Martin Clark Finds Big, Bad Love
There are two things I know for sure: The best song ever recorded is Robert Earl
Keen's "The Road Goes on Forever," and the finest short story ever to see paper,
with a tip of the hat to Miss
Welty and John
Cheever, is Larry
Brown's "Big Bad Love." I was twenty-three years old with one year of law
school behind me, living in Charlottesville, Virginia, attempting to write a novel,
when my friend Frank Beverly loaned me a paperback copy of Big
Bad Love, Brown's collection of short stories. It was summer, and so far,
my efforts at producing my own book had consisted of about thirty minutes of pointless
scribbling when I woke up each day at noon and not much more, but Frank and I
had done all we could do to at least enjoy the literary life as we perceived
it... late, boozy nights, black coffee, good magazines, naps, and road trips at the
drop of a hat.
I read "Big Bad Love" sitting on the porch of our rented house, dressed in
a bathing suit and T-shirt, waiting for Frank to finish his afternoon breakfast
so we could begin our day by trespassing at the Ivy Gardens pool, which was
strictly for use by the folks who lived in the apartments there and paid rent.
And for the first time ever, I was reading something that absolutely connected
on a visceral level and took me at a few paces distant to the
place where this story was happening, as if I were following along behind the
narrator as he drives around aimlessly and frets about his circumstances and
spies a beer floating in a minnow bucket, the image that to this moment, twenty
years later, sticks in my head, vivid as can be. The reading experience wasn't
clinical or academic or intellectual, and the payoff wasn't some spectacular
revelation; what struck me was how I had left where I was and been entertained
somewhere else, and for years I have always imagined Larry Brown as a hospitable
sort, leaning against a gatepost with a cold beer in his hand, the gate swung
open, Larry welcoming me onto his property.
I was recently at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, for a signing, and
after I finished, Richard Howarth, Scott Morris (Waiting
for April), a convicted felon named Ollie and I set off so I could meet
Larry and look him in the eye and announce to him my belief that "Big Bad Love"
is the best short story ever done. We traveled out into the country where we
met Larry's son and Larry's wife, who was in the kitchen tending to simmering
snap beans and a pan of tenderloin, but Larry wasn't at home. We rode to his
cabin and pond, missed him there, tried the roadhouses, bars and restaurants,
then doubled back to his house without any luck.
Heading toward town in the
dark, it occurred to me that, remarkably, nothing had seemed foreign, from the
landscape to the people everything was familiar in this part of the world I'd
never visited before, just like Larry had painted it when I read him two decades
ago, and as Scott and Ollie discussed how to avoid becoming someone's bitch
at Parchman, I peered out at the flat land and decided it was just as well that
I didn't get to meet my favorite writer, because I'd seem like a fawning fool
and there's nothing he could tell me that he already hadn't.
About Martin Clark
Martin Clark, a circuit court judge, lives in Stuart, Virginia. His first novel, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, was a New York Times Notable Book, a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, a finalist for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award, and appeared on several bestseller lists.