I was going to try and somehow review, or at least discuss, Larry Brown’s essay The White Coon in the current issue of Field & Stream. This piece was discovered in one of the late author’s notebooks dated 1982. According to the notes, “it is the first true story he ever wrote.”
The piece deals with a high-school junior in 1968 who trudges through the woods on a cold night. Hunting raccoons, the boy and his colleagues tree three of the varmints and one of them turns out to be an incredibly rare coon, covered in “elegant white fur. It was milky white and looked as soft as down.”
But the truth of the matter is that I simply don’t know how to review this piece because I cannot even pretend to be objective. I have several guilty pleasures in my life, things that mean the world to me, even though I know they are laughable to others. I’m able to admit that not everyone thinks Kiss and Motley Crue are American musical treasures. I’m able to see the validity in the criticism that Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney receive. And although it’s a struggle, I can, with much difficulty, understand why some misguided people might not think that Bob Evans microwaveable sausage and biscuits are culinary delicacies. With most things that I love, I can still be somewhat objective.
But I simply can’t look at this Larry Brown piece with an open mind, without thinking about Joe, Waiting for the Ladies, Billy Ray’s Farm, and all of his other great work. And most of all, I can’t read the story without hearing that voice.
I’ve always felt that great actors distinguish themselves when they so completely dominate a role that it becomes impossible to hear another person’s voice utter those same lines. Read the screenplay for Pulp Fiction and try, I dare you, to imagine another actor’s voice in place of Samuel Jackson’s. Or say out loud, in as sinister a tone as you can muster, the name “Clarice” and see if Anthony Hopkins’s voice doesn’t replace your own.
Reading a Larry Brown story is the same experience for me. I can’t read these words without hearing his voice. As I’ve said before, Brown had a timbre that will never leave your head. Take that Matthew McConaughey accent the women all like, put move it slightly east, over into Mississippi. Soak it in years of hard living, bourbon, house fires, successes, failures, hunting trips, manual labor, rejection letters, literary acclaim and honor. Then you might have something coming close to Brown’s voice.
So, if you’re a fan of his work, read the piece in Field & Stream and reminisce. If you’re not a fan, check it out anywhere and let me hear your criticisms. Without that voice inside your head as you read those lines, maybe you’ll be able to be objective. I just can’t.