Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


  Short Story Collection Review   

I Hate to See the Evening Sun Go Down
by William Gay
The Free Press, 2002
Hardcover, $24.00 (303 pages)
ISBN: 0-7432-4088-X

William Gay writes like a man possessed. His novels, The Long Home and Provinces of Night, knocked my socks off. Now, I Hate to See the Evening Sun Go Down, a collection of short stories, stacks emotion on top of emotion, welding love and hate and lust and love and down-in-the-dirt fighting as well as a sense of family and community into a tiny universe of connected people.

Sometimes he names characters the same thing, confusing the reader, so you wonder why this’n is doing such-and-such while the other’n was doing something else. Out of the whole bunch, the title story, originally published in The Georgia Review, impressed me more than the rest. 

Gay doesn’t bother with quotation marks around quotes, losing me sometimes before I know it’s words being said rather than thoughts being thought. Then I liked “Closure and Roadkill on the Life’s Highway,” wherein a construction worker named Raymer gets involved with an old man named Mayfield from Alabama who claims he hid a great deal of bootlegging money in a cave up in a cliff over the river. If you go looking for something like that, taking chances to get to the jackpot, where will it land you? How will you start to think? 

In his own way, William Gay is a profound philosopher. He puts his everyday characters into such situations that go directly to the heart of the matter.  Without spelling it out, with a barrage of beautiful language, sometimes to the point of becoming overly repetitious, he takes the reader to places never climbed, never thought about, and in doing creates a world in rural Tennessee that is both different from and just like all the places the reader has ever been. It is in the creation of this universe that William Gay becomes, like William Faulkner, the creator and the proprietor of his own tiny corner of the world. And it is in the delving into this corner that he hands the reader some fabulous experiences.

William Gay people are generally quiet, saying little, with deep emotions, like Pettijohn in “A Death in the Woods” passing “under great live oaks and cypresses and beeches with distended groping arms like gothic trees in a fairy-tale wood” or Bonedaddy in “Bonedaddy, Quincy Nell, and the 15,000 BTU Electric Chair” or Quincy Nell in the same story with “honeysuckle nights of eros. Whispers in the dark by the river.”

People do not simply live in William Gay stories, they linger in the hot breath of a sweaty afternoon, suffer through endless nights, gag on coffee while last night’s whiskey sits in the throat.

In “The Paperhanger,” the disappearance of a child tears away the fabric of a marriage that was not made in heaven. People rip at each other. In typical William Gay fashion, sending chillbumps over the reader’s arms, he describes: “The weight of moonlight tracking across the paperhanger’s face awoke him from where he took his rest.” And after the last word of the story has been read, the chill tingles, alive and smothering. 

That is the way it is in a William Gay short story. They are unusual. They have a definite rhythm. They sing with truth and beauty. And they linger, the words, the images, the haunting incidents morose and marvelous, the inevitability of violence and its hangover pangs, and the color of night, like an Irish poet’s dream, rolls into itself, the author’s words alive on the page.


Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

© 2002, Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved