Barry Hannah is a teller of quirky tales, peopled with bizarre characters whose behavior is often not quite explicable. He creates in short strokes a world which runs by its own set of logic which the reader may or may not be able to follow. How satisfying his works prove relies heavily on the reader’s willingness to accept Hannah’s vision. He is by no means a traditional writer.
NEVER DIE is a book which will either captivate its readers or leave them mystified, searching for the point of its accumulated absurdities. The story is set in Nitburg, Texas, settled and controlled by the vicious Judge Kyle Nitburg, who turned in his mother to hang as a spy during the Civil War, sold his first wife to the Indians, married his second wife for her wealth, and now lusts after his untamed daughter Nandina. His chief adversary is Fernando Mure, a gambler and gunfighter, nephew of retired sea captain Navy Remington, who lives on his sheep ranch outside Nitburg. Fernando has sworn in his drunkenness to burn down the town of Nitburg, but before he can gather himself to do it he is crippled by one of Judge Nitburg’s henchmen, a tragic and lovestruck dwarf named Edwin Smoot. During his convalescence he is addicted to morphine by the homosexual Doc Fingo and spends much of his time in addled dreams, aided by his consumptive mistress Stella. When, however, Fernando’s uncle Navy Remington helps him to recover, and it becomes clear that Fernando intends to follow through on his mission to destroy Nitburg’s evil kingdom, the Judge hires the incredibly vicious killer Luther Nix to murder Fernando and any who side with him. Thus, the novel ends in a prolonged scene of destruction and retribution.
NEVER DIE is a short book made up of brief episodes which slowly begin to piece together into an understandable story line. There is little in the characters themselves to engage the reader, and the absurdities of the tale further distance any sense of involvement. Hannah, however, is a witty and sly writer, and the story, especially the ending, does suggest a more serious vision than the idiosyncratic narrative style otherwise reveals.