Scott McClanahan is the author of Stories, Stories II, Stories V!, The Complete Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1, and Crapalachia: Biography of a Place.
"You can tell McClanahan feels something when he writes and when he lives. He wants you to feel something too."
"If nothing else, his choices are deliberate. The man has purpose. This is his symphony, every note designed to resonate, to linger.”
Some people might be a little startled to pick up a book and find a first sentence that reads: "I used to hit myself in the face." However, Hill William wasn't my first experience with Scott McClanahan. Familiar with at least the gritty and quietly intense Crapalachia and Stories V! out of the McClanahan canon, I was somewhat prepared. Of course, that's still a hell of a hook line. No one can ignore that.
In brief, Hill William presents a main character who is pretty messed up:
I couldn't get rid of the sick feeling in my stomach. I couldn't get rid of the tightness in my shoulders like my head was going to pop off. And then it started playing in my head — the bad memories, the old bad memories. I made a fist. I took my fist and punched myself right in front of her. She shrieked and followed me into the bathroom.
She cried and said, "You need help baby. You just need to talk to somebody. You're kind of fucked up."
She said kind of to soften the blow. But I kept doing it—pop, pop. I fell to the floor. She screamed. I did it with the left hand. She screamed. I did it with the right hand. She screamed. Stop it. Stop it.
After McClanahan has his screwed up character solidly in our hands, the reader completely on board, the book descends into the character's past. We proceed headlong into "the old bad memories." What kind of experiences makes a person unable to help from mutilating themselves? What exactly happened that plays back like that in his head? Don't worry, McClanahan quickly provides.
I just wanted to be cool. Derrick was a lot older than I was (like fifteen), and I thought he was the coolest. I was nine. He was always shooting guns, or sighting in his bow, or chewing tobacco, or talking about how he was going to kick some guy's ass. I was six years younger and I always followed him around. One day he asked me to come and play Atari Pitfall with him. It wasn't fifteen minutes into being there that he disappeared into his mom and dad's bedroom. It seemed like he was gone for a long time, but I just kept playing and didn't really think anything about it until I got killed or something.
I heard Derrick saying, "Hey. Come back here. I want to show you something."
The prose is quiet. McClanahan just lays it out there. For a character who spends a great deal of time in worry and fear, there isn't anything in the words to discernibly manipulate what the reader is going to feel from a given scene. There is a kind of bare poetry to the way the words are arranged, but it just is what it is. The writing comes across with such a this is what happened kind of tone that you almost start to feel before you quite realize what you just read. Frankly, it is so straightforward that you don't see it coming. Then it hits you.
There is some real power in this book. It moves, and it moves mountains. It's all the more impressive because McClanahan makes the movement seem effortless. If you can see the man behind the curtain as you read then you have better eyesight than I do. I just sat back and appreciated.
Though the subject matter certainly isn't pleasant, my reading experience actually was. I enjoyed Hill William. McClanahan vividly brings "the old bad memories" forth, but the reader won't be traumatized by them and start hitting themselves in the face. To the contrary, I think Hill William is a book people will be glad to read. I sure was.