Review

Yonder Stands Your Orphan

by Barry Hannah



Barry Hannah is a wild man. Although he has given up the alcohol
that fueled some of his wilder escapades (including an episode
where, when confronted with his car filling with water during a
rainstorm, he riddled the floorboard with bullets to drain it), the
fire still burns. As does his writing, demonstrated by his latest
offering, YONDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN.

The title comes from a line in Bob Dylan's classic "It's All Over
Now, Baby Blue." It is not simply borrowed for effect, however; the
title is definitely appropriate for at least part of the subject
matter of the book, which deals with the mad and absurd goings on
around Eagle Lake in Mississippi. Hannah's style is reminiscent of
Pynchon and Vonnegut, yet he is by no means imitative of or slavish
to either of those gentlemen. No, Hannah's voice is uniquely his
own. Reading Hannah is like listening to the last survivor of
Lafitte's crew --- deranged by age, rum, and fever --- divulge the
location of the lost treasure: He repeats himself, rambles, goes
off on tangents unexpectedly, but his telling of the tale is so
rich, and the promises so rewarding, that one can't help but
continue with the story, refusing interruption. In my particular
case, I resisted interruption even when it would have been in my
best interest to stop. I hopelessly lost track of who the majority
of the characters were within the first 75 pages of the book,
having only the vaguest idea of who each of them were. I was so
caught up in Hannah's turn of phrase and use of language, for
purposes both humorous and horrific, that I could not stop reading.
I felt like a salmon heading downstream with a strong current; I
couldn't control where I was going and didn't recognize where I was
but knew I would eventually get where I wanted to go.

YONDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN centers on a camp for indigent orphans
near Eagle Lake. When two runaways from the camp discover a car
with two bodies in the trunk, a season of madness descends upon the
area. The focus of the madness and the violence that accompanies it
is Man Mortimer, a one-man vice operation who controls all of the
illicit action in the not-inconsiderable area surrounding Eagle
Lake. And Mortimer's main interest is prostitution, which is
carried out by willing hookers from mobile automobiles and SUVs ---
the better to keep the law, such as it is in that area, at
bay.

Mortimer's penchant for violence, never far from the surface, is
given full rant when he discovers that the only woman he has ever
cared for has callously betrayed him. Using his fascination with
knives as a vehicle for revenge, his passions and his anger
escalate into a spree that effects all whom he may encounter. The
sheriff is a young, almost-universally hated Northerner whose main
interests lie in the local theater and Melanie Wooten, a widow
approaching 70; he is of next to no use in opposing Mortimer. The
only individuals in Mortimer's way are a crazed, vaguely religious
saxophonist, an ex-biker turned preacher, a Vietnam veteran whose
wife is slowly but inexorably dying of cancer, and an alcoholic lay
preacher. If Mortimer goes down, however, he is not going alone.
 

YONDER STANDS YOUR ORPHAN is maddening, confusing, funny and
horrific, often all within the same sentence. Readers are advised
to begin a "scorecard" to list each character upon commencing the
book in order to increase their enjoyment of the novel. Love of
language, however, will be enough to keep most going.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Yonder Stands Your Orphan
by Barry Hannah

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871138115
  • ISBN-13: 9780871138118