Mayhem at the Opry
Posted August 12, 2007on:
(Doesn’t that sound like the kind of title a print review would get?)
I finally got around to one of my Soft Skull books: Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack. (Wicked cover, btw. Wicked.) It turns out he’s Canadian and this book, at least, was released by ECW press on this side of the border. I had soooo much fun with the tiny novel, at 112 pages, which proved a quick read on a past Sunday morning. The writing style was something to get used to. I’ve recently read a few novels with fragmentary prose but McCormack’s went way beyond previous examples. When he’s not doing dialogue for which (almost) complete sentences are more necessary, his sentences often shrink to two or three words. He grabs at particular items in a scene and, it seems haphazardly but isn’t, drops them on to the page.The puzzle-like workings of his prose contribute to the story’s humour.
And it is funny and silly — at first anyway. Hank is a an aspiring Opry singer, happily married to Audrey, his stylist. On a shirt shopping trip a bat crashes into his head; dazed he looks around and notices a flashy store front of a Mr. Nudie, vampire and fabulous carnival courtourier. (The vampire bit is not disclosed, of course.)
Fabrics abound. Cottons the colours of comics. It’s like nowhere Hank’s been.
“I’m Nudie,” I say. I look not unlike Mandrake. Mandrake moustache. Mandrake suit. I bow. “Welcome to my atelier.”
Hank holds his head. “A tell you what?”
A few hours later (if that) and Nudie is made his stylist. It’s Mr. Nudie’s quick, sophisticated mind and word games — somehow McCormack makes him sound smooth and debonair though his quick, stingily brief sentences — partnered with Dr. Wertham’s sadistic “medical” techniques against ingenuous Hank, his wife and Earnest Tubb a competing Opry vet.
An odd effect, that adds to the adventure, is how ridiculous Nudie’s driven manipulations, all designed at getting to screw Hank (appropriate description, trust me), appear at first. Even when Dr. Wertham steps on to the scene with his alcohol rehab programme to cure Hank of a problem he didn’t have in the first place, or Nudie’s booby trapped lingerie gift for Audrey that results in accusations of VD transmission, I’m still chuckling while furrowing my eyebrows. It takes a sudden fall down a stairs and visible broken bones above skin for the silly tale of a vampire and his new Opry star to lose its humorous charm; you realise that the story’s horrific element has been there all along. It’s the more realistic horror of a violent psychopath only heightened by Mr. Nudie’s vampiric powers. As the story progresses everything about him becomes more sinister. It’s fun to return to the beginning to re-read scenes, once with innocent details, take on a more ominous undercurrent.
Haunted Hillbilly is precisely the sort of wickedly good story with which big publishers wouldn’t bother because they’d have no idea how to market it. Although this shows that it may have less to do with size. (Please click on that link, it’s hilarious.) Anyway I’m hooked now and already have McCormack’s Grab Bag lined up. (I say, it was real nice to read something by a Canadian that wasn’t a variation of an outcast living in the Canadian boonies. Woooowee.)