Hyatt, Martin, “A Scarecrow’s Bible”, Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006.
Breaking the Rules
Being from the South, I was quite anxious to read Martin Hyatt”s “A Scarecrow’s Bible’ especially because it was written by a fellow Louisianan. Hyatt, with his lyric prose and wonderful and wonderful story line fits right in with other great writers who have called the South their home. The characters will haunt you long after you have closed the covers of this little book.
Gary, a war veteran and married, lives in a trailer somewhere in rural Mississippi. He is not having an easy time of life. He is addicted to drugs and plagued by memories of what he has seen at war. Completely unexpectedly, a young man, Zachary, enters his life and steals his heart and shows him how to get beyond the past. Gary learns how to adapt to change and finds hope. What the author gives us here is a challenge to the way we think about others, about diversity and social change.
The lyricism of the novel is its best quality—not that there aren’t other great qualities to look at. He uses sound throughout the novel as Tennessee Williams did in “The Glass Menagerie”. Memories always tend to be associated with music and to Gary and Zachary, music is a way to forget the past and move forward through the present and onto the future. Music, however, is not the only sound in “A Scarecrow’s Bible”. Hyatt, through his beautiful prose, conveys other sounds as well—the descriptions of ordinary things like the sound of a bird or a car’s engine are relayed so that you hear them as you read. Drug usage is also associated with the music of the period and both music and drugs are characters in the novel. Gary and Zachary used drugs to excess—in fact, they were killing themselves with them. The characters use drugs as not only a way to stay alive (despite that their lives could be cut short by them), but as a way to forget the past. Music drives the characters and not just as a background sound track but as another character in the novel.
Hyatt gives some of the most vivid description I have ever read. It is Hyatt’s use and description of place that contributes to “feeling” the novel and not just reading it. The sense of belonging somewhere is what the characters lack, they have no home yet want one badly. That they are minus ties to a home leads them into a conflict—that every place that might be called home is also a potential danger. Gary had never experienced feelings before like he did for Zachary so he not only needed a home but he needed someone to share it with. His wife gave him no solace or sense of well-being. Gary sees Zachary as a sign of his own future and when the two men do something relatively simple like walking together on the street, the act becomes a symbol of the subversive ness of gay life that we have all had to endure at one time or another. We know that not everyone in the world is happy with the idea of a gay subculture and we will always be outsiders to some in society. In dealing with the issue of homophobia, Hyatt sees a great deal of social injustice and moral hypocrisy.
Looking at the culture of today is another theme in
“A Scarecrow’s Bible”. Our characters remain passive and are drawn into society on one hand and away from it on the other. Seeing beauty in something gives them a sense of false reality but they are forced to live their lives several steps away from the reality of life. All the while they search for truth but they must look within themselves to find it.
The narrator of the story, the second person voice that relates to us what happens in the work. It is rare to find a book that is written in the second person but it works so well here. In fact, Hyatt breaks many of the rules that writers are forced to follow because of literary constraints imposed on the world of writers. There is not a happy ending in the book; there are digressions and explanations at the end of paragraphs. Some may think that this detracts from the book but I found it a novel way to tell the story and it works for Hyatt beautifully. Hyatt has taken a step away from the prescribed norm of writing by breaking rules and writing about subjects indelicately—racism, male to male romance, the influence of the religious right on society today—issues that better known writers don’t dare touch and he does so in a way as to educate us about things that we deal with on a daily basis. What is important is those subversive ideas (subversive in the world of publishing) are issues which dominate America and Hyatt writes about them openly and bravely. Ideas that are usually not considered fit for publication are dealt with compassionately and in beautiful prose and make this book one to be read and mulled over. It may break our hearts but it opens us to new ideas and to me that is what literature is supposed to do.