the characters love one another in the face of post-war. I loved this story because of the difficult, complicated truth that sometimes love is not enough. Lindsey writes: “An hour of so later, back on the couch, Darla said we didn’t have that much romance left in us. In response I said, I love you Dar, over and over, which is all I could think to say. I love you. But, I love you. Gosh I love you. How I love you. It felt like scooping water with a rake.”
I have to admit that I first gravitated toward this book of short stories after learning that Odie Lindsey was a student of Barry Hannah’s, who I love. I’ve read in interviews that Barry Hannah is a real hardass, the kind of writing mentor that would tell you if your fiction wasn’t trying hard enough or if it was just plain bad. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Lindsey recounts that he knew his work finally spoke to Barry when he told Lindsey he was “on to something” and gave him his black leather jacket. The honesty and poetry in these stories lead me to believe that if Barry Hannah were here today, he might change his tune just a bit. In his Mississippi drawl, I imagine him saying: “These stories ARE something.”
Odie Lindsey’s voice is one I’ve been missing in my reading life for a long while, though, I couldn’t have known that until I knew it. I look forward to the novel that follows, and, of course, our event with him here at BookPeople on August 10th at 7PM! We hope to see you there!