You know what Appalachian literature needs?
It needs more experimental prose, the kind that makes you cringe like you just saw blood gush. It needs more emotionally explosive writers who treat their books like they’re a form of primal therapy. Also, it needs more amputee strippers.
Lucky for us, Scott McClanahan is doing his best to fill all of these niches. His strange tales, which blur the line between fact and fiction, have filled three story collections so far, and now he’s releasing a new book.
This one is called Crapalachia: A Biography of A Place. Try not to be turned off by the snarky title. The work is based on his teen years in West Virginia, when he lived with his Grandma Ruby and Uncle Nathan, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Folks who’ve gotten advanced copies are glowing about it on Goodreads:
Hot damn this book is good. Like, really good. Really really good.
Reads like a leap forwards for McClanahan — and I was already very fond of what McClanahan was doing.
McClanahan’s writing is kind of groundbreaking. His characters are strange–a suicidal dog, an effete gay who believes you should be kind to everyone, and, yes, an amputee stripper. If Appalachian fiction has one too many wise backwoods grannies, you might say that McClanahan is balancing the scales, and he’s doing it in a stream of conscious, obscenity-laced style that is more 1970s West Village than 2010s West Virginia.
While Crapalachia doesn’t comes out until March 19, the smarties at Oxford American have stolen us a sneak peak. This is a feat, because the author has been vocal about his aversion to publishing outside his own books. In a recent interview, he told OA, “I feel like my stuff only works when it’s read up against another Scott McClanahan story. Always feels weird to me when you have a distinct voice here and another distinct voice there—like those compilation albums, That’s what I call Music 22!”
So reading a McClanahan story outside a McClanahan book is something rare. Whether you consider a it rare treat or not, well, that’s up to you.
I know you give a crapalachia about our region’s literature (sorry, couldn’t resist!), so I’m excited to hear what you think of the below excerpt. Is McClanahan’s style a welcome addition to the Appalachian canon or would you rather stick with the tried and true?
by Scott McClanahan
I was getting tired of playing checkers with Nathan. I even told him a couple of months earlier that I wasn’t going to play anymore because he was always beating me. But here I was playing checkers again for some reason.
I jumped one checker and then waited. He made a move and then I made another move. He made a move and pointed to the toy in front of his chair. It was a ceramic hog with these giant testicles hanging down in the back. There was a rubber frog and a plastic puppy and a small stuffed alligator, too, but he kept pointing at the hog balls. Then he pointed at his chest. I finally said, “Gosh, Nathan, I’m trying to figure out where I’m going to move my checker. I wish you’d quit pointing at the hawg nuts. This is part of the reason I don’t like playing.”
Then Nathan turned the hawg toward Ruby so she could see.
He pointed to the giant testicles and then to himself.
Ruby whispered “shit” beneath her breath and then, “Nathan, you quit talking filthy like that. Can’t believe you put that filthy stuff out there.”
Nathan laughed and pointed at the ceramic hawg and then back to himself, which meant: I got big hawg balls all right, Mother.
I made my move and he laughed again and pointed to the newspaper. Then he pointed to his finger. He was saying, I’m going to get me a woman out of the paper without a ring on her finger.
Then he spread his arms wide. I said, “Nathan you can’t place personal ads for a big fat woman. No woman would answer that.”
Nathan laughed and spread his arms real wide. Well if I’m going to get me a woman I want the biggest goddamn woman I can find. I want one so goddamn big I can’t even get my arms around her big ass. Ruby whispered “shit” beneath her breath and then he jumped my checker. He pointed to the newspaper again and then acted like he was writing. He was telling me that he was going to have me write to one after he beat me. Then I jumped one of his checkers and then another and then another.
I was winning. For the first time I was winning. “Maybe it was a good thing I took a couple of months off.”
I thought that it was because maybe he was bragging so much that he wasn’t paying attention. I jumped another checker and I said, “King me.” He kinged me. I started moving all over the checkerboard. He wasn’t even watching really.
My grandma told Nathan, “Well, you’re going to talk so much no one is going to believe what you say. It’s going to be just like Mary.”
THE STORY OF AUNT MARY
I never should have been on the ride. I begged but my aunt talked me into it. She was always saying, “When I was a size 2.” And then a few minutes later she said again, “When I was a size 2.” Then she would remind you later in the day. “Of course, I haven’t always been so big. I used to be size…” I knew all of this was a lie but I still got on the ride with her. I got on the ride and I sat on the right side of her. This was a mistake. The ride started up and my Aunt Mary was pulled by the G-forces to the right. I felt my hip bones rubbing together. My Aunt Mary was not a size 2 anymore. So therefore, I should warn everyone: If you’re ever at the West Virginia State Fair do not ride the Tunnel of Love with my Aunt Mary. I repeat. Do not ride the Tunnel of Love with my Aunt Mary.
YOU WILL REGRET IT!