By Barry Hannah (Atlantic Monthly Press hardcover, $ n/a, ISBN: 0871138115; Grove Press paperback, $13.00, ISBN: 0802138934, 5/2002) Hallelujah! After a 10-year absence, Hannah (Airships; High Lonesome) is back with a vengeance with a Southern gothic novel full of every kind of excess: violence, sex, religiosity, creepiness and humor. Here we have Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, Peter Dexter and Clyde Edgerton all squished together, baked in hush-puppy batter, dipped in honey and sprinkled with Jim Beam. Set in a lake community in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Miss., the story revolves around a fellow named Man Mortimer, a thief, pimp and murderer and those are his good qualities who physically resembles the late country singer Conway Twitty. On his trail are Byron Egan, a somewhat reformed biker-turned-preacher and prophet, and Max Raymond, a former doctor who plays saxophone in a bar band and has an attractive Cuban wife who sings, sometimes for the band, sometimes nude in her back yard. Meanwhile, the young town sheriff, distrusted since he hails from the North, manages to shock even the most degenerate denizens of the area with his affair with a luscious 72-year-old widow. The plot is kaleidoscopic, with flashes and slashes of wonder, humor and the macabre expertly mixed. Hannah tosses off linguistic gems on almost every page: “… sometimes he felt he was a whole torn country, afire in all quadrants.” Describing a car, “It smelled like very lonely oil men.” Reading today’s fiction is too often like eating stale bread. With Hannah (finalist for the American Book Award and the National Book Award), just imagine your most mouthwatering meal, take a double helping and you’ve come close to the pleasure of reading this book. —Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.