I’m going to admit to some serious bias here: I studied creative writing under Jack Matthews back in college, when he was writer-in-residence at Wichita State University. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity, not only because of what I learned, but because I was introduced to this quiet, unassuming book that has been outshouted for many years by books that are louder and more extroverted.
Clyde Stout is hanging: He can’t give up the girl who wrote him one of “those” letters, his job at the garage is going nowhere, he’s not even sure if his ’56 Chevy needs racing stripes or not. Now he’s received his draft notice and is just hanging until the day he has to step on board that bus to adulthood.
He may have found his calling, though, in the sport of competitive hanging. A wealthy eccentric in a nearby town has organized a competition and he thinks that Clyde has what it takes to excel as a hanger. If Clyde can hang two minutes on a grease rack, he should be able to do four minutes easy on a professional bar.
Hanger Stout, Awake! is warm and funny and engaging. It’s a short, easy read (about 150 pages). Don’t expect any huge revelations on Hanger’s part. He seems to embody baseball player Ted Williams’ advice: “If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.” I actually wondered if Matthews didn’t, at one point, intend this book as Part One, reserving Hanger’s awakening for a Part Two that’s never, to my knowledge, appeared.
Side note: Hanger is a car nut who identifies every car that crosses his path. There’s a website that features pictures of every car mentioned in Hanger Stout, Awake! and here’s the link: http://www.ghostlypopulations.com/2012/02/the-cars-of-hanger-stout-awake/
Hanger’s car, a 1956 black Chevy.