Gary Guinn’s fiction attempts to recreate rural and small-town life in the Ozarks and to expose the fault lines between religion, family, and experience.
Guinn’s poems and stories have been published in The Rockford Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Elder Mountain: a Journal of Ozark Studies, Arkansas Literary Forum, The Bryant Literary Review, Ghoti, and Carve Magazine, where his story “The Scar” was short listed for the Raymond Carver Short Story Award. His poem “Sestina for Annie” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editor of Ghoti. His stories appear in anthologies on Southern experience from TBRA Publishers, an anthology from Editions Bibliotekos titled Puzzles of Faith and Patterns of Doubt, and an anthology from University of Arkansas Press titled Yonder Mountain: an Ozarks Anthology.
His first novel, A Late Flooding Thaw, was published by Moon Lake Publishing Company in the spring of 2005. The novel is available at Amazon.com; Barns&Noble.com; AbeBooks; Donegalbaypublishing.com; and directly from the author (See the “Order the Book” page).
A Late Flooding Thaw is a haunting novel, set in the southern Ozark mountains at the turn of the 20th century, told through the voices of Henry and Walter Bass, their wives, and the “other woman.” Henry and Walter struggle to escape the shadows of their alcoholic father, their reclusive mother, and the prejudice of the small town of Delaney. When Walter marries Emma, the only child of one of Delaney’s oldest families, tragic events are set in motion that change the lives of everyone involved. Soon everyone in Delaney struggles with the shadows of the living and the dead. In the violent world of Pentecostal religion, grace offers hope, but the failure of love brings destruction and the sins of the father curse the lives of the sons and daughters.
“A Late Flooding Thaw is a story of passion and perseverance, love and loss, failure and redemption. It’s not only a great Southern novel beautifully written; it’s the best novel I have read in years.” –Roger Hart, author of Erratics, winner of the 2000 George Garrett Fiction Prize
Chapter 6. Emma Bass
When I was bad, Mama would say, “Emma, if you dine with the devil, bring a long-handled spoon.” Then Mama would use a long handled spoon to drive the devil out. The welts on the backs of my legs were the tracks he left behind. I grew up knowing if we missed a service at the Word of Holiness Church the devil was waiting with talons like a hawk to drop us into the fiery furnace. Daddy was a deacon. Every time the church doors opened, we were there. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night prayer meeting. The devil was a handy man to have around.
During summer revival, Brother Leery breathed fire and brimstone two hours a night. And every night the altar call droned on and on, as Brother Leery stood on the dais like a fighting cock, head thrust forward, eyes bulging, praying in the spirit to break the grip of the white knuckles hanging on to the pews, to pry them loose and bring them down the aisle weeping, all the fight gone. He welcomed the lost sheep into the fold, washed in the blood of the lamb.
Chapter 11. Henry Bass
Each time I bring the ax down and the red oak wood pops open like a ripe melon and the chunks fall off the sides of the block, I think of Walter. Sweat drips off the end of my nose and my eyes sting and my shirt sticks to my back. The sun, rust colored, touches the hilltop off the meadow’s edge.
Naomi is sitting at the kitchen table looking at her hands. She’s been there since Emma left. Over an hour. Hasn’t done a thing about supper, and it’s almost dark.
I should have seen it coming. Emma has shared the pregnancy with Naomi–the sickness, the movement in her belly. And something in Naomi’s eyes, in the quick way she looks at me and then away, and in the way her smile wavers and fades, makes my stomach turn. We’ve been married a long time. A breeder of horses would have sold the mare–or the stud–at auction long ago.
Biography: Gary Guinn was born and raised in Arkansas . He took his M.A. in English literature from the University of Arkansas, and finished his PhD at the University in 19-century British literature. Not until the middle of a career teaching literature at the college level did he begin seriously to write fiction and poetry.
His great-great-grandfather was a second lieutenant in the 1st Kentucky Mounted Rifles in the Civil War and brought his family to northern Arkansas after the war. Guinn’s great-grandfather was a blacksmith in Delaney and Combs, and his grandfather ran a mercantile in Delaney until he lost the store in the Depression. Guinn’s father, uncle, and aunts grew up in Delaney in the years when the towns along the White River were in decline, when the hardwood forests were being depleted and forty years of boom times were coming to a close. Guinn was raised on stories of what it was like to grow up in the hills of Arkansas during the depression. His memory became almost as full of their lives as it was of his own–the dirt basketball court on the Delaney square, the cannery whistle that called people to seasonal work, the train that came down the Frisco line from Fayetteville in the morning on its way to Pettigrew and returned in the afternoon, the swimming hole at the old mill dam, the swinging bridge, ‘Harm’ Richie and his grand radio powered by a car battery because electricity did not come to Delaney until many years later, after the war. And Guinn’s father teaching the elementary grades in Delaney while he finished high school in Huntsville. Story after story.
And so, the heart of Guinn’s fiction is in the hills of the southern Ozarks, and it evokes the human quest for what William Faulkner called the verities of the heart.
As Robert K. Gilmore says in the preface to his book Ozark Baptizings, Hangings, and Other Diversions, the people of the Ozarks have always had a strong sense of belonging to a particular place. They are suspicious of strangers, says Gilmore, fiercely independent, and cherishers of solitude. The land of the Ozarks, “the hills, the gullies, the hardwood, the rivers, the small communities,” has formed the character of the people who live here. And it forms the characters in Guinn’s work.
The contemporary writers who have most influenced him are Louise Erdrich, Lee Smith, and Lewis Nordan. Like so many other readers and writers, Guinn admires the fiction of Arkansas writers Donald Harrington and Charles Portis.