Burning Bright is another collection of short stories set in and around rural Western North Carolina by the master, Ron Rash. I think I would rank it third among the collections I’ve read, behind Chemistry and Other Stories and then Nothing Gold Can Stay, but that’s sainting with faint criticism. There is nothing quite so good as Blackberries in June or Speckled Trout, but there also isn’t a truly weak story.
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.
The Daniel Woodrell short stories collected in The Outlaw Album have two things in common—they’re set in the Ozark Plateau and they are about violence. It’s the stuff of Ron Rash and Cormac McCarthy, Chris Knight and James McMurtry, Jesco White and Popcorn Sutton.
The stories of The Outlaw Album are short, ranging from as low as 6 pages to as long as 28 pages. The stories generally get longer—and more difficult—as you go. There are also uncommonly strong across the board, only The Horse in Our History leaving me unmoved.