Hanger Stout, Awake! at 50 Years: A Rumination

In May 2018, to commemorate 51 years after initial publication, Personville Press will release a 2nd edition of Hanger Stout, Awake. The second edition will include this  new preface which I wrote for it.  

When author Jack Matthews (1925-2013) talked to me about digitalizing his books, he made clear that the first book he wanted to do was the 1967 novella Hanger Stout, Awake. I had already read most of Matthews’ books (including Hanger) and thought Hanger to be minor compared to later novels and story collections. But Hanger Stout Awake was the breakaway book which put Matthews on the American literary map. A major publisher (Harcourt, Brace and World) had published it. It was reviewed positively by Time and New York Times; the great Southern writer Eudora Welty gave an impressive blurb for it, and in the 1990s, it was nominated by Antaeus literary journal as one of the “neglected works of the 20th century.”

Wait! Did I miss something when I first read it?

Over time my respect for the novella has deepened.

The novella is about a different era, one that people today might not even recognize. No cell phones, computers, not even much pop culture. It centers around people in a small town and a teenager who works at a gas station. It seems to be a teenage coming-of-age story. But contrary to expectations, Clyde Stout (who is nicknamed “Hanger”) doesn’t grow up or lose his innocence or learn A Very Important Lesson. He becomes interested in a strange new sport called “hanging,” but it doesn’t consume too much of his attention; indeed, he is skeptical about it from the start. He still smarts from romantic disappointment over a girl named Penny, but it’s certainly no Werther-like despair.

The book certainly has incidents and sharply defined characters and dramatic events around the edges, but things mostly proceed without climax or epiphany.

Is that bad?

A short story can evoke a certain time and place and still converge at a single point. A novel is expected to be polyphonic: a variety of voices, contrasting perspectives, characters crisscrossing one another’s paths. A novella can do a little of both; this one gives the reader the chance to view the world from a teenage boy’s perspective during a random week.

Suppose you were tasked with writing an essay about a family after living with them for a week. That’s enough time to get a sense of a household’s dynamics and routines. In a week, you can probably write about: the living space, the conversational rhythms of family members, the daily schedules, the diet, the shared values (and disagreements), the inside jokes and recreational activities.

Paradoxically, although your descriptions of living with this family might be accurate and perceptive, it is basically a static snapshot. People are always changing; they outgrow interests and develop new ones. Decades later, if the family were to read your written account of that week, they might barely recognize themselves. In any small span of time, an outside observer might overlook important things or exaggerate the importance of other things.

Perhaps during your week with this hypothetical family, the teenage girl was sick with a three day flu, the son was preparing for final exams at school, the father had recently been laid off from his job and was job-hunting. These random details would certainly affect your impressions. Mood and stress levels around a household are always fluctuating (even if some values and routines remain constant). During the mercurial teenage years, it’s hard to distinguish between the evanescent and the enduring.

The Hanger story takes place within the span of a week. Is this week special? Maybe, maybe not. If we visited Clyde’s life six months before or ten months later, it’s hard to imagine whether Clyde’s personality or outlook would be noticeably different. If you met Clyde 20 years later, he might even need to be reminded that he once considered himself to be a “competitive hanger.”

Would it have been better for the novella to visit Clyde at several different points in his life?

Hanger Stout, Awake records just a small amount of time, making it impossible to determine which details are important, and which are ephemeral. From Clyde’s perspective, everything unfolding in his life is interesting and important. This slice of life includes all sorts of tensions or minor anxieties; but they never dominate his attention. Clyde plods on. He has interests and hobbies and relationships he wants to cultivate, but nothing seems especially urgent. Should Clyde be focusing on something else? Should he be changing or maturing any faster?

I don’t think the book is trying to understand the depth of Clyde’s personality or ascribe cosmic significance to his life. Sure, Clyde is interesting and somewhat remarkable, but also ordinary. Instead, the novella is trying to capture the way Clyde absorbs and responds to his world. What does he notice? What does he think about? What excites him? He is observing people and flirting with various notions. He doesn’t seem angry or ambitious or even industrious. Clyde has opinions and guesses, but none of them are strongly-held. Frankly, Clyde is a little bored, but not unhappy.

Capturing the mundane realities of living seems to be a secondary task of literature. What is the value of that? People who write tend to be removed from their subject matter. I once assigned a group of middle school students to write a one page diary about their previous day. Students found the subject boring, but as a teacher I found these miniature diary entries to be fascinating – though certainly not great literature. As a middle-aged writer, I could probably write about an 11 year old’s life with expressiveness and insight even though my memories of that year remain vague. (In a way, teaching or raising children makes it easier for adults to remember their youthful perspectives).

Unless you have extraordinary powers of recall, most of your past is filled with gigantic stretches of unremarkable time. Perhaps you can recall it by locating adjacent chronological landmarks, or maybe you can fill in the blanks with memory aids or the help of another person, but the ordinary day-to-day concerns (What will I eat later? Whom am I angry at? What chores do I need to do?) disappear quickly from memory after they are experienced.

Teenage years are important – and remains a fixed and indelible mark in memory. You are more likely to remember the songs, the insults and the despair – but also the triumphs and human connections. One recent study [1] indicated that people’s favorite songs tend to be whatever was playing in the background when they were 13 or 14. But there was nothing magical about those songs – nor were people of that age paying much attention to what was playing in the background. Instead these songs are cues to an earlier age which most people forget and return to multiple times later.

Several things are apparent to readers. Clyde is overly attached to a girlfriend who doesn’t feel the same way. He stays busy by reading the occasional poem, fixing cars and trying out silly sports. Clyde doesn’t have grand pronouncements to make about life. He doesn’t cause trouble; is that a good thing? He doesn’t particularly want to go to college or start a career. Importantly, Clyde doesn’t see anything wrong with his current life – although he probably wishes he had a real girlfriend. Clyde (and the reader) realize that getting drafted into the army has the potential to alter his life dramatically.

Because Clyde has no idea what the future will bring, he doesn’t know if the present moment will later be remembered as idyllic, traumatic or just dull. The only thing one can do (regardless of age) is just to hang on and be ready for anything.

What Runs Through a Teenager’s Head?

Reading old books is a terrific way to get a sense of what preoccupied the minds of previous generations. Really, the 1960s isn’t that far away from the current year of 2018. People had TV, political upheavals, rock music, cars and many of the same teenage pastimes (with the notable exception of videogames and cellphones). Maybe you couldn’t download ebooks instantaneously onto a portable device, but the era certainly had enough libraries, bookstores and college to fill a youngster with notions. Even though Hanger Stout Awake takes place in the mid-1960s, it seems likely that the author is reflecting on his own teenage years (which would have been in the late-1930s to mid-1940s). For example, there is no mention of television and not much mention of sports or radio. Perhaps in the Midwest, residents of small towns were content to live outside these cultural influences, or maybe they just didn’t interest Clyde Stout (or the author himself).

For lack of anything better to do, Clyde “hangs around” adults and listens carefully to what people say. This is not that surprising. Clyde just graduated from high school and now inhabits the world of adults.

In her essay “Why You Truly Never Leave High School,” [2] Jennifer Senior notes the historical fact that

Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.

Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.” Yes, his words were prudish, but many parents have had some version of these misgivings ever since, especially those who’ve consciously opted not to send their kids into the Roman amphitheater.

What happens when a teenager like Clyde is surrounded mainly by adults? First, he is usually the least experienced and knowledgeable in any group. Adults are regularly giving him advice, laughing at his naivety and warning him about things. But Clyde doesn’t complain much; he just accepts the fact that grownups are always going to be criticizing and giving advice. Perhaps he may seem like a passive or deferential individual, but that’s what happens when people around you are older and (usually) wiser.

Clyde is also exposed to the unpleasant realities of adults – the deceptions, the shortcomings, the vices. To others, Clyde may personify naivety. But when people look at him, they see a charming reflection of what they used to be. Clyde reminds them of how they approached experiences with fresh eyes and an optimistic attitude. At the same point where adults start viewing life as going downhill, it can be a pleasant consolation to help younger generations still trying to go uphill.

In this book Clyde seems unnaturally mature, deferential and even-tempered. He never yells or goes crazy or gets drunk. He never seems lazy or undisciplined, mainly because he has no chance to. One can only wonder how Clyde would be if he spent more time hanging around with people his own age. Maybe he would become more self-absorbed with hobbies, more political or more willing to hit the road with friends in search of adventure. Maybe he would be trying weed or sexually experimenting; maybe he would be ready to move in an apartment with friends. These are concerns that teenagers today could easily identify with.

That is why it can be such a shock to the system to read a book like this today. Unlike Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, Clyde Stout isn’t cynical about adults. Unlike Ponyboy Curtis of the Outsiders, Clyde is not particularly aware of or concerned about his identity in the group. Clyde is not really struggling to create his own identity (though someday that time will come). He is not overcome by sexual urges or ambition. He does not yearn to move to New York or Paris or Hollywood. The pleasant and almost nurturing environment of this small town doesn’t constrict Clyde’s ability to learn about the world or become the person he wants to be. Much as the reader (and the book’s characters) may laugh at Clyde’s fascination with cars or obscure poetry or quirky sports, Clyde is doing whatever he wants; maybe the sport of free hanging won’t be the next big thing, but maybe – eventually – something will spark a serious interest in him: missionary work, book collecting, antiques restoration, psychotherapy, Buddhism – who knows?

Traipsing through the Junkyard

One striking (and almost humorous) thing about Clyde’s character is his almost encyclopedic knowledge of cars. (Not being a car guy myself, I ended up highlighting each car reference and then compiling an online photo gallery of cars mentioned in this novella to remind people of what the cars actually looked like.

Someone who works at a gas station would notice anything automotive. On the other hand, perhaps Clyde judges people too quickly by what they drive. About the “four minute man from Detroit” (who would compete against Clyde in the hanging contest), Clyde comments, “If we had seen a car like this at the station, we would of kicked sand over it.” When his ex-girlfriend Penny speaks glowingly about a man’s flashy MG sportscar even though she had never expressed interest in cars, Clyde comments with irritation, “But what did Charlotte’s boy friend know about that MG car of his? I bet I could tear the engine down and put it back together again, and he probably didn’t even know where the generator is.”

Through statements like that, Clyde seems to acknowledge the difference between the status symbol of a car and a hands-on understanding of how a car actually works. A car is an extension of his personality – especially if you have been taking good care of it. At one point, Clyde says, “you don’t criticize a guy’s car. Not if you know how much work and sweat and thinking he’s put into it.”

In the year 1966, Clyde himself drives the highly regarded 1956 Chevy. He takes good care of it, but it’s no longer new. The rear-vision mirror broke, so Clyde has been trying to find a new one. A rear mirror is important because it lets the driver see where he’s been, but the people at the shop advise him not to buy a new mirror for a 10 year old car. Instead Clyde is advised to find a mirror at Rigolo’s junkyard. As Clyde wanders through the place, noticing the discarded and damaged cars (“All different, all old or wrecked, all with different stories behind them”), memories of conversations with Penny overtake him; he can’t get out of his mind the girl who semi-dumped him. Clyde finds several decent rear-vision mirrors, but none had the chrome bubbles he wanted. Finally, he finds one from a 1953 Pontiac which was too big for his Chevy. Clyde leaves without taking anything, but immediately has regrets and returns later to take the oversized one from the Pontiac which he had previously rejected. Clyde is learning to make do.

The two visits to the junkyard are short and minor scenes (you could easily miss them), yet they are among my favorite moments. Clyde is alone with his thoughts. He is exploring the strange surroundings while pondering past and present. A junkyard at dark might seem dirty and scary, but for Clyde it is familiar and comfortable territory. Clyde recognizes that the discarded remains of cars once cherished by their owners still have value (if you know where to look).

In a way, Clyde’s trek through Rigolo’s junkyard parallels the author’s journeys through used bookstores during his life. All bookish types like bookstores, but Jack Matthews found spiritual value from these book-hunting expeditions (and wrote about these journeys in Booking in the Heartland, Booking Pleasures and Reading Matter). When you travel through bookstore aisles, not only are you rediscovering a perspective of a long-gone world, you are also trying to figure out how you personally can make use of what you find.

There is joy in being alone with the refuse from the past. You have no urgent reason to be there; you are unsure of what exactly you’re looking for or where you can find it. Perhaps you will leave empty-handed. Or perhaps you find something remarkable.

[1] Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth, “The Songs that Bind.” New York Times, February 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/opinion/sunday/favorite-songs.html

[2] Senior, Jennifer. “Why You Truly Never Leave High School.” New York Magazine, January 20, 2013. http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/

Robert Nagle is editor of Personville Press and is writing a collection of essays about the fiction of Jack Matthews.  Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

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Antaeus magazine’s “Neglected Books of the 20th Century”

Jack Matthews was proud to learn that his early novella Hanger Stout, Awake was listed by Antaeus magazine as one of the “Neglected Books of the 20th century.” Personally, I think some of his later novels are more remarkable — especially the satirical novel, Sassafras and one of his last works,  Gambler’s Nephew

About a year ago I came across a great site neglectedbooks.com which lists previously published lists of book recommendations, and there I found the Antaeus list.  It also contains two other lists I know and love from David Madden’s  Rediscoveries 1 and Rediscoveries 2,  . In Rediscoveries 1, Jack Matthews himself wrote a 2 page recommendation for  South Wind by Norman Douglas which is downloadable for free from Project Gutenberg. Ok, the list is below.  Continue reading

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New (old) audio, New (old) photos by Jack Matthews

I first got acquainted with author Jack Matthews by stumbling upon an audio interview he did with Don Swaim in 1984. Swaim used to run a literary interview show on CBS radio; later Swaim released the extended interviews with these authors to Ohio University for a WiredforBooks site. Unfortunately, the site was not well maintained (someone even forgot to pay the annual domain cost!), so the audio interviews have been offline for a longer-than-expected time.  Eventually the site will be fully restored, but in the meantime, I want to make available a copy of the audio files:

  • 1984 interview mp3. 25 minutes. Matthews talks about Hanger Stout Awake, book collecting, growing up in Ohio, teaching college students, Sassafras.
  • Jack Matthews and Don Swaim discuss the life and writings of Ambrose Bierce (in mp3 format). (Mirrored audio here).  recorded Oct. 9, 2001, WOUB, Athens, Ohio  46 minutes.
  • Note that the multimedia page of this site also has  other multimedia, including an audio interview I did in 2010.

Here are two historic images of Jack Matthews from the university archives

Update: Ouch! It looks as though Ohio University does not allow these images to be posted here, so I had to remove them. The link still works though (for now).

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Story Collection: Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind

Book Description

During the last decade of his life, author Jack Matthews wrote a series of 1-2 page prose pieces (which he dubbed “Abruptions” or “very short stories that end abruptly”).

Matthews had already published over 20 books of fiction with an astonishing variety of characters and plots. This last volume hints at a lot of characters and plots without trying to resolve them.

Each abruption — which rarely takes more than 5 minutes to read — sheds light on something unexpected, whether it be a character’s view on life or the reader’s notions of how the world ought to work.

Many episodes read like contemporary fables or sketches of quirky people from small midwest towns. Two older women have a long-running feud about what flowers should go on the fence between their houses. An actor makes a living out of playing the bad Nazi in movies. An owner of a movie studio in the 1930s throws out any audience member who misbehaves during a movie. An office worker is distracted by a pretty woman washing the outside windows.

Other stories sound like wild fairy tales. What if one superintelligent Siamese twin were conjoined with an idiot brother? What if a witch’s curse caused every third word uttered by a person to go unsaid? What if a woman has terrifying dreams about a missing watch?

Some stories simply ponder the imponderable. Why do certain memories persist or reappear? Why do elderly people become set in their ways? Why do people become blind to certain things?

Matthews explains in the book’s preface that abruptions “can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry.” These stories are a fitting coda for Matthew’s career as a storyteller. As deep and dark as these abruptions can become, they are told with simple language, flashes of humor and a sage’s sense of wonder and irony.

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) published 20+ books and taught literature at Ohio University over four decades. His story collections were praised by authors such as  Eudora Welty  and W.P. Kinsella and received positive reviews in places like New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. He is the author of Hanger Stout, Awake, a modern coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s obsession with cars (which was praised by Time Magazine and called by National Book Award winner William Stafford “one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.”) He has published multiple essays and several works of fiction about life in 19th century America.

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Publication Date: October 16, 2017 (Version History)

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“Few contemporary writers can – or want to – compose stories in the narrow tunnel of the interior, the rutted trail of memory between mind and heart, sometimes shutting out other people as well as time and place and usual props. Matthews takes us there, carrying a bright light.”

Art Seidenbaum, Los Angeles Times

“Matthews stories are like friends from small towns: They are honest, warm, occasionally lyrical and as strange and idiosyncratic as the rest of us.”

Arthur Sabatini, Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Preface by the Author

“Abruptions”  are  very short stories that end abruptly. While they are known by more familiar labels (e.g., “Flash Fiction” and “Sudden Fiction”), I like the in-your-face brusqueness of the word “abruptions.” Like parables, they seem to be almost all point, lacking the more comprehensive “pointedness” that enriches and complicates longer narratives. As abruptions, they can be conveniently and thoughtlessly dismissed as mere anecdotes – which, in a way they are, although there is nothing “mere” about them, for they can penetrate in ways not accessible through the longer, leisurely accounts of more conventional narratives.

Essential to their depth is their conciseness. By what is both presented and judiciously excluded, abruptions can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry. The depth to which they can reach is always and to some extent a function of what is both their genius as a form and their most obvious limitation, their brevity. Nevertheless, it is the narrow and pointed instrument that penetrates deepest.

Because of our instinct for a telling taxonomy, we are nagged by the question of whether abruptions are nothing more than what we are tempted to view contemptuously as, say, key situations or story ideas rather than finished stories – which is to say, the real thing. To the extent that no quality can exist without quantity, it follows that if the latter is diminished, the former is necessarily affected, and in many contexts it is affected negatively.

So the question of what definition would best fit “abruptions” is as natural as it will eventually prove irrelevant. While they may seem to be nothing more than mutilated or apprentice narratives, they are nevertheless real stories in certain important ways, their brevity notwithstanding. Often, in a well-designed abruption, what might appear to be an amputation – a gratuitous chopping off of a story’s end -is actually the final, sudden emergence of a latent theme in the story, fulfilling a pattern that has been at work beneath the surface machinery that drives the plot.

Abruptions can be seen as constituting a literary sub-genre, for they are as distinct from the classic short story as haikus from sonnets. And as already argued, their brevity is suggestive in ways incompatible with more conventional closures, and some form of suggestiveness is essential to all narrative – especially short stories, and within that division, the still more intensified class of abruptions.

Agonizing over whether abruptions are “really” stories or not isn’t worth the effort: call them “lawn mowers” or “dental floss” if you want – but think of them as lenses focusing larger, more complex ideas or conceits. And the truism that great literature is dependent upon great readers could not be better exemplified than in a readerly interaction with a well-designed abruption, for its very abruptness presents a unique challenge.

So I hereby challenge you and welcome you to the game.

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Introducing Barbiel Matthews-Saunders

Barbiel Matthews-Saunders is not only the daughter of author Jack Matthews,  she is also the illustrator for many of Jack Matthews ebooks by Personville Press … not to mention several print books. This multi-talented person is also a musician in Silent Lion, a Renaissance-inspired folk group — where she writes songs and plays the mandolin. She and her husband live in central Ohio and perform regularly at folk and Renaissance festivals around the country.

Barbiel and husband John Saunders

Since her father’s death, Barbiel has been actively involved in managing his literary estate. Personville Press publisher  Robert Nagle has been working closely with her to ensure that his literary titles are published in accordance with her father’s wishes. From time to time, she may post announcements on this blog. Stay tuned. [Note by Robert Nagle]
Continue reading

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Jack Matthews vs. Robert Coover

Here’s a small letter to the editor by Jack Matthews which  New York Times Book Review  published in 1992:

“To the Editor: Your hypotext on hypertext writ by Robert Coover is hyperbole in hypolex, though Coover’s sure a groover. What gurus of the new can’t see is how new fads betray us, for when you hustle entropy your progeny is chaos.

JACK MATTHEWS Athens, Ohio

Once, in an interviews Matthews confessed,  “I’m still getting used to electric lights.”

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Letters to NYTBR “I am even a less a Gottliebian”

Here’s another random letter to the editor which Jack Matthews sent to the NYTBR in 1990. The essay he is responding to is long and actually quite good, despite Jack’s quibbles. Matthews has always had a deep interest in Continental philosophy, as can be attested in his hybrid biography of Schopenhauer and the Interview with the Sphinx play. 

Heidegger for Fun and Profit

Anthony Gottlieb’s essay ”Heidegger for Fun and Profit” (Jan. 7) had some fun in it, and maybe some profit. But when Mr. Gottlieb tried to play fast and easy with one of Heidegger’s premises, he provided some fun that does not profit his argument. This occurs when he dismisses the idea that language creates ”the world we inhabit,” since it is by means of vocabulary that we make distinctions and ”it is the distinctions we draw that make the world.” ”But there have been many objections to this,” Mr. Gottlieb writes, referring to ”all sorts of skills, from that of the chess master to that of a musician, [which] involve grasping distinctions that have no expression in language.”

Here Mr. Gottlieb has obviously drifted off into his own quiddity of what-is-not-ness, for in every way that matters chess and music are languages, revealing precisely those parts of the world that we know as chess and music. What else could they reveal? And what more eloquent surrebuttal of Mr. Gottlieb’s rebuttal could one cite?

Perhaps I should state for the record that while I am not a Heideggerian, I am even less a Gottliebian – which I couldn’t have known until I read this piece on Heidegger.

JACK MATTHEWS, Athens, Ohio

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Preface to “Soldier Boys” Short Story Ebook Collection (now published)

(Below is the preface for the Soldier Boys ebook.  The book page contains purchase links and discount coupon codes. Further Readings on Civil War Fiction — an annotated bibliography which appears in the ebook’s appendix — is also online.)

During his lifetime Jack Matthews (1925-2013) wrote hundreds of short stories and published seven short story collections. Some of the stories won awards, and all the story collections were positively reviewed by major publications. Why then has it taken 23 years for his next story collection to be released?

The answer is interesting and perhaps a little sad. After Jack Matthews retired from his university teaching job in the 1990s, he continued to write full time (and teach an occasional class). But aside from publishing a smattering of pieces in smaller literary magazines (and getting a few plays produced), Matthews had absolutely no luck getting any of his books published. It must have been frustrating, but Matthews rarely dwelled on the vagaries of the New York publishing market. He knew that short stories rarely sold well and lacked the cultural impact of a novel or screenplay. But he spent a significant portion of his retirement years writing them. Continue reading

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New Story Collection: Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War

Book Description

Over the decades, Jack Matthews collected memoirs and personal correspondence by actual U.S. Civil War soldiers. Eventually this interest led him to write a group of stories from the vantage point of teenage soldiers. The stories are less about specific Civil War battles or the horrors of war than about ordinary adventures and heartbreaks of young soldiers.

One soldier constantly composes new epitaphs for himself (much to the irritation of his comrades). A wounded soldier finds himself abandoned by his regiment and accidentally strikes up a friendship with a soldier from the other side. One soldier starts seeing ghostly visions of his dead brother and wants to know why. In the opening story, a courier is sent by headquarters to deliver an urgent (and tragic) message only to learn that the local commander has forbidden him to deliver it. In the final story, two soldiers have to hunt down and stop a hidden sharpshooter nicknamed “Old Mortality” and in so doing have to face (and understand) their fears. Told in an accessible, humorous and even old-fashioned way, these stories have a philosophical bent and give readers a sense of how 19th century young Americans must have pondered their world.

This 8th story collection (published posthumously) is the first Jack Matthews story collection to be published in 23 years.

This special ebook edition is illustrated by Barbiel Matthews-Sanders (the author’s daughter) and includes two introductory essays by Personville editor Robert Nagle. The author’s website (www.ghostlypopulations.com ) also contains a study guide for teachers and an annotated bibliography of Civil War fiction prepared especially for this ebook. The volume includes 9 original stories published digitally for the first time, plus a preface, literary obituary and bibliography of Civil War fiction. The stories themselves are about 45,000 words.

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) published 20+ books and taught literature at Ohio University over four decades. His story collections were praised by authors such as Tim O’Brien and W.P. Kinsella and received positive reviews in places like New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. He is the author of Hanger Stout, Awake, a modern coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s obsession with cars (which was praised by Time Magazine and called by National Book Award winner William Stafford “one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.”) He has published multiple essays and several works of fiction about life in 19th century America.

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Retail Price:  $4
Publication Date: April 5, 2016 (Version History)

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Coupon Codes:  Don’t forget to get the Smashwords coupon code for significant discounts on Jack Matthews ebooks!

Note about Ebook Sample: Smashwords doesn’t let you view a free sample (but Amazon does). But the ebook’s preface is published in its entirety below. Also, smashwords has a 100% free ebook of Matthews stories.

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Praise for Previous Story Collections by Jack Matthews

“Mr. Matthews is a master of prose conversation and deadpan charm. He is ironic, cool, and shrewd, and he writes a lucid prose.”

Tom O’Brien,  New York Times Book Review

“Jack Matthews proves once again that he is in the top one percent of American fiction writers. Witty, polished, wise, ironic, with deep insight into the dark recesses of the human heart, Matthews’ stories are often intense and humorous at the same time.”

W.P. Kinsella (Author of Shoeless Joe)

“Few contemporary writers can – or want to – compose stories in the narrow tunnel of the interior, the rutted trail of memory between mind and heart, sometimes shutting out other people as well as time and place and usual props. Matthews takes us there, carrying a bright light.”

Art Seidenbaum, Los Angeles Times

“Matthews stories are like friends from small towns: They are honest, warm, occasionally lyrical and as strange and idiosyncratic as the rest of us.”

Arthur Sabatini, Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Arthur and Adele: A Philosopher’s Strange, Complicated (and Tragic) Relationship with his Sister

(Here is an extended excerpt  from the recently published book, Schopenhauer’s Will: Das Testament by Jack Matthews about the life of  19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.  In this excerpt, Matthews reflects  on Arthur Schopenhauer’s  relationship with his sister Adele.)

The Lonely Life

If a philosopher cannot live philosophically, what good is his philosophy? Schopenhauer understood the ancient ideal of philosophy as the study of how to live wisely and well, and once argued that all great thinkers think concretely, their ideas rooted in perception, with their minds never dismissive of phenomena, and yet. always from a noumenal perspective.  In one sense, the ultimate triumph and validation of such thinking is our ability to govern our passions and live reasonably. And one manifestation of this, is our ability to budget our resources, live within our means, and thereby preside over our lives in ways unknown to those who are subject to the tyrannies of appetite and emotion.

One of the great practical decisions is where to live, and Schopenhauer deliberated over this with great care. After long and serious study, he narrowed his choice to Frankfort and Mannheim, then in English listed their advantages in a double column, as follows:

FrankfortMannheim
Healthy ClimateNice weather (in spite of intolerable heat)
Fine countrysideSilent & uncrowded
Comfort of a large cityMore politeness
Better reading room in libraryBetter foreign bookseller
Natural history museumThe Harmony & its library
Better plays, operas, concertsThe Heidelberg library
More EnglishmenGreater sociability
Better coffeehousesBetter baths in summer
No bad waterFewer thieves

Choosing Mannheim, he moved there, where his first decision was to join the Harmony Society. And yet, within a year, he realized he was unhappy. For some reason, he did not feel completely at home. He began to grow restless, dissatisfied. And shortly, the prospect of Frankfort, with its larger English population and better medical care and more congenial coffee houses won him over. It appears that his second choice was a judicious one, for he lived there the rest of his life.

In 1845 his peace of mind was once again disturbed when Adele visited him on her way south to Italy. She was travelling with her dearest friends, Ottilie von Goethe and Sybelle Mertens. It was obvious that in many ways she was living a miserable life, largely dependent upon those two friends simply for subsistence. But she did have friends, at least; which was more than her brother could claim.

She had come to think of herself as a poet, a creator of delicate verse, who would have prospered from her writing if she had been a man. Schopenhauer disagreed, of course, but managed to treat her with something like kindness, even when she read some of her wretched verses aloud one evening, pausing after every stanza to ask if her brother understood its meaning. Twice in speaking of their mother, she broke down and cried, which infuriated Schopenhauer; he was infuriated simply by the notion that anyone could feel pity for that hopeless bitch. But here, too, he somehow managed to behave himself, and the next morning when Adele and her two friends departed, brother and sister could almost have passed for friends.

In solitude be a multitude unto thyself.  — Tibullus

His Sister’s Will

This was the last time he would see Adele. In four years she was dead. Her will specified that her pathetic savings were to be distributed evenly between her two friend, while her brother, identified as the “bachelor philosopher who lives in Frankfort” was to receive her reading glasses (still smudged with her small fingerprints), a broken gold locket concealing their mother’s portrait, a soft-paper notebook containing thirty-one of her pastel drawings of birds, flowers, and the naked human foot, along with the following poem, written in her own hand, written in her own hand, on peach-tinted paper, and dedicated simply to “my brother, Arthur”:

SORROW
By Adele Schopenhauer

The winds wail at evening. I can hear its broom
Sweeping the air in the alleyways at night.
I can hear it crying from my small, lonely room
Knowing each and every syllable of fright.

“Why is one born to suffer?” the heart asks;
“And why should we yearn for what can never be?”
In my little room I busy myself with tasks.
They quiet the mind, knowing the heart can’t see.

One day Kierkegaard would write that man is an egotist, thus essentially tragic and condemned to depair. He would also argue that God is beyond the reach of human reason. And he would say that Eternity matters, not suffering. Finally, he would conclude that all huamn understanding leads to either error or paradox. Upon all this, the shadow of Schopenhauer’s thought had fallen…

That person is happiest, whether king or peasant, who finds peace at home
— Goethe

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Reproduced  from Schopenhauer’s Will: Das Testament by Jack Matthews,  with permission from  Nine Point Publishing. Related: See an extended book review.

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