- Reviewed by
These nine essays plus an interview offer wide-ranging, revisionary, and innovative readings of Barry Hannah’s thirteen books written during his thirty-five-year career. Bone has done a model job of editing the Perspectives collection by facilitating critical readings among the essayists so that the essays often refer to one another. Bone provides a clear introduction stating the collection’s objectives and suggesting comparisons and contrasts among the essays. The book concludes with a name/title index. The index and the essays’ titles will make the collection especially usable for research on individual texts, but reading the whole volume will be a greater benefit than reading single essays, for the book is arranged to show the development, motifs, style, and experimentation of the extensive Hannah oeuvre. The intertextuality of his thirteen books, the interviews, the cultural contexts, and the critical analyses are evident and instructive when the book is read in its entirety.
Perspectives on Barry Hannah is only the third book solely focused on Hannah’s work; the others are Mark J. Charney’s 1992 Twayne edition Barry Hannah and Ruth Weston’s 1998 monograph Barry Hannah: Postmodern Romantic that is usefully cited by nearly all of the essayists. One of the refreshing aspects of this critical collection of essays is the willingness of the writers to challenge previous readings as narrow or off the mark. In this endeavor, the essayists boldly argue with Fred Hobson (see 86–87, 109), Mark Charney (see 117), and New York Times Book Reviewer Janet Kaye (see 124). Among the scholars in Perspectives are ones who have revised conference presentations and/or essays published in the 2001 Mississippi Quarterly special issue on Hannah edited by Weston. They have read one another’s essays and give here ample evidence of having engaged in and benefited from one another’s perspectives. All of the [End Page 435] scholars state clearly their intentions, presenting the Hannah texts in a manner such that readers need not be intimately familiar with each novel or story in order to gain from the arguments set forth. Bone has arranged the essays in chronological order of the Hannah texts. The collection closes with Daniel E. Williams’s 2005 interview with Hannah in which he discusses his current novel project; I found it useful to read the interview before reading the essays so that I heard Hannah’s voice in confluence with those of his characters and the scholars.
Among the most interesting essays to this reviewer were those that reinvigorate the classic Geronimo Rex and reintroduce High Lone-some and Nightwatchman. Kenneth Millard opens the collection with “The Cultural Value of Metafiction: Geronimo Rex and High Lonesome,” presenting ways in which Hannah’s characters are “almost always aware of the transformative potential of art, provided it is an art that is authentic and original” (14); both performance and speech acts have the purpose of authenticating identity. Millard’s examination would benefit from more consideration of the connections between the coming-of-age novel and the performative power of storytelling and self-narration in the High Lonesome stories. Richard E. Lee’s essay “Off with Their Heads! Nightwatchmen, Campus Novels, and the Problem of Representation” situates Hannah’s 1973 out-of-print novel among the considerable genre of academic novels and makes a convincing argument for bringing Nightwatchmen back into print so that it can rightly gain a new and larger audience among readers and critics. Nightwatchmen, Lee argues, “is a prescient and signal example of how fictional attempts to capture the ‘reality’ of academic life have often been characterized and compromised by a broader concern with the problem of representation itself” (31). Lee performs a close reading of the iconic, symbolic, and indexical representations in Nightwatchman. An alternative argument is presented in the last essay of the book in which Scott Romine provides a cogent theoretical reading of Yonder Stands Your Orphan as a novel in which reality is displaced by capitalism. In “Orphans All: Reality Homesickness in Yonder Stands Your Orphan,” Romine reads Hannah’s...