‘The Naked Lady’ by Madison Smartt Bell

The Naked Lady by Madison Smartt Bell, 1983

The magic trick:

Combining low-lives with an interest in high art

We go to a part of Tennessee today that most of us would probably prefer not to visit. A place where two men are living as roommates/squatters; a place where the rats are so bad you can shoot them and they just come back madder than before; a place where the truck is only occasionally an option if there is money for gas; a place where evening entertainment (on good nights) might include a bar that features a ring in the middle of it for patrons to watch fights.

There is something of Denis Johnson to this world.

But here in this ugly, disturbing life, we also find art. I don’t know if it’s good art. One of the men in this house is a sculptor. We have no reason to think that our narrator is a worthy art critic. But it doesn’t matter if the art is good, only that it exists at all.

In this putrid existence, this man relies on creativity and artistic expression to keep himself sane. There is beauty in the contrast.

And that’s quite a trick on Bell’s part.

The selection:

We had this twenty two pistol we used to shoot em up with but it wasn’t a whole lot of good. You could hit one of these rats square with a twenty two and he would go off with it in him and just get meaner. About the only way to kill one was if you hit him spang in the head and that needs you to be a better shot than I am most of the time.

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