Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lightning Bug - Donald Harington

Luddites can say what they want, but there's no way I would have encountered Donald Harington without my Kindle.  And what a loss that would have been.

Some people call him the best unknown American writer of his era (he started in the sixties and died in the noughties).  There are worse fates.  Anyhow, he will be appearing a lot in this blog because there are half-a-dozen novels in Volume 1 alone, and I shall be reading the lot.

To begin at the beginning...  Well not quite the beginning...  There was another novel, a first novel, The Cherry Pit (1965) which sits outside his main canon and is the reason this collection is called The Nearly Complete Works.  Everything else, from Lightning Bug (1970) to Enduring (2009) is set in the fictional Arkansas hamlet of Stay More in the Ozark Mountains.  The people are simple folk who live a simple life - but who have rich and imaginative inner lives.  And Harington shares those lives with us in radical ways.  He starts and ends Lightning Bug like a film script; he slips from past to narrative present (actually 1939); he takes us into their fantasies; he uses tenses like nobody else I have ever read.  And because he is not showing off, because he is so immersed in the truth of his characters, his tricks only enhance the reader's experience.

The titular bug is Latha Bourne, postmistress and sexual siren of Stay More, knocking forty.  Like a real lightning bug Harington tells us, she flashes to attract a mate then changes her mind when a better prospect wanders into view.  She is a woman with a past, which Harington gradually reveals.  The mountain folk would supposedly be scandalised by her secrets but they only make us, the reader, love her more.  The contending beaux in this episode are Every Dill, her childhood sweetheart, a rapscallion, army deserter, pretend rapist and suspected bank robber turned revivalist preacher, and Dolph Rivett, a farmer from another settlement a ways off.  But the real love of her Latha's life, Harington tells us, is four-year-old 'Dawnie', actually Harington himself, which completes the illusion of actuality.

A truly wonderous book.  Can't wait to read the next instalment, Some Other Place, The Right Place.

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