Review

Billy Ray's Farm

by Larry Brown

Read an Excerpt



I love the South, the Deep South of Louisiana and Mississippi. In
the throes of a bit of middle-aged crazy or male menopause, take
your pick, I have taken a right angle turn in my profession and
moved the lion's share of my profession down there, driving late at
night through Mississippi, where I-59 cleaves through the forest
and headlights come up upon you out of nowhere and pass into the
unknown ahead. This is the South that Larry Brown writes about, the
Deep South, with lots of woods between small towns, the settings
for those wonderful, magical books like FAY or FATHERS AND SONS
that go down best with Junior Kimbrough or R.L. Burnside playing in
the background.

BILLY RAY'S FARM is a collection of Brown's essays drawn from such
a myriad range of sources that there's no way that any one soul
could have read all of them before now. They come from publications
you would expect such as Outside and The Southern Quarterly and
some surprising ones such as The Book Report (yes, the very same)
and even Glamour, for crissake. And they are all uniformly
excellent.

Brown's prose slices in and out of life so finely, so easily, that
his fiction takes on the quality of a documentary narrative. So
too, his essays read like fiction with regard to Brown's ability to
hold the reader's interest. The title essay "Billy Ray's Farm" is
an excellent example. The narrative on the surface is concerned
with cattle raising; there are levels, however, buried within the
narrative, concerning dreams and the sweat and effort needed to
bring them, kicking and screaming, into reality. You will not drive
past farmland again after reading "Billy Ray's Farm" without
thinking of that story. Then there is the social phenomenon
described in "So Much Fish, So Close To Home: An Improv." "So Much
Fish" concerns, in its own words, a goldrush of free fish, and what
the narrator goes through in an attempt to obtain some. This is a
rich story, not the least for his account of a encounter he had in
a bizarre general store.

Hopeful writers, meanwhile will find three indispensable pieces.
"Chattanooga Nights" is an account of Brown's attendance at a
literary conference and the intimidation that he initially felt,
and gradually grew out of. "Harry Crews: Mentor and Friend" is
about...well, it's about Harry Crews, and his influence, and
friendship with Brown. This is as easy a piece to relate to as
anything in BILLY RAY'S FARM. Think about being influenced by
someone in any field of endeavor, and then not only developing a
relationship with that individual, but having them help you along.
Mind boggling, indeed. Then, there is "The Whore In Me," Brown's
account of a cross-country book tour. It's not all grits and glory,
as he makes all too clear.

BILLY RAY'S FARM is a brief but deep collection from an author who
should be seriously considered a national treasure. Those who were
hoping for a novel will get over whatever disappointment they may
have felt within the first page or so. This is an unexpected large
gift in a small package.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Billy Ray's Farm
by Larry Brown

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2002
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 0743225244
  • ISBN-13: 9780743225243