(This review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)Some readers act for the rhythm of the language, the aesthetics of the words. Some act for the story itself, for the characters, not the depictions of them. Scott McClanahan’s Stories II falls into the extreme latter camp. In this, McClanahan’s second collection from Six Gallery Press (after 2008’s Stories I, reviewed at OWC here) each tale comes stripped of any linguistic flamboyance, opting instead for a casual, oral fable style frame around which to display beautiful nuggets of piercing insight.This insight most often comes in the form of direct address, cornering the reader into what should be an uncomfortable defense. But after having been lulled by so many pages of elegantly simple prose, each moment of author-reader intimacy hits with stark impact.In “The Prisoners,” for example, after a gentle arc concerning the narrator’s experience teaching writing to prison inmates, he discovers that an apparently sane friend of his has murdered his own three-year-old daughter. Until the end, subverting the direct “you,” McClanahan dodges literary subtleties and instead offers “I knew you couldn’t trust anyone in this life, not even yourself. I wondered what murder was waiting in side of me to commit. I wondered what murder was waiting inside of the person who was reading this” (pg. 90).In true nature to the oral fable style, many stories rely on some form of repetition, whether blatantly as with the aptly titled “Fable #1,” wherein a near-retirement teacher harps on a single student success story, constantly bragging that “he’s a doctor now,” or less so, as with “Hernia Dog,” where a group of schoolchildren routinely pass the dilapidated yard of a dying dog. Not coincidentally, these stories that utilize repetition are those that succeed the most (“Hernia Dog” and “Fable #1” are absolutely stunning, two of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read in years).Despite the implied continuity of Stories I and Stories II, though they share theme and style, Stories II shows an evolution in McClanahan’s writing, beyond the good ol’ boy storytelling, and into the realm of fine young gentleman storytelling.