In the time it takes you to read this review, the prolific George Singleton likely will have published three more in a seemingly infinite number of short stories. One will probably be nominated for a prize, he will certainly grouse that he was not paid enough for the other two, and all three will be sidesplittingly hilarious.
The author of eight story collections, two novels, and a genre-challenging book of writerly advice, Singleton has distinguished himself as one of the most brilliantly comedic writers of our time and a defining voice of our complicated and often contradictory contemporary southern experience. He is also a possum-feeding, snake-handling, wet-willy-giving lunatic who has been inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the South Carolina Academy of Authors—but not for those wet willies. In spite of them.
When I came to South Carolina in 2004 to serve as marketing director for the University of South Carolina Press, I had never heard of Mr. Singleton nor read any of his stories, and that reflects poorly on me. If you still haven’t heard of George, then that reflects poorly on you too. In preparation for my immersion into Palmetto State literary life, I asked Columbia University Press’s intrepid and discerning southern sales rep Catherine Hobbs for her recommendations of books and writers I should be reading but had not yet discovered on my own.
Without hesitation, Catherine graciously endorsed the Lillian Smith Book Award-winning The Hard to Catch Mercy by William P. Baldwin and Singleton’s Why Dogs Chase Cars. I fell in love with both books, read everything else each writer had in print, came to know them in time, and by 2015, as publisher of USC Press, I had the pleasure of resurrecting both books in the Southern Revivals reprint series. I have been a dedicated reader of Singleton’s for as long as I have been a South Carolinian.
Now those literary heroes at the nonprofit Hub City Press in Spartanburg, S.C., have done readers the immeasurable favor of publishing You Want More, a masterful playlist of 30 of Singleton’s best stories as lifted from the pages of nine of his books.
The collection is introduced by acclaimed southern writer Tom Franklin, winner of the Edgar Award and Willie Morris Award, who, at a particularly rambunctious Southern Festival of Books weekend in Nashville, once passed a note to me across a Puckett’s dinner table that read simply, “this is so f***ing awesome.” If Franklin had simply repeated those same five words as the totality of his foreword to Singleton’s selected stories, it still would have been an apt statement. Clocking in at significantly more than five words, Franklin’s foreword expertly contextualizes Singleton’s body of work in larger literary traditions and underscores the peculiarities of Singleton’s idiosyncratic brand of genius as a welcome point of entrance for new readers and as a validating confirmation for extant fans that we experience the same wildness and bighearted charm in these writings.
The thirty stories that follow transport us to the fictional and yet wholly realized South Carolina hamlets of Forty-Five, Gruel, and Calloustown, where more than the usual number of dogs traverse the countryside amid a pantheon of lost and profound human characters trying to leave or return or just forge a connection to time, place, or one another, while hilarity escalates around them. Also, Richard Petty accepts the National Book Award and a college professor teaches a course—for four semesters—on the nonexistent novels of Raymond Carver.
Although not presented chronologically by original publication date, there is a thoughtful ordering to the stories nonetheless, or rather, a heartbeat that rises and falls only to rise again throughout the collection. The final piece, “What Could Have Been?” is a story written as driving instructions giving way to directions to access life-defining memories. In this treasure trove of a collection, readers are directed to revisit and celebrate all that has been in Singleton’s career-defining work as sage storyteller and as chronicler and inquisitor of southern bedlam. The result deftly delivers on the promise of the title: You Want More.
You Want More: Selected Stories
By George Singleton
Hub City Press
Published September 15, 2020