June 4, 2010
From the irrepressible Miracle Jones of the Fiction Circus, on Barry Gifford’s Sailor & Lula omnibus:
One day my high-school English teacher trailed off while in the middle of a lecture and stared into space with her mouth hanging open. We all leaned forward in our seats, wondering what crazy-ass thing she would say next.
“Famous love stories are usually only about the beginning of love,” she said. “Sometimes they are about the end. But nobody ever wants to write stories about the middle. Without stories about the middle, how will people know what to do when they get there? That’s why we have so much divorce in this country.”
Barry Gifford has pulled off an amazing magic trick: he has published an epic 700-page novel called Sailor and Lula about the middle of love in the American South. His brick — a book broken into seven parts, each of which was originally conceived and published as a separate pulp novel — will teach you you everything you need to know about overcoming all the threats to long-term romance.
… “Sailor and Lula” is the Southern “On the Road,” except Gifford is a more gifted storyteller than Jack Kerouac. Like “On the Road,” the book never rests, and characters are always on their way somewhere else. Unlike “On the Road,” however, Gifford’s novel doesn’t merely shuffle back and forth between the coasts while ignoring the land in between. Gifford’s world is bounded on the East by the Carolinas and the values represented by Lula’s mother, Marietta. It is bounded on the West by Texas, where nothing good ever happens.
The chapters in “Sailor and Lula” are all very short. Each one is all only three or four pages long and usually contains a bit of insane wisdom, a murder, a kidnapping, a car bomb, a terrifying news story, or some exciting sexual perversity, like somebody masturbating with a handgun.
All these books are so fucking fun that I can’t hardly stand it. I wish Gifford’s America was real. I would buy a big car and just travel around starting fights and seducing ladies, trying to get a cool nickname. … In Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” The Killer remarks that the old woman would have been real nice if there had been someone around to kill her every day of her life. In Gifford’s South, this is never a problem.
Love needs crisis. It needs to be tested in order to thrive. Sailor and Lula are the kind of lovers America needs right now if we are going to get through our shit.