Geronimo Rex by Barry Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
***This is a mature review not for the kiddos.***
“I knew she was too much woman for me, for one thing, and for another, no man could look on her without becoming a slobbering kind of rutting boar; she did not enchant you: she put you in heat.”
Now, really, truth be known any woman is too much woman for Harry Monroe. He grew up in Dream of Pines, Louisiana and decided to go to school at Hedermansever College in Mississippi mainly because the acceptance letters from Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Juilliard, somehow, never arrived. Hedermansever is a school where 30% of the students are studying theology. By this time I know Harry well enough to know that this college may not be the best fit for him. Monroe tried his hand at a number of things including pre-med and pharmacology, but finally settled on English because it was about the only thing that got him stirred up enough to actually retain something about what he was learning.
He was reading ”doubtful Christians like Joyce Cary, Aldous Huxley, and William Faulkner. You couldn’t get Henry Miller in Mississippi then, with which one masturbates feeling like an intellectual snob.”
Monroe is fixated on Geronimo and convinces himself that he is a reincarnated, pale faced version of that Apache killer. He starts carrying a gun and wearing a reptilian, long coat. He meets Patsy or Patsy meets him. She is enamored with a version of himself that doesn’t exist. He doesn’t really like her all that much, but decides that given the current state of affairs she might actually be persuaded to sleep with him.
It does not go well.
Monroe has recently blossomed and when he looks in the mirror he sees the vestiges of the handsome man he will become. During the foreplay part Patsy just keeps calling him ugly, which shatters his fragile self-esteem, and then she sees his:
”My Lord, it looks like you’ve been wounded! Something they rammed through from behind….”
Okay, Barry Hannah you got me there. I laughed out loud. Poor, poor Monroe.
He has a roommate, not one he chose, not really one that anyone would choose. The self-proclaimed genius Bobby Dove Fleece who barely functions on a normal day and is generally down with some form of swamp flu or malaise from too much contact with the human race. He is not a stabilizing influence in Monroe’s life nor does he have much more luck with women.
”He disdained the female for the reason that none of the was a goddess with whom he could fall hopelessly in love. He jerked the tops of a few letters out of his satchel. ‘Oh Catherine, Catherine, you are my naked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Well do I gain again that day, noon, as the language of your body aroused you helplessly to climb upon the table from which I was eating, open your robe, and lie back supine, your thighs begging me to perpetuate the holiday of love with you…. Oh my lost sperm in you, oh happy, happy spewing away of ambition and power.’”
Oh, Bobby Dove, women just don’t deserve you...really they don’t.
Monroe plays the trumpet. Music, from what I read, is a theme in most of Hannah’s writing. He certainly shows reverence in this book when Monroe gets a chance with a makeshift band to play a tune in a “colored club”.
”Coming in tight, I hit the flatted seventh of what I meant to hit, way up there, and came back down in a baroque finesse such as I’d never heard from myself, jabbing, bright, playing the pants off Sweet Georgia, causing them to flutter in the beer and bacon smoke of the place. Silas began the dip-thrums and I unified with him while Joe locked the gates on the measures, back-busting that beautiful storm of hides and cymbals. Harry had found it and he began screaming with glee through that horn, every note the unlocked treasure of his soul--and things he had never had, yes, he hit an F above high C! What a bop the three of us were raising in there, what a debut, what a miracle. My horn pulsed fat and skinny. Oh, Harry was stinging them, but stinging them mellow. “
Now... that... is a writer that understand music on a whole new level. I can feel music like that, but I can’t write about music like that. As Bobby Dove says when Monroe pisses him off just go suck your trumpet Mr. Hannah.
This book is set in the 1960s in the South. Barry Hannah does not know a word that he is unafraid to use. He uses words long deemed unacceptable when addresses people of color. He uses them so much, that I thought I would eventually reach a saturation point where the words would no longer resonate with me, but they proved as squirm worthy at the end of the book as they do at the beginning of the book.
I hear teenage girls referring to each other, as terms of endearment, with words that I’d been taught a long time ago not to call a woman even if she did deserve it. I hear black men calling other black men names that would give them cause to beat me down, deservedly so, if I referred to them in such a manner. I guess my thought is that if I don’t want other people using certain language towards me then I should not use those words when referring to myself or my friends. Some words just need to be eradicated, like polio.
Monroe falls in love with this girl named Catherine. He knows so little about her that he can build these fabrications about her in his own mind that make her a woman of gossamer and stars. She is living with her Uncle, who is a white supremacist peripherally connected to the murder of Medgar Evars. That doesn’t bother Monroe as much as his paranoid belief that this Uncle has perverted designs on his own niece. This all culminates in a series of comical gun battles between her Uncle and the duo of Bobby Dove and Harry Monroe. They are a demented, inept version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
If you are having difficulties wooing a girl, shoot her uncle.
I don’t know how inebriated Hannah was while he was writing this novel, but parts of it read like a man pontificating about fantasy laden adventures with pieces of those stories floating in a lake of booze and connecting up randomly with other pieces of other stories. Images float out of the haze that left distinct impressions on me.
”She had a way of leaning on the door, a way of being small and brown with her jumbled black hair; her eyes were dull and smoky, and she sighed out the smell of a bruised flower.”
Or this tight, yet full fleshed, description of his neighbor.
”He was near eighty and looked like a dwarf who had started as normal but had been ridden into old age by some terrible concern astride his neck.”
I’ve never read Hannah’s short stories, but I hear that is where he really shines. This novel has some real humor, some moments of dark Southern traditional writing, some moments of beautiful clarity, but it is weighed down by too much muddy Mississippi water. Despite saying that there are scenes in this novel that I will never forget. He takes a few pot shots at William Faulkner and Henry James by complaining that those writers occasionally (well, ok, more than that) write sentences that require a reader to read them more than once to understand them. I forgive him because more than likely he was seeing double when he was trying to read those venerated writers anyway.
***3.5 stars out of 5***
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