I just finished reading Scott McClanahan’s new collection, Stories 2. This is the kind of book that gets me amped. Well, there are a lot of books of all different styles that get me amped. But, you know.
McClanahan’s stories are descendents of Bukowski. The character “Scott McClanahan” is maybe Chianski’s cousin, stuck back in West Virginia, making it through the day, every day and more. But where Chianski was boozing and looking for women and bitching and doing it all again, McClanahan is looking at the people around him. He’s surveying the small town, and the lives within it. He’s sizing up loneliness and he’s not trying to break it, he’s trying to expose it. He’s opening that loneliness up and sucking everyone who reads his accounts right in there with the rest of West Virginia.
He’s not looking for the grandeur or the escape, he’s saying “this is where I am, this is life” and he’s inviting everyone to share the little that is there. Like a destitute household opening its doors to a stranger and inviting them to share their meager dinner. It’s beautiful and it’s sad and it’s alive and real. And it makes my heart beat change just a little bit with each story’s end.
From “Kidney Stones,” the opening story about a man passing a kidney stone in a gas station bathroom (not unlike the gas station bathroom I used to have to clean at the end of my shifts pumping gas and changing oil), to “The Prisoners” where Scott McClanahan volunteers to teach writing in a prison, the writer McClanahan uses his character of the same name to observe all the pain, all the little joys or routines or habits of the people he comes in contact with. He is our guide to a world that breaks your heart because it makes you remember how real life is.
Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.