I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
November 1, 2021: Mandy Haynes
The subtitle of Mandy Haynes’ website is “author of literary fiction with a southern drawl,” and that is spot on. Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Five stories–two long and three short–and lots of snakes, real and metaphorical.
The collection opens with “Eva,” one of the long stories at seventy-two pages. The narrator is eleven-year-old Delene, and here is the essence of Delene: “Even if it was disturbing, you couldn’t help but stop and watch.” Exactly the kind of narrator you want. The Elliotts, who remind Deline of “the people that ran the carnival” come to town to hold a tent revival, and Eva is their daughter. In a scene late in the story, Eva says her father tells tall tales, and Deline asks her if she’s ever told anyone the truth.
“I never had no one to tell it to. Nobody’s ever asked me any questions before.”
“Well you do now. I have a bunch of questions and I want to hear everything,” [Delene] said.
Standing in water up to our ankles, Eva emptied a lifetime of words right there at the creek.
Eva starts talking and Delene starts thinking. “I was trying to remember it all so I could pick it apart later. I’d never heard anything that compared to Eva’s story. It beat a finger packed on ice any day.”
The second story is “Plans for Sweet Lorraine,” and the crisp opening, a mixture of voice and story, drew me right in. “I’ll be damned. Lorraine is gone.” This story is narrated by Lorraine’s mother who immediately takes off looking for her.
“The Day I Threw the Rock” is story number three, a beauty at thirteen pages, and like “Sweet Lorraine,” it starts strong and quick with this first line: “Mama is going to kill me.” And like “Eva,” we have another child narrator who tells us, “But the snake, well, that was the end of my overall-wearing days.” So begins the story our narrator tells, which is a good one, but the beauty of “The Day I Threw the Rock” turns on what the reader understands that the child does not.
The opening paragraph of “Junebug Fischer” takes its time, slowing things down to settle us in for the longest story of the collection.
I ain’t never talked about the summer I turned fifteen to nobody except for a handful of people, and I don’t reckon any of them ever told nobody. But some stories are like dandelion seeds, tiny little pieces of nothing to start off, but they get scattered and take root. Before you know it, they spread like kudzu. Left long enough and they cover up everything. Including the truth.
Helen Frances, aka June, is smart and feisty and speaks her mind. She also knows who and what to trust.
The presents, the attention, the flattery, not to mention the way he makes me feel. My body seemed to have a mind of its own and my common sense was fighting a losing battle. I needed Mama’s advice…
The last story, “Cussing Snakes and Candy Cigarettes,” is the shortest, and you’ll have to read it to understand this beautiful last paragraph that leaves us looking up at the night sky.
No need to speak the words out loud, because we felt them rise and swirl with the sugar smoke rings we blew under the light of the full moon as we made our way home.
Female narrators, girl/mama/aunt heroes, girl subjects, girl power. Treat yourself.
A number of years ago, Mandy made the decision to live life the way she wanted to. She quit her job in Tennessee, sold her house, and gave away everything she owned. Then she fell in love with Amelia Island (Florida)–the island and the people–and now she lives there with her three dogs and a turtle named Albert, working at her dream job as a bookseller at a nearby independent bookstore. Mandy is also the author of the collection Walking the Wrong Way Home.
Come back on NOVEMBER 1st to read how MANDY HAYNES spends her days.