IN AN INTERVIEW he gave two books ago, Barry Hannah explained why his novel, Ray, had been cut from 400 pages to a short book in which short scenes "hit your mind and are gone." He wanted a "pageturner" not dependent on serial events and meant plot to be viewed in its many facets rather than accumulated in a sequence. Since then he has been using his cinematic techniques in writing movie scripts.
In Captain Maximus, seven stories and a narrated screen treatment, the same techniques remain skillfully at work, often more abbreviated than ever, though what hits the reader's mind is apt to become imbedded there.
"Idaho" (set, naturally, mostly in Montana) is called a story but feels like a meditation on Hannah's actual meeting with thelate poet Richard Hugo. At Hugo's memorial service, a grieving friend tells an anecdote about a man facing the impossible task of singlehandedly moving a 125,000-ton boat out of a dock. All day he stared and stared before, late in the day, pushing the barge into the harbor with his back and legs alone, which is "what Dick did with his education and his poetry," the man adds, weeping. The fictionalized (?) incident recalls Hugo's own words about writing: "Maybe a poem," he told an interviewer, "will locate one more friend or even one more self before the ocean opens forever to nothing."
In Hannah reality is strange; stories are true; energy is all.
If his fiction makes you want to read more Hugo poetry and more Hannah fiction, it does so without ever nailing down the conclusions which would rob either's work of mystery. In "Even Greenland," one of the most candid stories, two competing writers are flying an F-14 in trouble at 75,000 feet; the high flier who ejects leaves the other to die and thus "win," by carrying his last original metaphor into posterity. "Getting Ready" is about a fisherman who throws back the huge sand shark caught in the surf on an ordinary Zebco rod and reel and is himself transformed.
SEVERAL STORIES, including the one about Maximus, are told from the viewpoint of a former drunk reviewing what he salvaged from those years when he was "raving with bad attitudes." Drunk Ned Maximus was blinded in one eye when stabbed with a fillet knife by a fake Indian named Billy Seven Fingers, who had been drinking Dr. Tichenors antiseptic. Ever since, on a black and chrome Triumph motorcycle, Maximus has been traveling and enacting four verbs: "ride, fly, penetrate, loiter." At a yellow country store where a pretty girl waits on the porch, he and its more regular loiterers see in her, with all their half-blinded visions, the extreme beauty Dante might have evoked had he grown up in Alexandria, Louisiana, and are lifted to mythology and epic reactions.
"Power and Light," subtitled an "Idea for Film," presents 40 pages of quick camera cuts among a cast of characters in Seattle ("builder of ships"), Washington ("most electrified state of the United States"). Most are women; many have ties to City Lights, the electric company. A mysterious Eurasian is mailing anonymous prophecies, signed Sweed Truitt, to some of them, especially Polly Buck, a power linewoman. The links between lives, the speedy changes and revelations held together by an obviously good-natured affection for women, kept me turning pages even when the serial events flew out of the plot as the bulldog does in the end, "like a white small fat angel." It would be pointless to paraphrase plot/theme in a story which is read the way energy pulsates, which comes with pleasure into the mind in the form of its title, as power and light.