Scott McClanahan gave a reading last night at Franklin Park that few who witnessed it will soon forget. Taking the microphone, the West Virginian spoke in a panting monotone, like a terrified child, but it turned out to be part of a masterfully calculated persona; this was a reading, not a recitation. He ended by walking away from the podium and moving into the crowd, speaking without amplification, playing a bagpipe song on a portable recorder that he’d later toss to the ground, exhorting us all to join him again next year to the day, “alive and not dead, alive and not dead,” and promising, I think, that we’d meet again that night, in our dreams. It was rousing, unifying, and unforgettable, less like a short-story reading than a secular sermon—less written in advance than passed down on the spot from some Holy Spirit of literature.
As always, the popular reading series attracted an SRO crowd, packed into Franklin Park’s relatively large main room. (David Goodwillie was there!) It was a book launch party for Blake Butler, who just released his second book this year, Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia. The youthful-looking Butler read last, and seemed a little drunk. He read aggressively: he was surly, funny, loud, a little slurred, rhythmic, angry, accusatory, intense.
The poet Robin Beth Schaer read, as did the novelist Alexander Chee, but the standout, aside from McClanahan, was Sarah Rose Etter, who read her story “Tongue Party” from her collection of the same name. It was a breathless reading of a disturbing, weirdly sexual tale of an underage girl (I think?) pimped out by her father to glossal fetishists.