By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
If the novel sounds overcrowded, it is -- but this is as much the point as it is a defect. Perhaps it‘s a mistake to think of Hannah as a novelist at all. At this length, he’s a narrative poet on the Homeric model, specifically T.E. Lawrence‘s prose translation of Homer. As with Lawrence, Hannah’s lived-in, scholarly fidelity to the wilderness and warfare that he must translate into prose causes words to detonate in such a way that they make moments of the most fantastic action and insight feel anchored in the everyday.
One overriding drawback generated by such a huge cast, all of whom have vivid names and colorful declensions of nicknames (all of which are in steady play), is that for the first 60 pages or so one is constantly flipping back and forth to keep track of who‘s who. Man Mortimer, Max Raymond, Melanie and Mimi can all sound like one person, scanned fast, so one is constantly obliged to slow, and keep sorting, or seek clues to people’s identities in the nuances -- a treasure hunt made rewarding by Hannah‘s prose, whose least syllables teem with lost doubloons, gold sand and underwater glitter. Moreover, the notion that identity is fluid, that one person’s murderous impulses are of a piece with the greedy urges prompting everybody else‘s petty conquests, is of core importance to how Hannah envisions the world. All comedy and tragedy in Yonder Stands Your Orphan flow from this unexpected oneness.
Mortimer is driven to jealous rages because all his life he has looked like someone famous -- when young, he reminded people of the singer Fabian; in middle age he reminds them of Conway Twitty. (He has never, he laments, resembled himself.) The widow Melanie, by contrast, has led a life of such exemplary self-possession that she is driven to merge sensually with her polar opposites. Raymond and Mimi may enjoy a fiery sexual chemistry that is the envy of every onlooker, but the inner lining of their unity is turned outward by Hannah so as to reveal its connection to the sorrows of everybody else. ”He was both voyeur and actor when he took her, in all her spread beauty, but the part of voyeur was increasing and he knew he was a filthy old haint, as far from Christ as a rich man.“
The specter of Christ haunts these woods a bit more clownishly and forgivingly than he does those of Flannery O’Connor, but shame and the craving for redemption are no less stubborn. One can object that, in the end, certain of the characters‘ fates are too glibly achieved, but one can’t deny the haunting totality of the novel‘s effect. Overpopulous though it may be, Hannah’s world takes after nature in this respect. His story‘s meaning is embedded in the crowded riot of its events and the muddy thickets of people’s warring despairs, and hopes.