Donald Harington, who created a surreal rural mini-world in more than a dozen novels set in the fictional Ozark hamlet of Stay More, Ark., died last week in Springdale, Ark. He was 73 and lived in Fayetteville, Ark.
I started reading Harington back in 2002 with his novel Thirteen Albatrosses, which I picked up because I was in a heavy political-fiction phase. I got lucky, it turns out, because Albatrosses was maybe his most accessible work for new readers. I loved the sensation that there was a whole world that extended beyond just the one book—characters made references to past events in Stay More. They were living full, fictional lives, of which Albatrosses was just a part.
I've read two or three more Harington novels—With, a ghost story about a young girl forced to fend for herself in the Ozarks, is quite exceptional, too—and I always came away pleased with Harington's sense of play, his ability to mess with the language and eke new meanings out of words that have been around forever. I fully expect to read all of Harington's Stay More novels over the course of my life, and I'm sorry that there won't be any new editions in the saga. Harington was never wildly popular, but he did something that very few modern literary authors, outside of Faulkner, have been able to do: He created a fictional place that will live forever.
UPDATE: Gold Star Comment goes to Bub, who points out "Another fictional place that will live forever: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo." As soon as I read that comment, it occurred to me that Harington's Stay More might be closer in spirit to Macondo than Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, but I got sidetracked by the whole south of the Mason-Dixon thing. Good call, Bub.