Southern Writer Larry Brown Gets His Due

Larry Brown, Oxford, MS 1993—photograph by Tom Rankin
Larry Brown, Oxford, MS 1993Photograph by Tom Rankin

Larry Brown wrote simple, good, gritty stories. Though a favorite among the Southern literary set, Brown, who died in 2004, hasn’t enjoyed the same posthumous notoriety as other tough-guy literary figures, like Raymond Carver or Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson. Tiny Love: The Complete Stories of Larry Brown aims to correct that.

In addition to the full text of Brown’s two previously published short-story collections, the anthology contains seven new tales that are rife with the loose morals that Brown encountered during the 17 years he worked as a firefighter in Mississippi. (The collection also includes an intimate foreword by the novelist and former MJ contributing editor Jonathan Miles, who has long championed Brown’s work.)

Brown lived in Oxford, the same small college town where William Faulkner had resided during his lifetime. But whereas Faulkner won literary fame, and a Nobel Prize, with his stream-of-consciousness prose, Brown favored spare, deceptively simple language that doesn’t turn reading into a chore. (The same, of course, can’t be said of Faulkner, who often needed an editor in a bad way.) Brown’s work, as a result, has aged surprisingly well and doesn’t read as though it’s preserved in amber.

Nowadays Brown is perhaps best remembered for his novel Joe and his memoir On Fire (reissued last year) but he no doubt excelled at the short story, as Tiny Love gratefully minds us. Drawn in deceptively simple prose, Brown’s characters drink too much, smoke too much, and flout the law when they can. In “Plant Growin’ Problems,” a weed-growing biker crosses paths with a crooked Georgia sheriff. In the title story, a factory worker struggles with how to deal with his alcoholic wife. But, with these characters, Brown proves that the coarsest material can produce the most affecting art.

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