Happy humpday, Story366! I know, I know, I know: You’re probably wondering why I chose Brady Udall for today’s post. Okay, you’re probably not, as Udall is a well established and talented author who wrote a book of stories and fits right in with the Story366 project. Really, reading from Letting Loose the Hounds (from Norton) is a slam dunk. What I’m getting at is that I really want to tell you why I’ve chosen Brady Udall today: It’s because his last name starts with U.
This morning, I posted the alphabetical archive to Story366, a project that I’ve had in the back of my mind, in all parts of my mind, since January 1. Once I figured out what “Pages” meant in WordPress, that this was where I’d stick this archive, I just had to execute it, retyping/copying and pasting all the entries, scrolling through months, attaching the links so that you, the Story366 reader, can simply click on your favorite author, favorite day of the year, or favorite story title, and read my little corresponding essay. It took a few days to compile, but now it’s there and I’ll update it every day. So, click away and make all my efforts worthwhile!
What does this have to do with Brady Udall? Udall is my first U, filling an empty gap in the archive that was driving me a little nuts. Before this post, there were three letters unexplored—Q, U, and X—so when I sought out a book for today, the day I posted the archive, Udall screamed out at me. I’m a little compulsive, and a huge collector (as Karen likes to call it), and I can’t stand having most of anything, any hole in the set, any blips on the radar. Those three letters, when I completed the archive, immediately made me think, I have got to find authors whose last names begin with those letters and do it ASAP. After all, I can’t afford to lose any sleep over this, which I surely will(/already have).
With U out of the way (and some great Udall stories read), I ventured out to find authors whose last names begin with Q and X. I didn’t spend a lot of time on this—maybe an hour, two tops—and have so far come up empty for Q. A search for Xs, however, produced Gao Xingjian, and Chinese ex-patriot living in the States, a Nobel Prize winner and author of the collection Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather: Stories. I ordered it immediately. Am I already thinking that since Gao Xingjian is Chinese that I should maybe alphabetize him under G instead of X? It’s crossed my mind, but I’ll deal with that when I have to deal with it. I’m more concerned about finding that elusive Q. I need your help, Story366 readers. If we can’t find one, it might be that one of you will have to change your names to Quiñones or Quincy or Quackenbush or the like and put out a collection before December 31. We can do this, but only if we believe in ourselves. Let’s make it happen—private message me if you’re interested in volunteering.
With that out of the way, we can now focus on Mr. U himself and his excellent stories. I’ve read two of them so far, the titular “Letting Loose the Hounds” and “Buckeye the Elder,” adding to the three stories from the book that I read in Story (the second manifestation) back in the day, when Udall was writing stories and publishing there a lot. Hard for me to pick between the two I read today, but I’ll stick to my plan to use title stories when I have trouble deciding. “Buckeye the Elder” is a really fantastic character study, though—maybe one of the best I’ve ever read—a first-peripheral piece told by this teenage kid about his sister’s boyfriend, a big, strapping guy named Buckeye, who is a Mormon elder, a gun enthusiast, a exercise fiend, and … I can go on and on. “Buckeye the Elder” is a long story and Udall keeps piling on the details about Buckeye, all of them really creative and seamlessly inserted, making for a Paul Bunyanlike folklore of a man. Great story for sure.
“Letting Loose the Hounds” is equally as impressive, the story of this dude named Goody Yates who opens the story in a lot of trouble. He’s walking along a highway, in a ditch, and has had someone do a number on his face. He can’t see himself, seems to have no memory of such an incident, but is in serious pain and can tell that he’s been mauled. Along comes a guy in an El Camino, who looks like a squat General Custer and is therefore called “Custer” by Goody (and Udall) for the rest of the story. Custer is a kind man and takes Goody back to his place to take care of him, to figure out what exactly’s happened.
Udall uses a little sleight of hand here as we find out Goody wasn’t beaten to his current state, but dentisted. Custer finds a prescription for painkillers from a dentist’s office and deduces that Goody has had his wisdom teeth removed. Upon hearing this theory, Goody begins to remember this very thing and a call to said dentist confirms that Goody should not have left the office in his state (which the dentist doesn’t exactly take responsibility for). Custer has some pills lying around—his wife has just left him and her extensive stash behind—and Goody is lucky to get some Demerol to ease his pain.
“Letting Loose the Hounds” is a story of friendship, of two lost souls finding each other and coming together. Udall reveals more about each of the men as Goody heals. Goody has lost everything, his job, his health, his family, and his girl, while Custer has lost his wife to an affair. Goody washes dishes and lives in poverty while Custer hunts vicious wild animals—mountain lions and bears and the like—that invade human territory and become a threat; arriving home early from an expedition, Custer finds a man’s shirt on his bed, his wife not denying anything and leaving soon after. Both men are decent, but are victims of lesser humans, so it’s nice that they find each other, especially since Goody probably would have died in that ditch had Custer not come along.
While Goody has no plan for the rest of his life—except maybe letting his face heal—Custer certainly does. He has mad skills, a pack of hunting hounds, and the wife-stealing man’s shirt, all the elements of a plan. Udall is smooth in implying what Custer’s intentions are, revealing that in a way, the story is really about Custer, even though it’s told from Goody’s perspective, in a close third person. Given the first peripherality of “Buckeye the Elder,” I wonder if that’s Udall’s thing, writing about someone through someone else’s eyes. Too small a sample to make that assumption, but it’s an interesting way to tell a story, through, perhaps, more innocent eyes, the reader catching on at the same time as the protagonist.
So, twenty-four letters down, two to go. Thank you, Brady Udall, for writing Letting Loose the Hounds and being named what you are. Both are awesome and purpose-serving.