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Now considered a contemporary classic, Airships was honored by Esquire magazine with the Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award. The twenty stories in this collection are a fresh, exuberant celebration of the new American South — a land of high school band contests, where good old boys from Vicksurg are reunited in Vietnam and petty nostalgia and the constant pain of disappointed love prevail. Airships is a striking demonstration of Barry Hannah's mature and original talent.

209 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1978

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About the author

Barry Hannah

48 books248 followers
Barry Hannah was an American novelist and short story writer from Mississippi. He was the author of eight novels and five short story collections. He worked with notable American editors and publishers such as Gordon Lish, Seymour Lawrence, and Morgan Entrekin. His work was published in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Oxford American, The Southern Review, and a host of American magazines and quarterlies. In his lifetime he was awarded the The Faulkner Prize (1972), The Bellaman Foundation Award in Fiction, The Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award, the PEN/Malamud Award (2003) and the Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, in Oxford, where he taught creative writing for 28 years. He died on March 1, 2010, of natural causes.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 234 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,392 followers
January 13, 2023
Acid love stories, southern Gothic, civil war memoirs, family tales and dreary dystopias: everything in Airships is on the absurdist side.
What a bog and labyrinth the human essence is, in comparison. We are all overbrained and overemotioned. No wonder my professor at the University of Virginia pointed out to us the horses of that great fantast Jonathan Swift and his Gulliver book. Compared with horses, we are all a dizzy and smelly farce.

Barry Hannah explicitly makes mincemeat out of an American dream and his heroes have to live their lives as some preposterous tragedies.
I don’t think Jesus wants you. He’s too dead to want. He was a hell of a sweet genius guy, but he’s dead. The only thing left is humanism. Are you humanistic?

The characters wallow in their ridiculous misery but they don’t fight against it… There is no other mode of existence.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,359 reviews11.8k followers
November 29, 2018

Quote from Escape to Newark my favorite in the collection: "Once he prayed the Lord to shorten his member and turn his testicles to ash. He viewed her as a sort of rabid hippopotamus cornering him in one bad dream after another. And she smoked five packs a day, often as not an ember between her lips as she rutted above him, spitting out fire all over him on the arrival of her moment. The last horror was when she thought she needed a child. She wanted to call it Buck or Francine, depending. She got melancholy and cried huge tears because nothing "took." She had her heart attack trying again. Not only did she die on the spot, but he thought she was asleep, and suffered her weight until he smelled something odd." This story includes a spaceship and a trip to not so far out outer space with a landing in, you guessed it, Newark, New Jersey.

You have to love Barry's earthy land of cotton black humor. 20 short stories collected here and published as part of the 1980s Vintage Contemporaries series. All of a sudden, Barry Hannah has become my favorite author from the American South - love not only his black humor but how he occasionally mixes in surrealism or science fiction or fantasy.

Again, that’s back humor as in the short-short story, That’s True when the narrator tells us he will never forget the summer when a man named Lardner from his home state of Louisiana posing as a psychiatrist, complete with thick glasses, mustache and fake gnarled hand, especially fake gnarled hand since patients identify with a shrink who has a physical defect, traveled to New York, set up office in midtown Manhattan with five phony diplomas displayed on the wall and instantly cured the mental ills of his sorry-ass patients. Decked out as a bona fide psychiatrist, Lardner, flimflam man par excellence, recorded his sessions, the patients agreeing to said recordings since they all were into “creativity.”

A snippet from one of the tapes: Patient: I’ve taken such evil crap from men, I hates all men. Dr. Lardner: “Why?” Patient: “I thought you’d want to know ‘what.’ Dr. Lardner: “You got the wrong doctor. Down on Fifth Avenue, about a dozen doors away, there’s a good ‘what’ doctor. A little more expensive.” And the flimflam man flimflams on, a great little tale and that’s no bamboozle.

Several of the very short stories slide from Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic to Monty Python absurdist, which might strike you as both weird and mighty implausible, as if old Blue, bleary-eyed bloodhound lying on the porch of a ramshackle Mississippi cabin, all of a sudden sprouted wings, soared up in the sky, performed double flips and started whistling Dixie.

But, in a way, that’s exactly what happens, as in Pete Resists the Man of His Old Room when Tardy’s Mama shouts at the approach of a mangy man with dirty fingernails, brandishing a dagger. Meanwhile, Tardy and Pete are necking on the front porch as their 30-year-old child rides on a custom-made tricycle singing Awwww . . . Oobbbbbbb. Pete tells Mama to lay off since the guy is his old college roommate. The mangy grubber goes for Pete with his dagger but gets caught in a huge rose hedge and shouts how he remembers Pete from college, how he was skinny, cried about a Longfellow poem and puked at a drive-in. To this, Pete asks Tardy to get his piece. So, after he cuts away some of the rose hedge, Pete unloads both barrels – dagger and bits of flesh splatter in the street and then Pete tells his son on the trike to go get his wagon and do the necessary clean-up.

Water Liars features a narrator who was raised Baptist and senses there will be something holy with meaning in his life since he turned thirty-three this past year, the age when Jesus was crucified. Turns out, the story contains both truth and crucifixion not only for the narrator who is racked by jealousy over what he wife did or did not do back as a teenager but also a serious truth and crucifixion for one of the old men who takes on the role of a water liar. You will have to read for yourself to see how all this fits together.

The longest piece in the collection Testimony of Pilot introduces a narrator from Clinton, Mississippi recounting his experience first as a twelve-year old prankster, then a drum playing high schooler and finally, a college student made deaf by drumming. A remarkable boy named Arden Quadberry and Quadberry’s girlfriend Lilian play a major role in the story, most especially Quadberry.

There’s one unforgettably moving scene where Quadberry with his sweet, magical saxophone takes over the high school orchestra as both lead soloist and orchestra conductor playing Ravel’s Bolero for a state musical championship. And further on in the story the narrator spins out the tale of how Quadberry went off to Annapolis and eventually became a jet pilot flying bombing missions into North Vietnam. Barry Hannah’s story soars in an imaginative combining of saxophone and jet fighter improvisation, a combination captured beautifully and artfully by the designer of this book cover:

There are over a dozen other stories I haven’t touched on in my review so you will have to order a copy of Airships so you can fly with Barry yourself. Roger, over and out.

Barry Hannah - photo of the writer from the glorious state of Mississippi
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,054 followers
March 21, 2012
What are all these about?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know... smudges? The vagueness of all things?"
"They aren't things. They're emotions."
"You mean hate, fear, desire, envy?"
"Yes. And triumph and despair." She pointed.
"This is subtle. They look the same," Levaster said.
"I know. I'm a nihilist."
"You aren't any such thing."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because you've combed your hair. You wanted me to come in here and discover that you're a nihilist," Levaster said.
"Nihilists can come their hair." She bit her lip, pouting."
from 'Return to Return'

I don't know if I like Barry Hannah or not. I'm interested in him. This is a short story collection. It's a pain in the ass to review short story collections. What if I didn't feel anything about some of the stories? For some of these I didn't. What if I have too much to say about too many? For some of them I did. I read this on my kindle. I wasn't sure that I liked any of these at all until around the 60% mark. I didn't put it aside and start reading other books like with everything else I'm reading right now. That's something. I kept reading though I wasn't sure if they weren't all the same voice, story after story. Bravado (bravado for what? The pointless kind I see in others and I'd try to run away before they'd try and put on a show for me) and irritatingly loud. Hannah annoyed the fuck out of me a lot of the time. Speaking before you know if you have anything to say. If someone came along and started shouting profanity in your ear to get a rise out of you and they based what would get a rise out of you on nothing that has anything to do with you as a person. I get the feeling that Hannah wrote without knowing what he was going to say. I like the for the hell of it approach. It's the trying to get a rise out of me that didn't do anything for me. Hannah is a "Southern writer" just like I'm a "Southern girl". Airships was written before I was born (one story is set where I live now. It didn't give me any thrill because it has nothing to do with where I live now). The men are mostly big fucking racists. Yeah, the "Southern writer" thing. They are all big fucking sexists. I don't know if he transcended the short story form sometimes, in saying anything about some of these people. The stories would end without saying anything, sometimes. And there isn't one female character in these stories that is for more than fucking. Boy, that irritated me. I'll read a book and the writer goes on about hot legs, tan legs, white underwear, ripping panties off with teeth, moist triangles in places and... I'm not really reading it. Can't ANYONE write that a chick is bangable and that some guy wants to fuck her? Or that they are fat and it mortally disgusts the interchangeable man that he might have to fuck her sometimes? I have nothing to do with the hot chick or the man that wants to fuck her. "She was so beautiful." "And? Haven't I read this too many times before?" I will never live where they live. I have lived in Racist!South all my life and all I have to say about that is it just reminds me of any time I have ever read on the internet or in conversations with Yankees some random comment dismissing the entire South as racist as if they weren't just being bigots themselves, and are totally free from any inherent bigotry themselves because of where they happened to be born. I get the feeling that the person has no idea how annoying they are when they do it. Good for you! So he throws around "nigger" constantly. It read like a marker of something, or another rise getter. Profanity not when you hit your big toe but because you hope it'll step on someone else's. It's some kind of bravado that gets another blank look from me. Just like the war "heroes" or statistics (Midnight and I'm not Famous yet was different and still I have one of those assholey moments of mine of "Tell me what I haven't already read in other accounts". Like you could write it without ever having been them). From what I've read about other Hannah books, this is pretty much the Barry Hannah character. Racists! and Sexists! Heroes! And Christians! And the good parts are the writing to surprise yourself like when you are having a free for all with yourself on paper (or keyboard, whatever). Hannah was into the cool sentences. He writes cool sentences. A jam party jazz session of cool sentences and twenty stories to tell the same story and I've got the blues and listen to what I have to fucking say! I liked the story "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa" when one of the "niggers" disturbs the guy whose name I have already forgotten (several characters mock his name, though, or the way he holds the position of it. Ex husband. That guy down the street. THAT guy. I think it's alright I forgot it) by enjoying his banana too much. This "nigger" can't even eat a banana without people watching him and giving him shit. That's a human condition that I can roll my eyes over in my own way even though there's plenty of other shit to see (and there's worrying about people watching me eat a banana when I just want to eat my banana without anyone watching me). Not "Hey, guys, don't you know how it is? Hot women and fucking." The Jeb Stuart stories were boring in that bravado way. It's been too long for me to feel bothered about the civil war, years after the Yankee kids in the class decided to blame me for the whole thing as the only "truly Southern" (their words) Mississippi born girl. Good for them! I don't have a man crush on the macho past. I don't feel its weight on my steps, or shadow behind me, blah blah. Run from the macho specials on the History channel! I felt the weight of the sexism. That could be where I lived, if I related to the objects as women, which unfortunately I couldn't here. If I were gonna start a jazz band (I hate jazz) I would start up the tune about the guy who has that party and all of his friends are sick of him. Maybe it was something he did. It all must have mattered more to Hannah because this is what came out of him. I want him to have a person who doesn't represent anything but who they want to be themselves. No show, just a song. Not for me but for them. That's the problem with short stories. You can either relate to them without being the asshole that sits there and watches them eat their whole banana (or it could be a man, like in that one story), or you can just be the asshole that assumes you know how it all went down because it's too insubstantial to be much more than The whole world! You know how it is! The American South!

I like the feeling of being bothered about something. That's what I like about Hannah. The I don't know if it was something I did feeling. Maybe it was. Maybe it was something in me that was so annoyed. I know that I will be happy if I never again read a book about super hot people with nothing else to them but what they look like to the novelist despite that they are NOT REAL and every damned character in books are hot, just about. Soooooo boring. It's just funny to put shit up on a pedestal when there's no chance in hell of it ever being close enough to anybody. I guess that's KIND OF like the human condition.

These were the stories that I liked:
Our Secret Home
Eating Wife and Friends
All the Old Harkening Faces at the Rail
Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa

These are the stories that I'm not sure I LIKED like but were interesting:
Testimony of Pilot
Coming Close to Donna
Return to Return
Escape to Newark
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book981 followers
August 23, 2015
When I opened this book of stories I figured I was in for a healthy helping of Grit Lit: tales of backwoods habitués eating varmint and living with violence like a kissin' cousin. Works in the key of Daniel Woodrell, Ron Rash, Harry Crews et al. Barry Hannah blew me away.

In this collection of 20 stories there are certainly pieces centered around mid-to-late century marginalized members of southern society; there's also a handful of fantastic works employing the American Civil War as the setting ("Behold the Husband in His Perfect Agony" might be the best five page story I’ve read in an age) – but there are enough stories between the covers that show Hannah’s amazing range. Post-apocalypse, weird science, stream-of-conscience, comedic – Hannah nails them all, sometimes mixing styles and genres to impressive outcome. “Testimony of Pilot” is the longest story of the collection and has the reader guessing the whole way through to the excellent ending. “Coming Close to Donna” is so disturbing I waited a day to re-read it to get its full weight. The recurrence of airships in many of the stories has a delightful Where’s Waldo? feel without ever intruding on the narratives.

More Hannah, please - and a special thanks to Paquita Maria Sanchez for pointing me in this direction.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,496 reviews962 followers
January 9, 2018

Barry Hannah came very close to be counted as my 'new' author I discovered in 2017 through Goodreads recommendations. When he's good, he's every bit as good as the other great American short story writers, like Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor or Robert Coover. His style has a bit of the bleakness of O'Connor, the loneliness of Carver and the subversive exuberance of Coover, yet Hannah, in this first volume of stories I read from him, is unique and different from his peers. In the introduction to the collection, Richard Ford sources Hannah's individual voice in the streak of magic realism that is so uncharacteristic of mainstream American Lit.

I lost almost all my footnotes from individual stories, but that's all right because what strikes me in particular about this debut volume are not the actual plots or any singular character but the way these disparate sketches mesh together into a coherent vision, a singular sensibility that is pure Southern Lit. I don't believe these stories or the title were chosen at random. Together they work in unison, like a symphony with dark overtones, occasional laughter and a lot of impossible dreams (airships of different constructions)

For me the definition of a good story is one that not only captures an emotion in the limited space offered by the format, but one that has layers of meaning that can be revealed through multiple readings and beautiful / poetic turns of phrase that make you go off the page and continue the story in your own head. Hannah does this in a lot of the episodes included here but, to be honest, he does it better in some while others left me with the impression of a clever craftsman turning tricks for an easy to please audience. Anyway, the good far outweighs the less than stellar stories, and my reaction is a subjective one. Maybe I just need to re-read the ones that failed to impress.

Thematically, I shelved "Airships" under Southern Lit – an easy choice given that most characters hail from the South of US, and carry its heritage with them wherever they are: New York, the West Coast or Saigon. A heritage that includes poverty, racism, misogyny, alcoholism, failure, religion, revisiting the Civil War events and failed marriages. Also a sense of belonging, a certain pride and stubborn resilience. Another note I make is a reiterated point Hannah makes that people are liars, making me think he would have done well as a scriptwriter for the TV series "Dr. House". Since I don't have individual notes, I'm not sure how many of the stories I would call dark and how many funny, but in retrospect my laughter was never without a trace of doubt at my reasons and without concern about the future. Still, there are airships in there, somewhere.

The easiest place to have wit is in the presence of another's need.


more quotes:

[from "Deaf and Dumb", probably my favorite piece] She had a certain smile that would have bought her the world had the avenue of regard been wide enough for her. They loved it at the Bargain Barn. But the town was one where beauty walked the walk as a matter of course, and her smile was soon forgotten by clerk and hurried lecher on the oily parking lot. She never had any talent for gay chatter. She could talk in only brief phrases close to the truth. How much is this? Is this washable? This won't do, it's ugly.

- - - - -

[from "Midnight and I'm Not Famous Yet] Sometimes around midnight I'd wake up and think of his questions, and it disturbed me that there was no answer. I giggled my whole youth away. Then I joined the Army.

[from "That's True"] "The only thing we're sure about anymore is how much money we need," said I. "That's about as profound as I ever get. I've got a wife and two kids. Me and the wife drink a great deal in the evenings of Baton Rouge. We're happy. The great questions seemed to have passed us by. I'm a radiologist. All day long I look for shadows. We've got two Chinese elm trees in our backyard and a fat calico named Sidney. Our children are beautiful and I've got stock in Shell."

[from "Escape to Newark"] We used to go down to the pond and throw bread at the ducks. They always reminded me of old verities, so white and natural. Robinson even at is worst claimed he was wandering toward the ancient basics, but he was scared numb that he might have found them already. The point is, we always meant well, Carlos.
We loved kikes and niggers, she continued softly.

[from same] Carlos would be thinking about God, about what a wretched nasty trip it was in this world of clumsy sorrow.


in place of a conclusion, I saved another good Hannah quip from "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa" :

Precious are the hours we touch one another," the son of a bitch said.

Profile Image for Melki.
5,804 reviews2,343 followers
August 30, 2012
The late Barry Hannah was unquestionably a good writer. His versatility was amazing. The characters that inhabit these stories are soldiers, tennis pros, cannibals and high school band members. Most of them are not very likable. They say and do nasty, shocking things. They are starchy and opinionated, and take some getting used to, which is why I think Hannah works better in the long form. His magic and sly humor take a while to creep up on you. Quite honestly, there are several stories here that I didn't like at all, but the good ones more than made up for them.

The Civil War stories are probably the best in this collection.

It's killing close up that bothers me. Once a blue-suited man on the ground was holding his hands out after his horse fell over. This was at Manassas. He seemed to be unclear about whether this was an actual event; he seemed to be asking for directions back to his place in a stunned friendly way. My horse, Pardon Me, was rearing way high and I couldn't put the muzzle of my shotgun at him. Then Jeb rode in, plumes shivering. He slashed the man deep in the shoulder with his saber. The man knelt down, closing his eyes as if to pray. Jeb rode next to me. What a body odor he had. On his horse, he said:
"Finish that poor Christian off, soldier."
My horse settled down and I blew the man over. Pardon Me reared at the shot and tore away in his own race down a vacant meadow - fortunate for me, since I never had to look at the carnage but only thought of holding on.

I'm glad there's still plenty of this man's writing out there that I have not yet read.
Profile Image for Ned.
297 reviews125 followers
March 1, 2014
What makes this widely varied (size and subject) collection of stories unique is that all are told from inside the mind of (mostly) unbalanced narrators. Each seems to start in a state of confusion or sheer chaos, but Hannah masterfully brings the facts and the motivations into play, and his descriptions are truly fresh and raw. His style is like few others I’ve read, evocative of TC Boyle’s finest and whacked out storylines like Vonnegut. One must be alert and reading carefully as his prose is exactly, though at first will appear sloppy or amateurish. But the master is at work here, and I found I needed to be awake and not overly tired to truly appreciate the particular blend of hilarity and tragedy of his people, often recurrent across stories and mostly in the 1960s south. It must be acknowledged that his experimental style, at the time of his writing, was likely the first of its kind in the short story. But one should not be afraid of “experimental” here, these are wildly entertaining and every page howls with highly quotable and piquant snippets (many of which are already covered here in Goodreads). It has been 19 years between Hannah’s for me, but I intend to read chronologically now and look forward to his novels.

Hannah writes often of the elderly, a theme being the old “liars” at the end of the pier, maligned and diseased and drinking warm beer as they evoke tales staring into the gulf from the end of the edge of Mississippi’s delta: “There was a gallery of pecking old faces scrutinizing him from the rail. Some fo them were widowers too, and some were leaking away toward the great surrender very fast. Their common denominator was that none of them was honest”. Or the reminiscence of couples, thinking back on spouses, times which weren’t so rosy: “Carlos was a Presbyterian then, trying to be a preacher in Tucson, where Navajos started a fistfight during Carlos’s sermons and the women simply fell dead asleep, this being their only period of rest in the week. His wife ate near five pounds of food a day. She was a wonderful cook, but mainly for herself. She ate directly out of the big iron pots while the food was still steaming, using a big ladle… Food gave her an insufferable burst of energy, as if she’d swallowed a pound of drugs. Carlos would be thinking about God, about what a wretched nasty trip it was in this world of clumsy sorrow, about the holiness of the Law, about converting to Catholicism because of its stubborn travel throughout history. She, who was dead now by heart attack in the actual fornication, would roll and swagger into his bedroom, ‘Get them trousers down, you little dude. Old Nancy needs some fun’”. And so it goes. Oh, yes, religion is covered in spades, and Hannah parodies and explores the divide between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in a most original and insightful manner.

The last story was a favorite of mine, a longer one, is about a tilted old house, where an old bedraggled woman in Jackson, MS endures the insults of her downtrodden boarders, takes a tumble and reminisces about her life while lying in wait to die: “Mother Rooney surged up on her haunch bones. She worked her lips together to make them twinkle with spittle. She shucked off her ugly shoes by rubbing each ankle against the other, folded in her legs under the moon in blue roses of her hip, pushed herself against the stairwell. In general, she arranged the corpse so that upon discovery it would not look dry, so that it would not look murdered or surprised in ugliness”. Remember her youth and conversion to Catholicism: “I was happy, sucked right into the Church, because I got its feeling…. It was a thrill to cover your head with a scarf because you were such a low, unclean sex, going back to Eve. I guess, making man slaver in lust for you and not be the steward he was meant to be. You were so deadly, you might loop in the poor man kneeling next to you with your hair…Woman, which even the monks have to trudge through waist-deep before they finally ascend to sacredness. God told me this, and I blushed, knowing my power”. The story has a tidy ending, when her cruel tenants, drunkenly dropping by for yet another mean trick, finally see the human being in the old woman: “’I know it’s horrible now. But I and Silas wanted to make amends to you, really. We are so sorry for what happened in this house. You know, it started with the little joking insults and then it grew to where hurting you as a cult. You really occupied us. Especially those of us who were taking a lot of bad traffic in the shit of the outer world and were originally endowed with a great amount of rottenness in our personal selves.’”
Profile Image for Nick.
175 reviews49 followers
January 29, 2016
The writing in Airships is unlike anything I've encountered. Hannah writes like he was raised on a steady diet of Faulkner, Raymond Carver, and (perhaps) strangely George Saunders. Moments of tenderness abutting hysterical filth.... The stories about Quadberry and French Edward are among the best short stories I've read.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,173 reviews422 followers
October 16, 2022
As usual, as always: there’s something so unholy about Barry Hannah’s sentences that I want to strip them all of context and make the most beautiful poetry.

A lot of praise gets sung for “Testimony of Pilot,” and rightfully so, but the simple “Water Liars,” the mad and sweet “Love Too Long,” the Vietnam Catch-22 “Midnight And I’m Not Famous Yet,” and the delightfully slow-revealing horror of “Eating Wife and Friends” are the ones I liked most.
Profile Image for Rayroy.
212 reviews75 followers
September 4, 2013
Hands down Barry Hannah is the best short story writer dead or alive except for maybe Raymond Carver, though his stories aren't for those easily offended. Look if you love great literature pick up this book and damn it read the fucking thing, anything less would doing the written word a grave disservice!
Profile Image for Bill Hsu.
763 reviews138 followers
September 14, 2019
There are substantial chunks of this that I don't get. But of the rest (for example, "Coming Close to Donna", and maybe half of "Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt"), I'm amazed that something this tight, harsh and bawdy was written in the late 70s.
Profile Image for Cody.
506 reviews182 followers
May 18, 2016
We all experience the phenomenon knows as WBWT, or wrong book/wrong time. Coming hot on the heels of five consecutive McCarthy’s (with one interruption by no less than Raymond Carver), Nabokov, and McElroy, Barry Hannah didn’t stand a chance. The fix was in, the ball deflated, the gloves weighted (hey, I’m rapping!)

The thing is, a lot of it works; a brace of stories that are sublime hold promise early out. Unfortunately, there are more stories that don’t (and a few that rankle). When Hannah has his phasers set to ‘depress,’ the results hit hard. “Testimony of Pilot” is a marvel, and “Coming Close to Donna” exists in this fractured nightland of high dope and low fuckery (taking place in a graveyard). Unilaterally, the small clutch of Jeb Stuart stories are beautiful in their depiction of Southern heroics and mendacity—often at the same time—during the Civil War.

It’s when Hannah tries on his sci-fi pants, for instance, that he loses me. They read like bad Barthelme (which can be considered a double negative, depending on the time of day). Also, his obsession with ending every story with a single, declarative sentence-paragraph—the short fiction equivalent of the mic drop—dilutes the effectiveness. Used sparingly, that trick can be revelatory. Used 15+ times, it cheapens its efficacy and telegraphs the denouement a nautical mile away.

But again, there isn’t much that can follow Lolita and not seem dopey by comparison. For that reason, Airships goes on a shelf rather than in the stacks, to be revisited in better context. Maybe after I re-read the collected works of that notorious short story inkpot Chekov, for instance.
Profile Image for Wamia.
40 reviews8 followers
April 23, 2022
Dear Barry Hannah,

Thank you for writing, because if you didn’t, there would be no Airships and without Airships, life would be devoid of everything I have now- the rest of my best of my life 💛

RIP. I owe you.

P.S- I hope you and Denis Johnson are in writer’s heaven, writing the most acid-fueled, absurd short stories till ♾
Profile Image for Amelia.
Author 38 books704 followers
August 8, 2012
Airships makes me want to be a better man.
Profile Image for A. Redact.
52 reviews6 followers
December 22, 2013
4.5/5 There is no one, as far as I know, who writes like Barry Hannah. Fevered, lewd, darkly funny, occasionally incomprehensible. Hannah is clearly taking cues from the Southern Gothic tradition and the Lish school of short-story writing, but Airships still manages to surprise and bewilder, with stories that consistently keep you on the back foot.

Also, FYI, Hannah is the patron poet saint of what he would call the female "organ." His medium is not exactly the ode; something slightly more dirty, but no less appreciative.
Profile Image for Josh.
299 reviews154 followers
September 15, 2017
(2.5) Entertaining, definitely, but not completely enjoyable. "Dragged Fighting From His Tomb" and "Return to Return" were the highlights for me, but perhaps I should stick to novels and non-fiction.
Profile Image for Ben Loory.
Author 25 books679 followers
May 8, 2013
Carlos winced. He wanted something gravely miserable. He had once married a girl from Grand Forks. They were both fat. She had hair on her back and her toes were black with fur. In fact, she was almost a man, seemed to have missed it by one flick of agitation of a gene. She dressed in cowboy fashion, jeans, boots, thirty-dollar hat now that she'd married a guy in the money. Carlos was a Presbyterian then, trying to be a preacher in Tucson, where Navajos started a fistfight during Carlos's sermons and the women simply fell dead asleep, this being their only period of rest in the week. His wife ate near five pounds of food a day. She was a wonderful cook, but mainly for herself. She ate directly out of the big iron pots while the food was still steaming, using a big ladle. There was just enough left for him, time it got to the table. Sunday afternoons she would come in, no regard for his weariness after his sermon and the meal. Food gave her an insufferable burst of energy, as if she'd swallowed a pound of drugs. Carlos would be thinking about God, about what a wretched nasty trip it was in this world of clumsy sorrow, about the holiness of the Law, about converting to Catholicism because of its stubborn travel throughout history. She, who was dead now by heart attack in the act of fornication, would roll and swagger into his bedroom. "Get them trousers down, you little dude. Old Nancy needs some fun." She outweighed him by fifty pounds. As she swelled to hard flab, her desires and etiquette became a miracle of irritation to him. She made him despise his own flesh, and drove him further into his meditations in the desert. Once he prayed the Lord to shorten his member and turn his testicles to ash. He viewed her as a sort of rabid hippopotamus cornering him in one bad dream after another. And she smoked five packs a day, often as not an ember between her lips as she rutted above him, spitting out fire all over him on the arrival of her moment. The last horror was when she thought she needed a child. She wanted to call it Buck or Francine, depending. She got melancholy and cried huge tears because nothing "took." She had her heart attack trying again. Not only did she die on the spot, but he thought she was asleep, and suffered her weight until he smelled something odd.

it's pretty much 200 pages of that. which you will either find hilarious or insufferable, depending. i found it hilarious at first and then insufferable. so incredibly happy when it was over.

(i did like the story "dragged fighting from his tomb," which actually had some emotional content.)
Profile Image for Luke Poff.
91 reviews3 followers
August 13, 2022
Pagan McCarthy. Everybody is depressed, everybody is horny, everybody dies. The prose is all excellent; the story quality ranges from “wow, that actually hit really hard,” to “okay, so he crushed the nymphomaniac’s head with a rock… and I’m supposed to do what with this?” Not something I could make a steady diet of, but an interesting slice of Southern Gothic nonetheless.
Profile Image for Doug.
156 reviews17 followers
December 8, 2020
Superb Gothic stories, perhaps full review to come. Glad I discovered Hannah, this collection is worth reading for Return to Return alone...one of the finest shorts I've read.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,176 reviews123 followers
December 11, 2019
I really wanted to DNF this sucker, but it was short and it got me one closer to my goal of reading more books off my TBR list and also I thought, "Hey, I don't think I've had any 1-star reads yet this year!" So here we are.

This book ended up on my TBR because of my attempt to read more unknown books that were highly rated on Goodreads. Turns out that this book was honored by Esquire magazine and many of the stories were originally published in Esquire, so all the folks giving it 5 stars may have found Barry Hannah via Esquire, and they have, let's say, different tastes than I do.

Even acknowledging the fact that this collection was published in 1978 and the fact that I hate almost all short story collections, this was one of the worst, most offensive books I've ever read. Through a combination of slurs, stereotypes, and just super problematic thoughts and actions of the characters, this book manages to be specifically offensive to women, gay people, fat people, deaf people, disabled people, Jews, Native Americans, black people, Asian people, and probably other groups that I'm forgetting. With the possible exception of a post-apocalyptic short story involving cannibalism, the stories don't really have any plot twists or anything else where what happens earlier on becomes a clever setup for events later in the story. The characters just do a bunch of things that I guess we're supposed to find interesting, and then a lot of times in the end they die. The stories feature protagonists who are 90% white men, and the ones who are women are pretty much just there to interact with men (usually sexually). There's a lot of violence and gore and alcohol use and sex, but not even erotic sex scenes, just a lot of blunt descriptions of people being really horny.

Besides the fact that absolutely none of the story content appealed to me, the writing was just not that great. It's a lot of "then he did this and then he did this and then he did this," interspersed with characters having unoriginal thoughts about other people. The only reason I can think of that readers have rated this book so highly is that it's out of some kind of wounded Southern white male pride, like, "That's right! This writer knows what being a real man is all about, where you can be horny and violent and call people [insert slur here] without people saying you're not PC enough!" Seriously — I tried to look past the content to see if I could understand what people appreciated about the writing, and it's just... bad.

Anyhow, I made it through, and hopefully this rating and review can warn off other readers from making the same mistake I did.
Profile Image for Aaron Martz.
225 reviews3 followers
April 16, 2015
The first couple stories in this book had me thinking Barry Hannah was the offspring of Raymond Carver and Kurt Vonnegut. He cast the same kinds of characters as Carver - working-class folk, some uneducated - but with a streak of humor and a sense of absurdity that Vonnegut employed. The stories weren't really about anything so much as the thought processes of these characters - a thankfully tiny glimpse into their screwed up worlds. Some of the stories flopped because they didn't seem to be anything more than strings of sentences run together, often with profanity or descriptions of genitalia and a lot of sexism, until they were over. Return to Return, which became the basis for Hannah's novel The Tennis Handsome, is almost unreadable. It's long, blocky, and boring. I think Hannah considered his wacky loose flywheel approach to storytelling to be a little bit more amusing than it actually was. Sometimes you need a plot or at least a point. Sometimes you need a beginning, middle, and end, however conventional that is. I could have skipped the entire last quarter of this book. There are a couple interesting stories that take place during the Civil War, but even they are flawed. The best story of the bunch is so good it's almost worth getting the collection for. It's called Testimony of a Pilot, and it works because it tells the story from beginning to end with character development and everything! Imagine that. It's funny and highly emotional and very tragic, and if the rest of the stories in this collection had been like that, this would be a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Steven.
Author 2 books91 followers
February 24, 2015
Although I'm a real admirer of Hannah's language, I have to say that I do not think as much of this book now as I did when I first read it back 1979. Some of the stories read like Stephen King's early stories—although with a more literary vocabulary. I suppose the civil war stories, given the time when they were written, can be read as metaphors for the Vietnam War (and in "Midnight And I'm Not Famous Yet" the NVA general makes the comparison explicit). And the misogynist and racist rhetoric in most of these stories is off the decibel chart. Perhaps they are parodies, I'll give Hannah the benefit of the doubt. Parody ceases to function as parody, however, when the target of the parody is not clearly present. I can imagine many readers unable to spot the parody without having someone pointing out who the target is (the targets were perhaps easier to spot in the early and mid-70s when these stories were written). That said, the great virtue of these stories is the pure storytelling. Someone is talking and telling a story. They have voice, character. Even if you don't like what the narrators are saying or what they represent, the power of the narration is undeniable. Hannah also manages to sneak in a lot of universal themes in to what would otherwise be hyperbolic what-I-did-in-the-war stories, and that sneaky-themed-ness is elevating, perhaps another marker for parody.
Profile Image for Frances.
70 reviews11 followers
August 7, 2008
It's difficult to give one rating to a book of short stories, but I enjoyed some of these so much that they overpower the few that I couldn't get into. Barry Hannah has lived down the street since I moved there at age 10, but after my mother stopped me from reading his books in middle school (smart woman), I didn't pick them up until recently. I'm very glad I did. My favorite stories were Water Liars, Love too Long, Return to Return, Our Secret Home, and Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt. I didn't like most of the Civil War-set stories with the exception of "Behold the Husband in his Perfect Agony."

I would have liked to read this with a class or a book club because the stories are rich enough to feel layers that I couldn't open up on my own. Either way, most of them have a mystical quality that is utterly fascinating, usually in a grotesque way. I recommend them to anyone with a strong stomach who doesn't expect a happy ending (or an ending at all).
Profile Image for Elizabeth Eslami.
Author 7 books43 followers
January 12, 2014
There is satire that works to expose human ugliness and there is the work that simply masquerades as satire. Airships, in my opinion, is the latter. A collection that takes obvious pleasure, indeed luxuriates in, the very sexism, homophobia, and bigotry it pretends to unveil.

Hannah can be funny. He can be profound. He can write beautiful sentences. But all too often, he hits the same crude notes, showing himself to be less the grand, razor-wit embodiment of the New South than the drunk at the dinner table who can't resist sneering at the "other" -- even if the other is his own wife. The loudmouth who can't hear the way real people speak because he's too busy laughing at his own jokes.

One can write about the grotesque without becoming so.
Profile Image for Peter Landau.
897 reviews55 followers
June 24, 2019
There was a time when authors had the fabled N-Word Pass. Truth is, there never was such a thing. Words are offensive but that’s the nature of the game. Barry Hannah’s collection of short stories, AIRSHIPS, mostly takes place in the south, which requires a vocabulary that can be harsh and uncomfortable. Really, all American works that call themselves literature verve into territory that many would rather forget, police or reimagine. That’s not what art does. It doesn’t work in committee or without the risk of failure and disrespect. Whether these short stories are art or not is not for me to say. They’re often too funny, weird and full of life to qualify for the tomb of a museum. If language triggers you, then know that it fires blanks unless you light its powder.
179 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2019
Barry Hannah's "AirShips" is a collection of short stories that are twisted, completely inventive, and written in Hannah's distinctly southern style. Hannah has a talent for taking ordinary cliched plots, and making them his own in a way that I have seen few writers attempt, let alone succeed at. The book is fearless in that it does not follow the conventions of traditional literature- by doing this- the book is able to establish a unique tone and style that is innovative and entertaining. I found this collection of stories to be truly unique and one that I wouldn't mind revisiting in the near future.
Profile Image for Piker7977.
452 reviews22 followers
July 26, 2020
Hannah's writing defies characterization. Surreal, romantic, horrifying, absurd, historical, sexual, monstrous, and funny. Is acid fiction a thing? The stories in Airships are all over the map, but that's part of the charm. Some of these really connected, but the other miss wide. That's not to say there were a waste of time or unenjoyable; rather they were challenging.

What I imagine all readers will get out of Hannah's work is what creative things you can do with a sentence. Good lord, this guy was a wordsmith.
Profile Image for Ryan Dilbert.
Author 10 books13 followers
April 11, 2008
How do you spell the sound you make when you stick your tongue out and roll your eyes and raise your eyebrows at some over hyped book?
Profile Image for John.
647 reviews
September 30, 2018
I feel a little guilty about this review. This book is considered (by its blurb) to be a contemporary classic. Hannah can tell a story, and he apparently introduced postmodernism to Southern Literature, but I feel this work may not age well. There is common use of the N-word but not in a way that one can conclude is being used in historical context (example: Flannery O'Connor).

In sum, the book is worth reading--I don't think you can avoid it if you are interested in Southern Literature--but I found it to be a mixed bag. In my opinion the longer stories, and the Civil War stories, are the best of the bunch.
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