Ron Rash writes about my native soil—western North Carolina—and Lord does he write them well. The Tuckasegee winds through my memories of college like it winds through Cullowhee (Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes). I grew up hearing stories about a kid from Shelby that was better than Michael Jordan ever was and threw it all away for drugs (Overtime). Where I grew up, you knew the drug dealers, and you knew their daddies (Deep Gap).
The final question of Blackberries in June has kept me up late at nights. Chemistry, Last Rite, and Cold Harbor all address the (emotional) pain of death from a different perspective. Chemistry, Last Rite, and Blackberries in June are powerful looks at family. Not Waving But Drowning and Deep Gap expose the awfulness of that which you care most about slowly drifting form your grasp. Blackberries in June, Overtime, The Projectionist’s Wife, and Deep Gap show a deep bitterness that runs through a downtrodden people. Honesty and Pemberton’s wife offer a window into the hatred and contempt with which outsiders view highlanders. Speckled Trout cuts deep.
Not every story is a homerun. Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes leaves no lasting impression. It took me three or four reads to properly place everyone in the emergency room at the beginning of Not Waving But Drowning. Dangerous Love is almost laughable. The Projectionist’s Wife is a bit clumsy.
Pemberton’s Bride, a long short story, was expanded by Rash into the standalone novel Serena. It doesn’t really work as either, and the harsh view the main characters have of the people of Appalachia rankles even worse juxtaposed against stories told from their point of view.
This is still one heck of a collection of short stories, though, and I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in highland fiction. Rash is best known for his short stories, and this collection is one of his best: it was a finalist for the PEN/Falkner Award for Fiction and Speckled Trout won a 2005 O. Henry award.
Stories: Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes; Chemistry; Last Rite; Blackberries in June; Not Waving but Drowning; Overtime; Cold Harbor, Honesty, Dangerous Love, The Projectionist’s Wife, Deep Gap, Pemberton’s Bride, Speckled Trout.
4 of 5 Stars.
Gary Carden at Holler Notes – review.
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