Ivan Vladislavic makes incredible leaps in Hair Shirt, about a visit with his girlfriend Meg, to her parents in Oklahoma City and the necessity of constructing “a makeshift” self in a country where one’s tourist visa has expired. Meg’s parents draw him out about the way he loved and hated South Africa, because “the threads of my life had been woven into its fabric and could not be unravelled”. He and Meg visit her distant, weird relative Colley, in the Arkansas woods, a visit that involves evading a hunting trip with a man called Mason and his son, watching Mel scrub down the mythical man monster that Colley becomes under soap suds and her care, receiving a red flannel shirt from Colley, complete with termites and odour and falling prey to an illness that manifests as welts on his skin at a family Shabbes dinner back in Oklahoma. The story has everything – comparisons of landscapes: winter settling over Oklahoma reminds the narrator of the Free State. It expresses the outsider’s perpetual desire for belonging and the terrible silence that exists between lovers because of the distances that separate them, creating secrets that are stored in “the backwoods” of their bodies.
- Home Away edited by Louis Greenberg
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