Mountains stories both artistic and raw
by Rob Neufeld
I’d reviewed Charles Dodd White’s home-from-WWI novel, “Lambs of Men,” a few years ago, and was transported by its claws. His story collection has just come to my attention, as has its publisher, Bottom Dog Press, which features the “Appalachian Writing Series.” See editor Larry R. Smith’s description of working-class fiction at smithdocs.net/AppalachianFiction.
In “Hawkins’ Boy,” the first story in “Sinners,” a mountain man who can’t pay funeral fees, buries his epileptic son in winter ground; and reburies the pieces after dogs tear the body up. In “Controlled Burn,” the second story, the FBI burns a mountainside—including a family’s cabin—when an end-of-the-world group’s weapons cache is discovered.
“Carrion,” the third story, features a roadkill salvager. “Age of Stone” turns up a WPA tunnel-blasting crew, landslide victims, and a bushwhacker.
What makes these stories compelling is not the grisly and weird subjects, primarily; but rather their authenticity, which is fused with the narrative voice, which sings with the energy of a controlled burn.
When morning comes to the father in the first story, “the paleness of the visible world freed him from thoughts that encrusted his skull like gems set tight against his brain, black as bibles.”
In the story, “Confederates,” the narrator takes his late father’s Vietnam War buddy into a tourist shop to use the restroom, and encounters a suspicious clerk, who figures him “a threat to his vast collection of flamingos, Lincoln Logs, water pistols, books on tape and imitation headdresses. I gave him the finger for no particular reason.”
White doesn’t glorify or condemn his characters; he watches them flail heroically in an un-heroic game of survival.
Sinners of Sanction County: Stories by Charles Dodd White (Bantam Dog Press trade paper, 157 pages, $17)
Charles Dodd White teaches English at South College in Asheville. See his website.