Stories V! by Scott McClanahan

Amy Herschleb


Scott McClanahan is holding your hand. Scott McClanahan is singing a spiritual, doing a jig, telling a story, and turning a can of tomato soup into a can of chicken soup. The condensed kind. He is showing you the story then turning it inside out and showing you that it is exactly the same thing on the inside, only moreso. On the inside of the black bear there are a lot more bits of black bear. Inside the sock is the interior sock and a bunch of rocks. Scott McClanahan put them there.

The initial feeling of holding Stories V! in your hands is one of shame, if I understand feelings correctly––the reclining lingerie-clad model promising something salacious that can only be read under the sheets. Little wonder I spent most of the time I set aside for writing a review of Stories V! masturbating.

The same shame and honesty reside inside the bear. And if there’s light in there it comes in through the gaping wounds left by decapitation, cat fights, a glock, a lie his mother told. I’m not going to tell you it’s a book that paints a bleak picture of humanity, that uncovers our (because we are all implicated) racism, our hypocrisy, our weakness, our self-obsession. I’m not going to tell you which stories made me cry, because we’re all just people and these things happen.

McClanahan does not remind me of a bear. He has the same incantatory charisma of Buddy Winkler1, similar suits, similar furrowing of the brow, a true believer, of what? magic? of our need to be loved at all costs? His refrains are simple ones: “do you believe me?” “Please believe me.” “I love you.” His power is less in the language of his stories than in their telling. This is what I want you to believe: whether you are reading Stories V! alone or in company, in a comfy chair or on the bus, Scott McClanahan is holding your hand, sweating & earnest, recounting the anecdotes of his character, Scott McClanahan. Like a María Sabina spoken-word incantation, written down it looks less powerful than the delivery of such magic. “I STOLE IT,” he declares in “Nicky.” Whether it’s proper prose or not, I believe it is the way the story must be told.


 1 Fundamentalist preacher of Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs And All, 1990.

In “But There Is A Second Ending To Sex Tapes Too,” McClanahan abandons the story of shitty coincidence for an invitation. Specific instructions on how to find him (Scott McClanahan), who will be there, waiting for the ghost of his dead friend Ian and the ghost of his own life. Is it too far to take a reader––into the hills of West Virginia off Interstate 64 and up Harper Road? At the end of the book he introduces the character/portrait of Iris Grace McClanahan, a future ghost who haunts the book both in life and in the beyond, her image is the before-and-after-image of life. It’s a terrible thing to hold her in your hands, more terrible than to hold the lingerie-clad model of the cover, and gee, would you look at her! Somewhere the line that separates our lives from fiction, our humanity from inhumanity, gets erased and re-erased again. I don’t know what to tell you about Stories V!

They’re stories we’re not meant to hear.

They’re stories for ghosts.

They’re elegies for the dead and death-obsessed.

A fatalistic streak runs through McClanahan’s prose, everyone is gunning for rock-bottom, only to find their second chances in death or infamy. Lists of apologies butt up against unrepentant fuck-yous delivered against literary ghosts and the unforgiven, among whom Scott McClanahan (and I mean the character) knows he numbers. The only possible transformation that takes place is the leap into the imagination, the only savior of McClanahan’s rendition of the human condition: that we may imagine together that love and time are endless, that the baby in our arms is eternal, that the filth and depravity of our lives is precious evidence of our shared humanity. His deep ambivalence about people, the awareness of hypocrisy in the act of destroying Nicky, or in carrying on Billy’s jokes ("Dead Baby Jokes"), the way in which there are no second chances except in stories, acknowledging that we can only celebrate our weakness of character because it separates us from our fiction.


 Stories V! is available at Holler Presents.