Howard Waldrop is a writer that is a bit hard to define, but I’ll try anyway. If I had to pick two adjectives to describe Waldrop, they’d be playful and weird.
Night of the Cooters is a collection of Waldrop short stories. The stories in Cooters are all introduced by Waldrop and some are even annotated. It’s clear that every tale has its own story rooted in the dreams, frustrations, and pop-culture consumed by the author. And that they are all Howard’s babies.
And what babies! The title story follows the venerable tradition of re-telling H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, this time telling how the invasion ran into a bit of trouble in a small Texas town. “French Scenes” is an homage to the masters of homage, the film-makers of the nouvelle vague. “The Passing of the Western” is a retrospective on the Western genre in a world where rain-making devices really worked. “Thirty Minutes over Broadway” shows a war-weary Jetboy returning to an America he can’t quite come to terms with, except for when he’s battling bad-guys. “Wild, Wild Horses” is perhaps my favorite, recounting an epic bit of smuggling, mythic creatures, and a Roman Empire in decline. “Do Ya, Do Ya Wanna Dance” takes us to a high school reunion that relives the best of the sixties during the worst of the eighties.
To return to the task of defining Waldrop’s writing, perhaps his distinguishing characteristic is to take the collective memory and turn it around. What comes back to us is familiar, yet new, and pretty marvelous. There’s a line in this book that captures the essence of what Waldrop does so well,
Like in Riot in Cell Block 11, when Neville Brand gets shot at by the prison guard with a Thompson, he yells:
“Look out Monty! They got a chopper! Back inside!”
What the Cahiers people heard was:
“Steady mon frere! Let us leave this place of wasted dreams.”
Yup, I think that’s exactly what Mr. Waldrop hears. I try to hear it too.