My Father Like a River includes two short stories: the title story and the longer The Trusty. The Trusty was also published in Rash’s short story collection Nothing Gold Can Stay. It’s as good now as it was when I read Nothing Gold Can Stay, but I’m disappointed to see a story I already own and have read. As is usually the case with Rash, both stories take place in the mountains of NC.Continue reading “Country Noir: My Father Like a River by Ron Rash”
Fiction: Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail by T.J. Forrester
I posted on Facebook a couple times over the last few weeks about the mystery behind the man with the trail name Mostly Harmless who was found dead in his tent. Vance John Rodriguez went into the woods to find himself. It didn’t save him. I’ve been reading Horace Kephart’s Camping and Woodcraft. Going into the woods did save Kephart. Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail is the story of Taz Chavis finding himself. Recently released from prison, and after traveling to his hometown to settle his father’s estate, Taz sets off on a through hike of the Appalachian Trail to leave his life in the gutter behind.
In the vast wilderness of the Appalachian Trail, three hikers are searching for answers. Taz Chavis, just released from prison, sees the thru-hike as his path to salvation and a way to distance himself from a toxic relationship. Simone Decker, a young scientist with a dark secret, is desperate to quell her demons. Richard Nelson, a Blackfoot Indian, seeks a final adventure before taking over the family business back home. As they battle hunger, thirst, and loneliness, and traverse the rugged terrain, their paths begin to intersect, and it soon becomes clear that surviving the elements may be the least of their concerns. Hikers are dying along the trail, their broken bodies splayed on the rocks below. Are these falls accidental, the result of carelessness, or is something more sinister at work?
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Nonfiction: Hill of Beans: Coming of Age in the Last Days of the Old South by John Snyder
Snyder grew up not far from me—just one county to the west, and even closer to the NC-SC line (albeit long before I was a twinkle in my mama’s eye)—so my interest was immediate and likely fulfilled regardless of quality. But, mercifully, Hill of Beans isn’t lacking in any quality.
Snyder’s family wasn’t squalidly impoverished or even dirt-floor-poor, just the kind of poor just about everyone was back then before men like Snyder went out and created a whole lot of wealth that raised all boats. He had the kind of early life a lot of us had back then—a stern father, an awesome uncle, a hateful old aunt. He even, like me, left for a school in Chicago, although I made a much, much better decision.
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Country Noir: Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
It is remarkable that it has taken this long to see a novel published by an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. That work, Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, is a good’n’.
Cowney Sequoyah is a young Cherokee man. A club foot has saved him from (or robbed him of, depending on the perspective) service in WWII. The dearth of available labor and the need of somewhere to house foreign dignitaries/prisoners gives him the opportunity for good work outside of the Qualla Boundary on the grounds crew at the Grover Park Inn. An initial carpool there brings him into the orbit of Essie Stamper, a beautiful young Cherokee woman working as a maid at the Grove Park for the summer.Continue reading “Country Noir: Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle”
Country Noir: When These Mountains Burn by David Joy
When These Mountains Burn may be David Joy’s best novel yet. Fires are burning across the mountains of North Carolina in late 2016, and wildfire smoke casts a heavy pall over even the unburned areas. More figurative fires are burning as well, with an equally heavy pall cast by the opioid epidemic. Those figurative fires will touch Ray, a mountain of a man, a retired forester, and the father of an addict, and Denny Rattler, an addict himself, a petty thief, and a Cherokee.
(If you heard about these fires on the news, and you probably didn’t, it was likely only when they hit Gatlinburg.)
“The way these mountains have been burning, I knew there was some kind of end coming. I knew it. I just couldn’t see it. I come here to kill you.”
The use of the fires as a literary device is both obvious and effective. Coyotes provide a minor literary device, with Ray ruminating that “he’d watched mountain people and culture be damn near extirpated over the course of a few decades, while those dogs had been persecuted for a century and thrived.”
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Country Noir: In the Valley by Ron Rash
Ron Rash is a master of the short story, but a reader’s conclusion on In the Valley will depend on the title story, a novella set in the world of and featuring the title character from Serena that takes up half the volume.
I am not the target audience, to the extent it is possible for me to not be the target audience for a Rash work. Serena remains my least favorite Rash novel, and any attempt at another story featuring Serena is handicapped by the novel telling the end of her story. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by In the Valley, and it is well accompanied by the preceding stories.
Country Noir: Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich
Brian Panowich returns to McFalls County with Hard Cash Valley. But don’t expect another entry in the annals of the Burroughs family. Panowich is moving on with (almost entirely) new characters and a new story. It is still a very country noir story in a very country noir setting with a very country noir atmosphere.
The main character is Dane Kirby, a former arson investigator for the fire department and sheriff in the next county over relegated to a desk job with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He is damaged goods—broken by personal tragedy and in poor health—but the FBI pulls him into the investigation of a brutal murder after a simple plan gone wrong. The killing was done in Florida, but it has ties to a cockfighting tournament held in McFalls County. One man is dead, but his 11-year-old brother is still out there.
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SF: Congregations of the Dead by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge
The man that wandreth out of the way of wisdom shall abide in the congregation of the dead. – Proverbs 21:16
I bought Congregations of the Dead over a year ago on a bit of a lark because it was cheap. Which isn’t to sale that it didn’t sound right up my alley. A country noir/urban fantasy/horror mashup with significant pulp influences? (A secondary character is named Carter DeCamp in an obvious homage to Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp and Manly Wade Wellman’s characters Silver John and John Thunstone seem obvious influences as well.) What I didn’t realize is how damn good it would be.
Congregations of the Dead is the second in Griffin & Price novel, and I was a little thrown off at first as Moore and Rutledge tied up loose ends from the first book. But other than that hiccup, I found this an easy entrée into the series. I will definitely be picking up the other books though. I would say start with book one, but it looks like it isn’t available right now.
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Nonfiction: Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll
You can learn a lot about Hillbilly Elegy and Appalachian Reckoning just from the names. Several of the writers here protest that Vance does not and never did live in Appalachia. But Vance uses the term ‘hillbilly.’ You can take the hillbillies out of the Appalachian Mountains, and we have left in droves, but we do not cease to be hillbillies. Nor are all residents of the Appalachian Mountains hillbillies. Appalachian Reckoning is much more concerned with those people. Vance is talking about a culture, not a region (and, more narrowly, a family and he himself). The subtitle here is a lie. Appalachian Reckoning cannot be said to speak for the region. Many residents of Appalachia are poor, many do not have college degrees; the contributors are members of America’s new, education-based elite. Nor is it much of a reckoning, although at least that language is upfront about the position the vast majority of the contributors take.
I reread Hillbilly Elegy after reading Appalachian Reckoning just to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it. Appalachian Reckoning, as it turns out, did Vance a great favor. I went into Hillbilly Elegy with my back up, the natural state for a hillbilly reading about his people or region. Appalachian Reckoning reoriented me, and I was fully able to appreciate just how poignant and powerful a work Hillbilly Elegy is on my reread. I also confirmed that the early essays in Appalachian Reckoning are deeply unfair and incredibly sloppy.
I expressed my frustrations with the first essay in this collection at length. I don’t want to belabor my points here. And, frankly, there is nothing I can say that will undercut the essays in the first part of the book more than the essays in the second part of the book. The first set of essays are “directly assessing or commenting on the words and impact of Vance’s influential work.” Most of the unsupported assertions in these essays are contradicted by the “autobiographical reflections on the book” and “narratives and images that together provide a snapshot of a place.” The first tells us that Vance’s experiences and observations are a lie; the second gives experiences and observations remarkably similar Vance’s.
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SF: Desper Hollow by Elizabeth Massie
Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking about how a crime story fit uneasily into a second-world fantasy shell. A country noir shell, on the other hand, is an excellent fit for any number of sorts of SF stories. Including a zombie yarn. Desper Hollow is just that: a country noir zombie fantasy set deep in the hollers of Virginia.
The framing that opens the book and slow reveals the zombie angle is a little weird and unwieldy, but it builds to an incredibly taut set piece in the final third of the book.