Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Assured, Evocative Tales

Readers have been waiting a long time for new collection of stories by Tony Earley

Really, it’s always been impossible not to love Jess Walter, even before he pulled out all the stops in a New York Times review of Tony Earley’s story collection, Mr. Tall. After this rave review for the beloved Nashville author’s new book, we’re ready to anoint Walter an honorary Tennessean. Consider these statements:

“Earley … fires out of the gate in ‘Mr. Tall,’ with three assured, evocative tales rich in humor and complex emotion.”

“[T]he story unspools as easily as line from a fishing reel.”

“In the equally terrific title story, we’re back in 1930s North Carolina, and 16-year-old Plutina Scroggs has up and decided to marry Charlie Shires. … Plutina’s loneliness and Mr. Tall’s size and mysterious past (his wife and daughter drowned years earlier) form a perfect topography for short fiction, and the road rises gently and organically to the story’s final, powerful revelations.”

“This is different temporal and emotional terrain than ‘Jim the Boy,’ and it’s a treat to watch a writer as talented as Earley explore it, rising tides, skunk apes and all.”

Meanwhile, over at The Boston Globe, Max Winter keeps the bandwagon moving, going so far as to open his review of Mr. Tall by invoking Nabokov:

Nabokov said it best, in “Lolita”: “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” The use of a quiet tone, along with eloquence of language, to address that which is splintered, or thorny, or otherwise difficult to process, is a practice of long literary standing. In poetry, too, meter can be used to accentuate the parts of a work that are the most difficult to understand or, in some cases, closest to the writer’s thoughts. In the case of “Mr. Tall,” Tony Earley’s first book in several years, the author shows worlds divided, upended, and in some cases completely broken apart. And yet the stories never lose their unearthly grace and calm.

In an in-depth interview with Mindy Farabee in The Daily Beast Earley talks about the ideas behind the stories in this collection, the influence of his new colleague Lorrie Moore, and where his own literary impulses come from. Any graduate student planning a thesis on the work of Tony Earley would do well to listen up:

“In American fiction, we tend to write about things that go bad,” he says. “Lots of things blow up. I just don’t think our lives are as bad as our art would lead us to believe. I like writing about people who aren’t threatened by serial killers and children who aren’t molested. I like to write about people doing the best that they can. I want to celebrate the people who continue to stumble toward the light, even if they’re doing it poorly. I tell my students, make a character have to decide something. That’s where stories live.”