2013 Book #42: Facing the Music

larrybrownLarry Brown has been on my radar for a few months, thanks to my friend Jacob, who clued me into a Youtube preview of a documentary about him. I was intrigued: Here’s this guy from the sticks of Mississippi, a firefighter, who sits down one day and decides to become a writer. He claims a room in his house, pulls out a typewriter, and does just that. He writes and writes and writes, then sends off stories that aren’t accepted anywhere, then continues to write until they are. Here’s the video:

The DVD itself is pretty hard to find. I ordered through my library’s ILL system, then invited Jacob over to watch it. It’s a great documentary, though they have dramatizations of a few of his stories that go on way too long.

Anyway. Facing the Music is a collection of ten stories, most of which are fantastic. The only one I didn’t like was “The Rich,” about a travel agent booking vacations for rich people. My favorite, I think, is “Julie: A Memory,” which tells multiple stories at once, sentence by sentence, about a rape and teenage love. “Boy and Dog” is another good one (it’s dramatized in the documentary), about a boy who sees his dog run over. What happens is shocking. The story is especially interesting because, like “Julie: A Memory,” it’s experimental: it looks like a poem, one sentence a line, with five words in each sentence.

The kid got his dog.
The dog was messed up.
One of his eyes protruded.
Tire tracks were on him.
He was starting to stiffen.
All right then young man.
I’ll put these Doritos up.
She didn’t hear him yelling.
He couldn’t yell very loud.

And so on. It’s a great story. So are the rest of them.

I’m not sure whether I’m more interested in Brown’s writing or his life. He seems like such an unlikely candidate for much of a reader, let alone a fantastic writer. Part of the documentary is filmed in their kitchen, his wife, with her strong Mississippi accent, talking about all the time he’d spend in bars while other family members mill about, drinking beer. Part is also filmed outside, Brown and his wife sitting on lawn furniture, Brown holding an old plastic gas station cup and talking about the dog. It’s fascinating.

I guess my recommendation, here, is to watch the documentary if you can get your hands on it. His writing is great, but having an idea of who he was makes it even better. (Yes, was.) This collection is all I’ve read of him, but I’ll probably pick up one of his novels sometime soon.

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