The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan
Tyrant Books, 2017; 234 pp
Reviewed by Guia Cortassa
“Then I sat in my car and looked out at the parking lot and said, ‘These are my people. This is West Virginia.’ And they were.”
Among the many untranslatable German words that exist, there is one that defines the emotional ties a person has with their native region, be it just a block within a big city or a whole country. It is a concept deeply tied with belonging and fondness, essential to build everyone's identity. And certainly "heimat"—that is the word—is the driving force behind Scott McClanahan's writing. The chosen to be Breece D'J Pancake's successor, McClanahan is West Virginia's epic poet; and in The Sarah Book we see him capable of transforming places, people and things into metaphors of a bigger sentiment as the portrait of humanity can be:
I told her that I loved going inside after midnight and watching all of the people of the world shop. They were the people who the rest of the world didn’t want and they were the ones who didn’t belong anymore. They were the people with amputated arms and they were the people in wheelchairs and they were the people with face tattoos and scars. I was a scar too. I was a giant human scar. And then I felt serious and said, "Walmart is more than a store. Walmart is a state of mind."
Sarah is a woman, Sarah is a mental state, Sarah is the unmoved mover of the protagonists’ lives. While many would call the novel "semi-autiobiographical", "autofictional" is probably the best definition for this venture into this wrecking of a marriage.
The fictional Scott is shown in all his flawed self without a hint of judgement. Where Pancake's narrators were mostly observers, McClanahan's are, instead, active players in the unfolding of the story, with a growing emotional investment and requiring the unfiltered involvement of the reader: as in a French New Wave movie, the main character looks straight into the camera and talks to the audience directly, breaking the willing suspension of disbelief. McClanahan shows, and never tell, creating new vision of his life, of Appalachia and of the world.