the sarah book and chicken wings

I first heard of Scott McClanahan several years ago when someone posted a book trailer he made on a blog I followed. I’m not sure I had ever watched a book trailer before. I don’t think I knew what book the trailer was tied to, even after watching it. I do remember that I rewatched the video many times and that I sent it to a friend who also liked reading novels, but that my friend didn’t seem so enthralled by it.

I bought an ebook copy of Stories V! from Amazon and started reading it. I lived in a one floor apartment in Tahoe at the time, and I walked back and forth in my kitchen/living room. I remember laughing out loud at the end of the first short story.

I remember laughing out loud several times while reading The Sarah Book, but mostly I remember feeling uncomfortable while reading it in public. I teared up a little bit once while on an airplane and I felt like the girl sitting next to me leaned over to see if I was crying.

The Sarah Book is an autobiographical novel covering Scott McClanahan’s divorce. When I write, “Scott McClanahan,” I’m not sure to what extent I should attempt to distinguish between the author and the main character. Scott McClanahan, the author, named the main character in his novel “Scott McClanahan.” As an author, Scott McClanahan has a reputation for a few things: being from West Virginia, having conversational prose, being a good storyteller, being funny, and having a dark sense of humor without snark or pretension.

The Sarah Book is line with all of these things. But when I imagine what a book trailer for The Sarah Book would look like, I picture Scott McClanahan wearing an oversized t-shirt, slowly closing a children’s book. I hear his drawl say, “And now…it’s time to look at the dark places.”

The Sarah Book has become one of my personal favorite novels. If I really gave it some thought and reread it in time, maybe I’d call it my favorite novel. At the same time, it’s not a book I’d recommend to most people, partly out of fear that they’d come back and say, “What the fuck is this?” or maybe more that they wouldn’t say anything to my face at all and just start quietly thinking of me as “that weird guy.”

I guess I’d say, on whether you should read The Sarah Book — do you want to read about what kind of life experiences drive a man to live out of his car in a Walmart parking lot? To eat chicken wings and drink cheap beer and masturbate, all out of his car in a Walmart parking lot? What about getting so mad in a fight with your soon-to-be-ex-wife that you smash the computer that stored all of your children’s baby photos?

The Sarah Book feels like a collection of stories that kind of add up to something like a story, or a hazy picture. I guess that kind of mimics life, and how you’d think of your own past, a series of memories on a given theme, except that each story in The Sarah Book feels like a strong, crisp story, as opposed to some snapshots. The Sarah Book is always funny. And when you think about any of its stories on their own, it seems like The Sarah Book should be a light read, but it isn’t at all. It feels like a snapshot of a dark period in Scott McClanahan’s life.