Gorgeous filth: It can be found all over this country, from smokestack plumes against a silver sky to a greasy-spoon breakfast. But no place does gorgeous filth like the South, where weather, religion, and earthy sensibilities come together to make holy the basest human urges, and make probable the strangest human ties. Southern writer Barry Hannah has built an impressive catalog of novels and short fiction that sniff at America’s hindquarters: His works have earned everything from a William Faulkner Prize to a Pulitzer nomination. Hannah’s latest book, 1996’s High Lonesome, is being honored with the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, awarded annually since 1988 to writers including John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. Newcomers to Hannah may get an immediate sense of impossibility from the stories in High Lonesome: A beautiful city boy engages in a triangular tryst with a lecherous backwoods shopkeeper and his aging wife? No way. A woman’s husband and lover become instant friends after her death? Inconceivable. It often isn’t until you’ve put the book down that the actions and affections of these characters begin to make sense—or, better, you realize that they don’t need to. The delayed reaction is aided by Hannah’s narrative style; like thought, it’s easier to understand in waves than word by word. And just when you’ve relaxed on the current, a brilliant line breaks the surface and knocks you cold. Describing intercourse: “…pulling the other’s organ from its aim and both losing; something like a pilgrim running back and forth through the doorway of a shrine, welcomed then rejected.” Dirty? Yes, but positively divine. Hannah reads with Maile Meloy at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. $15. (202) 544-7077. (Anne Marson)