TINY LOVE: THE COMPLETE STORIES OF LARRY BROWN
Thursday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m., free
Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill
Larry Brown spent a lot of his life just listening, sourcing material from bars in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. He explains this in The Rough South of Larry Brown, a documentary that premiered at Full Frame in 2000, though he didn’t need to. His shapeshifting depiction of subjects from all walks of life, too sharp to be approximate, is evidence enough.
Tiny Love: The Complete Stories of Larry Brown, a new, career-spanning collection of Brown’s stories (he died in 2004) from his longtime publisher, Chapel Hill’s Algonquin Books, is a thorough testament to his loving eye for rural minutiae. The details in each story—house shoes worn out on a late-night run to Kroger, John Anderson playing on a bar’s jukebox while catfish thaws at home, Vienna sausages and bologna sandwiches and “Co-Coler”—could only be the work of someone who’d shared an Old Milwaukee or two with his characters.
A panel of Triangle authors, including Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Tom Rankin, will read and discuss the book at Flyleaf on November 21.
When Brown’s first story was published in 1982, he was a thirty-one-year-old firefighter who’d been writing in his spare time for just a couple of years. He opted for the Marines instead of college and, upon his return, worked a series of odd jobs, including hauling hay, building fences, and painting houses. He went on to publish five novels, including Joe and Father and Son, both Southern Book Award winners.
Still, his short stories are the best introduction to his world—each opens up like a truck’s passenger door, beckoning you to hop in and mosey through Mississippi. In one, factory workers seek release in KFC coupons and seedy affairs. In another, a desperate family with a sick loved one kidnaps a faith healer. Brown neither condones nor condemns the actions or circumstances in the stories he tells. He just lays out, with unsparing detail, what he sees—and, more important, what he feels.
Tiny Love showcases Brown’s singular, unconditional empathy for the drunk and neglectful, the depraved but helpless, the ornery yet resigned—all the dogs that don’t make it across the highway. Including previously released collections Facing the Music and Big Bad Love as well as other published but uncollected stories, the book speaks to Brown’s remarkable evolution from laborer to writer. His early genre-fiction forays are promising, but it’s when he settles into rural Mississippi, where he lived all his life, that he’s able to fully occupy his characters’ consciences.
“92 Days” feels autobiographical: The narrator has spent months grappling with a divorce and his failure as an aspiring writer. When he finally digs into a piece he’s proud of, it’s because he’s able to understand his character’s situation and help him see how he got there—and how he might get out.