by Casey Hannan
Tiny Hardcore Press, Inc., 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-9835625-7-3, 132 pp., $13.95 paperback, $6.50 ebook, $17.50 both
Casey Hannan's blog, should you visit it, suggests the style of writing you will see in his collection Mother Ghost. He recently wrote, "Josh told me to do something about the brown recluse. I did something." Hannan is a writer who implies violence. This same type of implication is the title and theme of Mother Ghost. It's unclear what the ghosts want or do in some stories (I was often fascinated by their unique forms and occasionally failed to sympathize with the haunted as a result), but they do appear in various manifestations: people living whom we fail to see, the long- or newly-dead, a memory or voice, or the living who are terror-stricken.
If you've read the description of Hannan's collection, you'll know it focuses mainly on a gay male (the oft-repeated character Pith) coming out to his parents. A collection that speaks to current social concerns, Hanna writes protagonists who can be difficult to get a read on—again, the art of the implied—but I almost never worried for those boys/men. They were brazen and, at times, seemingly unaffected. In a rare twist in which the mother is the narrator, she remembers, "Pith told me he was gay when he was in high school. I told him he was lucky. My parents would've hung me up in the barn with the tobacco. Pith said, 'I'm sorry, Mom, but these aren't the good old days.'"
Many of these stories express the concerns of the gay community but still contain unexpected plot found in less traditional fiction, something more gothic, perhaps. In the most gothic of the stories, "Lake Mouth," the characters are mothers and aunts with children in tow who are affected by the ghosts of the nearby lake. Those ghosts enter their stomachs and change their communication. An aunt explains that the boom of a fighter jet overhead is "what ghosts sound like when they're not sitting in your stomach. If you put your head down in the lake, you can hear the ghosts screaming like a really big shell put to your ear."
Hannan crafts his stories so well, always implying, that when he does write what's happening you almost can't believe it. Two young men step out of a house full of people having an orgy. When they spot a deer on the road, they laugh at the awkward way the deer walks. The first-person narrator ends the story in a slow, dream-like haze:
Even if this moment from "Trigger Shy," which is just over two pages, seems ludicrous, there is a true, beating moment there when someone knows what he's supposed to do—it's logical, he's seen it on television and in the movies—and when it's his turn to make the call, his logic is reversed: call friends first and then paramedics. The boundaries of what a reader will believe are pushed, but the authentic voice leads the reader into that cold, numb space in which the narrator has entered.
Truly, Hannan's collection is one you will speed through, as his style has a peculiar balance—of NOT always showing, in addition to not telling—that makes the characters unknowable but deep, creatures yet humans, grounded in reality but cold to the touch. There wasn't a single story I didn't love and feel moved by, a superhuman feat in a short story collection.—Melanie Page