Stories V! is a Collection of Stories About Stories by a Born Storyteller

23 Jun

I just saw Scott McClanahan read for the second time a few weeks ago in Baltimore, and I’m about to see him read for a third time this upcoming Sunday. He is without a doubt my favorite writer to listen to.  In Baltimore he wore a white summer suit and looked a little like one of those traveling preachers, the kind that used to put up their tents all over small towns in the South and the Midwest. He sang and chanted and even danced a little, and wove the audience into a vast silent spell, just like those preachers used to do. Watching him read is like watching a magic spell unfold. You have to hold your breath, terrified that if you make a sound you’ll break the spell and send the audience crashing back through the doors of reality.

All this is to say that Scott McClanahan, maybe more than any other writer I can think of, truly deserves the moniker of storyteller. He is a consummate teller of tales, both on the page and on the stage, and Stories V!, like his other Stories collections, is full of tales, full of a storyteller’s stories.  Stories V! is not just full of stories; it is about stories. It is about the stories people tell about others, themselves, the world–call it tall tales, call it believing, as McClanahan opens the book by asking us to do, as if we were small children again at our mom or daddy or grandaddy’s knee, pressing our ear to the air to absorb more tellings. McClanahan’s characters are always learning it’s a thin line between stories and lies. Disillusion is a common theme in nearly every story in the collection: that point as a kid or a teenager where for the first time the thin veneer of the world cracks open and you see the rot, the empty, the malice. The disgust and then you wonder why you bother.

But here’s the magical part. McClanahan is clearly a little bit of a secret optimist, or a least not quite a pessimist, and he can see the beauty behind that rot and emptiness. Which is why he’ll tell a story that gives the ugly to you straight, end it–and then, he’ll start again, reassure you that the story didn’t end there after all. In fact, he seems to be saying, the story’s never really ending, never really over. We are the story, the long long string of stories that get told as we navigate our strange little lives. Stories V! is really one big tale about disappointment in ourselves and in each other, but also about the love we choose to share despite that disappointment. Despite our own and constant, tragic human imperfections.

The saddest part of Stories V! is, of course, the Farewell at the end.  I guess it means for now their won’t be any more Stories collections–but it certainly can’t mean, for McClanahan, that there won’t be anymore stories. I imagine a born storyteller has no choice but to get up there, on the page or in person, and spin a yarn a mile long but tight enough to trap us, to net us till we lose ourselves inside the story, inside the sentences that add up to the telling.

5 Responses to “Stories V! is a Collection of Stories About Stories by a Born Storyteller”

  1. herocious June 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    It would be great to see him read live. Soon to be 3 times in such a short span for you. Incredible.

    • Amber Sparks June 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      I know, right? I feel very lucky.

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Steve Himmer June 24, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    510 in Baltimore was the first time I’d heard him read, and man was that impressive. Definitely one of the best readers I’ve seen—heavy on performance, but in a way that felt totally organic and honest and thoughtful, so how he read was entirely in sync with what he read. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the stories themselves are so damn good.

    • Amber Sparks June 24, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      Yes to all of this. It never feels “performy,” and I believe (though I’m not sure) that a lot of it is improv, so as organic as you get.


  1. Indie Lit Classics: Every Good Thing We Have Ever Said About Scott McClanahan | Vouched Books - November 7, 2013

    […] One more thing about Stories V! […]

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