Tommy Hays Recommends

“Four years ago I reviewed Larry Brown’s book of essays Billy Ray’s Farm for the Atlanta Constitution,” Hays says. “The essays were about how Brown spent his time when he wasn’t writing, which was keeping up the family farm. Brown was a hand-hewn writer who wrote five novels and a nearly a hundred stories before he ever published a single story. By the time the essays came out in 2001, he had published seven books. In Billy Ray’s Farm, one saw that his life was a balancing act between writing and delivering calves or chasing down coyotes or corralling stranded catfish.
The essays were muscular, full of life, an active portrait of a writer in progress. The last essay in the book is about a cabin he had been working on for some time, whenever he could steal a moment from the farm.
When Brown died recently, the first thing I thought was, Now he won’t get to finish that cabin. I thought how his death cast the whole book in a starker, historical light. Instead of being there with him in those essays, I felt as if I was watching him through a darkening window. It made me wonder if a writer’s death can not only change how we read his work but can it perhaps transform the writing itself? ”

Tommy Hays‘s most recent novel is The Pleasure Was Mine, published by St. Martin’s Press. He reviews books for the Atlanta Constitution and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.