The singular, enchanting debut story collection from Elizabeth McCracken, now back in print as part of Ecco’s “Art of the Story” series, and with a new introduction from the authorCalled “astonishingly assured” by The Guardian, the nine stories that make up Elizabeth McCracken’s debut story collection deal with oddball characters doing their very best to forge connections with those around them.
In “It’s Bad Luck to Die” a woman marries an older tattoo artist and finds comfort in agreeing to act as a canvas for his most elaborate work. “Some Have Entertained Angels, Unaware” follows a young girl as she comes face to face with a cast of eccentrics her recently-widowed father has invited to live in their expansive but dilapidated home. And in the title story, a young man and his wife are perplexed when an outspoken old woman shows up on their doorstep for a visit, claiming to be a distant aunt, even though she can’t be traced on a family tree.
At once captivating and offbeat, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry is a dazzling showcase of the early years of Elizabeth McCracken’s prodigious talent.
About the Author
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of five books, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry (stories), The Giant’s House (a National Book Award finalist), Niagara Falls All Over Again, the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, and Thunderstruck & Other Stories (winner of the 2014 Story Prize, long-listed for the National Book Award), three of which were New York Times Notable Books. She has received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has served on the faculty at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently holds the James Michener Chair for Fiction at the University of Texas at Austin.
Read an Excerpt
Maybe you wonder how a Jewish girl from Des Moines got Jesus Christ tattooed on her three times: ascending on one thigh, crucified on the other, and conducting a miniature apocalypse beneath the right shoulder. It wasn't religion that put them there; it was Tiny, my husband. I have a Buddha round back, too. He was going to give me Moses parting the Red Sea, but I was running out of space. Besides, I told him, I was beginning to feel like a Great Figures in Religion comic book.
He got dreamy-eyed when he heard that. "Brigham Young," he said. "And some wives."
I told him: "Tiny, I've got no room for a polygamist."
Tiny himself had been married three times before he met me, one wife right after the other. I only had him, the one, and he's been dead six months now.
I met Tiny the summer I graduated high school, 1965, when I was eighteen and he was forty-nine. My cousin Babs, who was a little wild, had a crazy boyfriend (the whole family was worried about it) and he and some of his buddies dared her to get tattooed. She called me up and told me she needed me there and that I was not to judge, squawk, or faint at the sight of blood. She knew none of that was my style, anyhow.
We drove to Tiny's shop over on East 14th because that's where Steve, the crazy boy, had got the panther that had a toehold on his shoulder. The shop was clean and smelled of antiseptic; Babs and I were disappointed. Sheets of heavy paper in black dime-store frames hung on the walls-flash sheetsarranged by theme: one had Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker; another, a nurse in a Red Cross cap and a geisha offering a drink on a tray.A big flash by the door had more ambitious designs: King Kong and Cleopatra on the opposite sides of one page, looking absentmindedly into each other's eyes.
Tiny was set up on a stool in back, smoking a cigarette, an itty-bit of a man next to a Japanese screen. He was wearing a blue dress shirt with the cuffs turned back, and his hands and arms were covered with blue-black lines: stars across the knuckles, snakes winding up under the sleeves. The wide flowered tie that spread out over his chest and stomach might've been right on a big man, but on Tiny it looked like an out-of-control garden. His pants were white and wrinkled, and there was a bit of blue ink at the knee; a suit jacket, just as wrinkled, hung on the coat rack in back.
He eyed our group, scowled at Steve and his two friends, and solemnly winked at me and Babs.
"So," he said. "Who's the one?"
"Me," Babs said, trying to sound tough. She told him what she wanted: a little red-and-black bow on her tush. He asked her if she were old enough; she got out her wallet and showed him her driver's license.
Steve and his friends were buzzing around the shop, looking at the flash and tapping the ones they really liked.
"Keep your hands off the designs, boys," said Tiny. "I can't tattoo a fingerprint." He turned to Babs. "Okay. Come back of the screen." There was something a little southern in his voice, but I couldn't pick out what it was. He jumped off the stool, and I saw that he was about a full foot shorter than me. I'm six feet tall, have been since eighth grade. I looked right down on top of his slick black hair.
We all started to follow him. Tiny looked at us and shook his head.
"You boys have to stay out here."
"I'm her boyfriend," said Steve. "I've seen it before, and I'm paying."
"If you've seen it before, you'll see it again, so you don't need to now. Not in my shop, anyhow. You-" he pointed at me "-- come around to testify I'm a gentleman."
He beckoned us back of the screen to a padded table, the kind you see in doctors' offices, only much lower. Tiny turned around politely while Babs lowered her blue jeans and clam bered up. He spun back, frowned, pulled down just the top of her yellow flowered underwear like he was taking fat off a chicken, and tapped her. "Right here's where you want it?"
"Honey, is it fine, or is it what you want?"
Babs twisted to look, careful not to catch his eye. "That's what I want."
He squirted her with antiseptic, got a razor and shaved the area good. I sat on a folding chair across from them.
Tiny loosened his tie, slipped it off, and hung it, still knotted, on a peg on the wall. "Hey Stretch," he said, looking at me. "What's your name?"
"Lois. Like Louise?"' He rolled his shirtsleeves up further. Babs was holding on to the table like a drowning sailor, and Tiny hadn't even got the needle out yet.
"Lois," I answered, and fast, because I had to talk to him over Babs's hindquarters and that made me a little self-conscious, "after my Uncle Louis. I was going to be named Natalie, after my Uncle Nathan, but then Louis died and Mom liked him better anyhow."
"My name is Tiny. No story there but the obvious." He picked up an electric needle from a workbench and hunted for the right pot of color.
"I'm Babs," said Babs, reaching around for a handshake. Tiny was looking elsewhere, and he dipped the needle in some black ink and flipped it on. "For Barbara?" he asked, setting into her skin.
"A-a-a-a-bigail. Ouch." She gripped the table.
"Honey," said Tiny, "this doesn't hurt. I got you where you're good and fleshy. Might sting a little, but it doesn't hurt...
What People are Saying About This
What a treasure...these stories are flat-out wonderful. For all their strangeness, they are powerful and optimistic affirmation of life. McCracken is a true romantic, not the sloppy gushy kind who lie to themselves, but the robust, ferocious romantic who sees reality with all its chinks, twitches, and finds it beautiful.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm head-over-heels in love with this author's writing.
I'm more and more impressed with this young writer. She's just marvelous. The stories have outlandish characters -- a woman entirely covered with tattoos, a mother with no arms, a woman who chooses her own relatives, a child prodigy, and lots more -- but the stories are so down to earth. They're about love, relationships, and how we see each other.Her prose is lovely too. In this collection, and in her novels "The Giant's House" and "Niagara Falls All Over Again", I ran across sentences that I was compelled to read over and over again. Here's an example: She was about being dead the way some people are about being British--she wasn't, and it seemed she never would be, but it was clearly something she aspired to, since all the people she respected were.