Scott McClanahan Says Don’t Fuck Around Near a Table Saw by Lavinia Ludlow

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, July 28th, 2014

A teen stripper amputee emerges ... with a pasty on the end of her “nub”

Scott McClanahan review nailed magazine
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Scott McClanahan: The Collected Works Volume I contains dysfunctional all-American tales that I plan to tell my future offspring or any kids I have to babysit, with the intent of scaring them straight. Among a few anecdotal lessons:

Don’t be cruel to animals.

Don’t fuck around near a table saw.

Don’t give in to peer pressure and come to school dressed like a baby doll.

Don’t feel sorry for a mooch even if he’s telling you he’s had a hard time because it’s you who will be had…

McClanahan presents well-rounded, evocative stories in mere paragraphs, and at times, in just a few sentences, and they often evoke a “you can’t make this shit up” reaction. Darkly humorous and simplistically written, I can imagine McClanahan one day gathering his grandkids around the fire and asking, “Who wants to hear a story about a bologna sandwich or the time I had a religious experience as I passed a kidney stone?” The assortment of flash narratives never tires, from the laugh out loud stories like The Chainsaw Guy, wherein the narrator sees a guy riding a bike and carrying a running chainsaw, and has a fleeting existential moment:

“I knew there was something about him that meant something, and if I ever found out what it was—then maybe I’d finally know the meaning of my life.”

to the darker stories about drug addicts, suicide fever, animal cruelty, and crippling loneliness. In Phone Girl, a young man indulges a crank caller and admits that he’s so lonely, that he doesn’t want to kill the fly buzzing around in his apartment. In The Prettiest Girl in Texas, a young boy’s uncle takes him to a strip club under the auspices that they were going to see “the prettiest girl in Texas.” A teen stripper amputee emerges from the curtains with a pasty on the end of her “nub” for an arm, and she captivates every pair of eyes in the small town’s strip joint, even if just for a moment.

“There was sadness in everybody’s face—the little girl sitting on the pinball machine, the old woman who served the beer, the girl who was dancing with the fucked up eyes. They sat and watched her and they all looked so sad and missing something, all of them except for the prettiest girl in Texas. She just took her sock and twirled it above her head. And then she pointed her arm at us and wiggled it around and round in little circles like she was trying to hypnotize us and tell us that we were the ones who were naked.”

Then there are stories that dabble in the absurd, like in The Last Time I stole Walt Whitman’s Sole, where a man is so distraught over his inability to visit a historic Walt Whitman site that he believes jacking a copy of Leaves of Grass from the local Walt Whitman-named mall could fill his void.

In The Couple, Scott takes a girl on a first date to Pipestem State Park, and admits along the way that he’s too poor to buy her dinner, unless it was the Pizza Hut lunch buffet. At the park, he and the girl see a middle-aged man and a young woman’s picnic of pizza and soda trumped when the dude’s wife, kids, and male in-laws swing out of the bushes. The wife screams obscenities like “You cheating motherfucker” while his in-laws beat the shit out of him in front of his kids. Rather than interfere or ditch the scene, Scott and his date pillage the uneaten picnic like vultures, gorge on pizza, and passively watch the drama unfold:

“I sat and ate their pizza and we drank their pop…because this wasn’t our life being destroyed.”

Reading the collection from start to finish kicked the literary shit out of me. That’s what McClanahan’s writing does; he has an effective and laconic way of inducing an emotional ass-kicking in a hundred pages of life lessons, tragedy, and heart-wrenching strife. Sure, I shook my head more than once in a this-is-some-crazy-ass-shit kind of way, but his stories never veer from the central themes like tragedy and lost innocence. No matter what age or demographic, everyone seems like naïve and impressionable little kids, experiencing harsh reality for the very first time.

Everyone assumes that being a prepubescent teen sucks, but I’d tell them to try being an adult man in West Virginia among a population of deeply flawed individuals who exhibit outlandish and maladjusted reactions. Obscure but fascinating, Scott McClanahan: The Collected Works Volume I left me ruminating over our society’s ethics, humanity, and [lack of] emotional intelligence. My only follow-up request of McClanahan is: shoot me a line when that car comes gunning after me?

Available through Lazy Fascist Press.

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lavinia ludlow Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press Reviews, American Book Review, and The Next Best Book Blog.

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).