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Lying and Making A Living
Lying and Making a Living, the title from a Barry Hannah quote picks up where Short Mean Fiction leaves off. It contains more of the irreverent, hard-hitting, exhilarating, ironic, and emblematic prose we’ve come to expect from the writer and painter William Dunlap. His stories, some as short as a single page, leave the reader gasping for breath and wanting more. Whereas Short Mean Fiction, his first gathering of stories promised words and pictures, Lying and Making a Living delivers fiction with footnotes in all their subtle explanation and incongruity. Language is something of a birthright for this Southerner whose characters we know by what they do. Dunlap identifies with William Faulkner who said he invented his people and then “ran along behind them writing down what they have to say.” As with Dunlap's paintings, he feels little pride in authorship and makes no literary claims for Lying and Making a Living. But admits that for what its worth, for better or worse, and to his utter surprise, there are many more where these came from.
Reviews
A talented painter, Dunlap (Short Mean Fiction) again demonstrates his artistic reach in this second collection of short stories that, while being set in disparate times and places, gleefully dismantle universal institutions like marriage and religion. The title of his previous collection, Short Mean Fiction, offers some sense of his sharp-elbowed approach, though Lying and Making a Living closes with a novella, Rufus And Sally by The Light of the Moon, the story of Rufus, a traveler in a frontier wagon train who escapes an aApache attack with a beautiful young woman named Sally. As Rufus builds a life on the frontier, he never stops dreaming of Sally—but when he is finally able to pursue her, he realizes things may not be what they seem.

Dunlap runs the short-story format through the wringer by offering a variety of storytelling approaches and playful experiments, switching between first and third-person narrators, disrupting the narrative timeline of some pieces by flashing forward, writing in dialect and exploiting the possibilities of footnotes, and crafting some abbreviated entries that run three pages or less and will strike readers, based on their inclinations, either as energizing and enigmatic or cryptic and abrupt.

Whatever the length, Dunlap’s male characters tend to be more detailed and multi-dimensional than his female ones. While readers looking for nuanced depictions of sex and romantic relationships may be disappointed, Dunlap’s mischievousness, sardonic humor, and unabashedly masculine point of view complement the stories’ raw, passionate nature. (Sometimes too raw, as with the muddy ford described as “iwde and wet in an almost sexual sense.”)Themes of sex, betrayal, revenge, and death resonate, and the continual focus on these them makes the stories that diverge, such as “Unearned Intimacy,” a thought-provoking meditation on race and communication, and “Baby and Black Crows,” a sweet tale of a gay couple contemplating having children, all the more refreshing and memorable. Dunlap winks at humanity’s foibles and revels in its sins.

Takeaway: Readers up for a bawdy romp through the rougher edges of the human experience will appreciate this collection’s candor and irreverence.

Great for fans of: Barry Hannah, Donald Barthelme.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A

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