March 29, 2013

I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay

There are two main reasons why I get hold of a book and read it. One, because of a recommendation by someone. Two, the title is catchy. In the case of William Gay's I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, it was the latter.

I've never heard of William Gay nor any of his work. But when I saw the book's title, it piqued my interest and I had to check it out. Good thing I did because it turned out to be an enjoyable read. I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down is a collection of thirteen short stories. These stories are categorized as Southern Lit (stories about the American south). Gay writes in the language of the south so if you're familiar with it, you'll end up reading the prose with the Southern accent at the back of your head.

Here are my thoughts on each one of them.

I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down – The first story in the collection, this tells the tale of an aging man running away from a nursing home and returning to his farm only to find out that his house is being occupied by a family of three. Thus starts a series of events that include the shooting of a man, the strangling of a dog, a visit to a taxidermist and an unintentional self-immolation with fire. Really good stuff. Meecham, the old man in the story reminds me of Clint Eastwood's character in the film Gran Torino. Tough, gritty, not one to back down from anybody.

This was also adapted into a film starring Hal Holbrook and Ray McKinnon. Click here to watch the official trailer. Below's the poster:
A Death in the Woods – Here's an excerpt from this story that cut me a bit: “Yet she'd always been a person of silences, of dark places that you couldn't see into. He would have liked to see the world through the eyes she saw it with, but her vision of it seemed posted off-limits, no trespassing.” If I am to write an autobiography, that's exactly how I'm going to describe myself. At the center of this story is the discovery of a dead man in the woods near a married couple's house. The death was ruled a suicide from the onset but you will be left guessing as to why he did it in that particular patch of property. In a sense, this is a love story. A dark love story. You won't know the circumstances around it but it's a very interesting one nonetheless.

Bonedaddy, Quincy Nell, and the Fifteen Thousand BTU Electric Chair – This started out as a comedy and ended up in tragedy. It's town chick magnet versus a young beauty named Quincy Nell. In between them is an air conditioner. A lot of the events in this story defy logic but who cares about logic if you are enjoying the read? Bonedaddy, the lead character in the story sweeps a young girl off her feet, thinking he could just dump her the way he did with all the others. He was wrong. Very wrong. People have tipping points. When they are pushed to the limits, they will do things that you won't expect they would do in a million years. This story is a perfect example of that tipping point being reached.

The Paperhanger – This is a dark story. If it got any darker, it would be a horror story. It's one of those whodunit tales where a crime happens in the beginning of the story and the rest plays out trying to give clues as to what happened and who did it. What's interesting about this particular story is that even though the real culprit was divulged at the end, you don't know why he did it. Is he a serial killer? A man driving through a road of revenge? A ghost? We get a bit of backstory of the man but there's nothing in it to explain why he did what he did.

The Man Who Knew Dylan – The Dylan in the title of the story is a shoutout to the one and only Bob Dylan. But the famous singer has no real significance in the story. This story is basically the journey of a man, a girl and a thousand-dollar television set. Man goes to girl's home to get the TV. Girl presents government checks. They drive to town to encash the checks. And one thing just led to another. In the background is a dead man with a hole in his neck and stuffed in a freezer along with bags of green beans.

Those Deep Elm Brown's Ferry Blues – At the center of this story is Scribner, a man suffering from Alzheimer's. He's a man unsure whether he burned another man to death 25 years ago. Sympathetic to people afflicted with Alzheimer's, this tale gives you a first-person view of how sufferers of the disease live their lives. Scribner's antics come off as comical but they're all serious once you pause a moment and try to digest what they mean. Scribner flirts with a nurse saying “I'm still a pistol yet, and cocked to go off anytime. You ought to go a round with me.” In other times, he's throwing peas all over the living room and feeding prescription pills to chickens shouting “Get em while they're hot. These high-powered vitamins'll have you sailin like hawks and singin like mockinbirds.”

Crossroads Blues – Love. How far would you go to get back to a wife who just quit and ran away from you? Would you go after her and try to win her back? Or decide that the only way to go is to drive your car off the road or cut that pulsating vein in your left hand with a pen knife? Karas decided that his solution is the latter. He was unsuccessful however and this made him try one last hurrah to get his wife back. It didn't turn up to be the fairy tale he was wishing for.

Closure and Roadkill on the Life's Highway – Raymer is heart broken. His wife Corrie left him and shacked with a red-haired guitarist in a country band. Every single day of his miserable life, he keeps thinking of his ex-wife. And then an old man comes along and tells him a story of how he hid a huge glass jar full of money in a cave along the Tennessee River. Raymer thought this money could be his ticket to winning back Corrie. But he did the very opposite after learning that all Corrie ever cared about

Sugarbaby – Finis and Doneita, a couple who had been happily married for thirty years have everything going for them. Their two daughters have grown and married and living lives of their own. Then Doneita buys a dog she named Sugarbaby which Finis then shot with a magnum, blowing it off the porch of their house. The dog was yipping and yapping every night, robbing Finis of sleep. So Finis shot it dead with a magnum. “Goddamn you, Sugarbaby.” he said. Another tragic story of an old man going out of this world with a method of his choosing, albeit this method was a result of the circumstances caused by the idiotic actions of the people around him.
Standing by Peaceful Waters – Probably the saddest story in the bunch. Here we have a man named Bender, his wife Lynn and their young kid Jesse living in a house soon to be engulfed under water because there's a government dam being built around their farm. Bender is trying to hold out for as long as he can, hoping for a miracle that the government will just abandon the dam project. An argument with his wife Lynn turned everything for the worse. It turns out they have bigger problems than their house being under a hundred feet of water.

Good 'Til Now – I didn't particularly like this story but it's still worth a read. It's about a married woman having an affair with an artist/poet/musician.

The Lightpainter – At last, a family story wherein no old man's toting a gun or getting himself killed. The Lightpainter is about a family of three's rocky relationship with a young woman they welcomed to live in their home and considered to be one of their own. Sad circumstances caused the young woman to live through a path considered by society as filthy, bad and unacceptable. And the only one who seems to understand her plight is her foster father whom she kissed one night when she was just sixteen years old.

My Hand Is Just Fine Where It Is – I'm glad this is the last story in the collection because I didn't quite get it. I read it twice just to make sure I understood the whole thing but some bits still didn't make sense at all. The good writing and language is still there though so it's still worth reading.

In a nutshell, I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down is a great collection of stories. If short prose is your thing, this is a must-read.

Other works by Gay that you might want to check out are the novels Provinces of Night and The Long Haul. I haven't read these novels (although I intend to), so I can't comment on them.

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  1. I'd probably indulge my liking for the Southern accent when I read this.

    1. If you like anything related to the American South, you will surely love the book. :)