An old friend and favorite writer, Jack Butler, sent us a group of shorts stories that we wanted to publish. There were not enough for a book, however, so we came up with the idea of inviting other writers and doing an anthology of shorts stories. This one. Here’s what Jack had to say about his stories:
Hawk Gumbo: I was much concerned with the notion that some people typically looked down on as inarticulate might have emotional lives as complex as anyone’s, but because of inadequacies of education could not express them. So, Christian Bean, a maintenance man and planter of soybeans, who is so tormented by his grief over the loss of his apparently mentally challenged daughter that he crucifies himself. He’s looking for causes, underlying principles, explanations. The simple Christian faith of his wife is not sufficient. Why are we born? Why are we born crippled? Why do we suffer? Why do we torment each other? The college students he works among don’t even see him. To them, he’s just background to their “important” lives. The language of academia, personified in his friend, Buckley, who attempts Freudian analysis, also fails badly. When Christian boils the hawk and the owl, what he is looking for is underlying form, meaning. But all he winds up with is a clogged mess, and all the world provides in the way of meaning is a baffling joke, from which the story’s title derives. I had recently been poet-in-residence in one of the colleges in which I was now forced to work as a maintenance man in order to make a living, so I had a good look at the emotional divide.
I think I gave Christian’s deceased daughter, Eliot, that name because of my admiration of T.S. Eliot’s poems. No good reason, really, but nobody has ever commented on it as an unusual name.
Emmolene’s Bones: Identity and love. What are they, where do they come from? What can they survive? But this story is meant as a comedy, if an impudent one. I had a lot of fun playing around with the tropes of the typical horror story, making jokes and puns on skeletons. Also maybe a little sense of shoving-the-reader’s-nose into the kinds of facts that are implicit in some of our favorite stories but that we ignore. Some sidelong comments on southern racism and misogyny. A bit of tribute to a city I love.
Mrs. Lookadoo’s Walkabout: I had written a novel, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock, in which Mrs. Lookadoo was not even a character, although perhaps her existence was implied. I had lived in the kind of neighborhood Mrs. Lookadoo lived in when I was in Little Rock. I guess I wanted some revenge on a certain sort of humorless authoritarian male, as well as to discover the potential grace, strength, and dignity of the often-overlooked aging woman. It also gave me a chance to revisit one of my favorite characters, Lianne Morrison, bring her back to life happy in an alternate universe; and to make fun of the stuffiness and pretentiousness of a certain sort of country-club life, in particular its pernicious effects on the character of its women. Also a shot or two at the ignorant savage discourteous over-privileged children such people often bear. Some critique of our bulldoze-and-build-another-shopping-mall society. As with Christian Bean, the repression of the overlooked, an untalked-about but basic element of our culture.
Stay tuned for more commentary from others of the 19 magnificent writers included in Mud
Flat Shorts (mostly fiction).
1 thought on “Jack Butler on his stories ‘Emmolene’s Bones,’ ‘Hawk Gumbo’ and ‘Mrs. Lookadoo’s Walkabout’”
Always glad to read what Jack has to say.