Tuesday, March 10, 2009

William Gay, "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" (2002).

I wonder. How many times will I have to write a review of a William Gay book before everyone that reads this blog will run out and get one for themselves? This is an essential question because there is a particular imminence to my recommendation. Gay is still alive. How many times have you thought to yourself that you'd like to find a classic American author while he/she is still alive? You have that chance right now. Get in your car (or on your bike) and go to whatever local book store has the largest selection of lamentably obscure fiction. Now buy anything they have by William Gay. He is a living master. And he's about 66 years old. Go give him some of your hard-earned cash while he is still alive, because he won't last forever.

As for me, I'll patiently await the release of his next novel- The Lost Country. I have no other choice, since I've read virtually everything else that Gay has published in book form. Likely there is a treasure trove of unedited work lying somewhere that has never seen the light of day. That stuff can trickle out posthumously. For now I just want Gay to be as prolific as possible. I tried to save something for a rainy day, but I just couldn't. I had to read it sooner rather than later. Today I've finished I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, an amazingly well-crafted collection of stories that I'm certain will linger in my subconsciousness for a long time. It is constructed with a detailed hand that manages to wend its way into the substrata of my imagination.

In fact Gay writes with such a deft touch that I'm just a little bit scared when I read his stuff. I'm afraid that the events and themes that he writes about will slip off the page and began to manifest themselves in my life. That's the type of power and force that I attribute to the experience of reading his words. He manages to meticulously capture a sense of foreboding inevitability that is at once shocking and believable. There have been numerous times when I was reading his tales when I stopped short in the middle of a paragraph, at once divining what was to happen to one of Gay's characters. It's a heartrending experience, but there is nothing to be done but continue with the thread.

This specific collection underscores one of Gay's repeating obsessions- the idea that there are certain doors that, once opened and traveled through, cease to function as portals forever after. There are actions that entail such severe consequences that they permanently alter a life's trajectory. These form a "before" and "after" that define personal eras. As we watch a protagonist drift toward a certain decision, we become aware of the vicissitudes of fate. These people may know less than the reader, but at a cellular level they seem to realize exactly what they are heading for. In the case of Gay's tales, these destinations are always transformational, and seldom for the better.

Whether it's a successfully married man of thirty years gunning down his wife's annoying lapdog or a straying spouse finally succumbing to the worst sort of temptation, we know that Gay's characters will pay a steep price for their lapses andindiscretions. I can only speculate as to the real-life lessons that William Gay has accumulated. His hardened features seem to betray a series of disappointments and tragedies that have become his inescapable companions. Maybe we are better off with his fictions. They serve, as often as not, as cautionary tales. Perhaps we will subsequently go off and make the same mistakes we've seen documented in his books, but at least we will have a better facility for imagining the worst case scenarios.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I imagine Mr. Gay would enjoy reading it himself.

I have Gay's "Twilight" on my shelf just waiting to be read. Of course, I have far more than a dozen other unread novels stockpiled along side of it. Between your reviews and those of books on my Amazon recommendations list, I'm sure I'll be set for years to come.

Some of my passion for reading more (novels), especially over the last ten years, I attribute to you. Looking back, I believe it was your recommendation of a certain Russo book that is still my favorite read that spurred my interest in fiction. For that, I thank you.

At the moment, I'm reading a Herbert Gold's novel, "Woman of Forty", which followed reading his memoir.


8:06 AM  
Blogger Theresa Williams said...

Enjoyed your review! I'm teaching this book this semester in my fiction workshop. The students really like it.

3:58 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thank you for taking the time to let me know, Theresa. If you have a chance, check out my new blog- "Crown of Appalachia".

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He is an incredible author and a very nice man. He came and spoke to our class at MTSU. He is very laid-back. I encourage everybody to buy his books as well; they are very good.

3:14 PM  

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