”Water has its own archeology, not a layering but a leveling, and this is truer to our sense of the past, because what is memory but near and far events spread and smoothed beneath the present’s surface.”
The gorgeous hardcover edition of a new collection of stories by Ron Rash produced by Ecco Books made me pick it from among the mass of new books on a shelf. I’d never read anything by Rash before, but I so regret the lack of attention that enabled me to overlook this master until now. I exhort you: do not make my mistake. Do not miss this!
Ron Rash brings us news of the Blue Ridge backwoods almost untouched by our quickening lifestyle and fulsome economy. The timeframe is extended: we move from the Civil War through the 20th Century, but we see daytime TV now and the characters who find it fascinating. His stories are gems of economy--he paints a picture, and then quietly and inexorably ratchets the tension. Our brains toil away at resolution, but Rash often surprises us, jolting us with a solution that demonstrates our naiveté and gullibility.
This stellar collection of stories from America’s Appalachian Mountain region carries with it the whiff of woodsmoke, the clang of metal in a bird-silent wood, and the chill of an unsmiling blue eye. There was an elusive taint of bitter iron on my tongue after a few of the stories. The following quote, from the story “Night Hawks”, is an example of Rash’s grasp of quietude (as one reviewer called it), and alienation:
”Often she felt like an inmate pressing palm to glass and yet feeling no warmth from a hand less than an inch away.”
Another reviewer showed us the Frost poem, the reference to which this title refers, but one cannot help but try to make sense of the title for ourselves, just as it is, with no more knowledge behind it. And in this way we receive confirmation for what we suspect: that beauty, wealth, things that money can buy, are only transitory. Life itself is transitory.
My favorite stories are the first and the last. In the first, “The Trusty”, Rash caught me out completely—it was like an O. Henry celebration. In the last, “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out”, the writing is so quiet and so generous and so wise, it is like a benediction.
This is a book you may well want to own in paper. Great literature should be visible and accessible on our shelves and publishers create beautiful volumes as a testament to great literature. This one is printed like a collection of poetry. It is slim. Even the spine is gorgeous. But don't pass it up if all you can find is an ebook.
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