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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
Dawn Trowell Jones updated their profile
Nov 24
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
Rob Neufeld commented on Mark de Castrique's video
Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

The world of Ron Rash reveals new pieces

by Rob Neufeld 

            “I like to think that all that I’ve written forms a kind of quilt about the Appalachian mountains,” Ron Rash says in the wake of publishing his most recent book, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a collection of 14 stories.

            “Each novel, each story, each poem is a piece of that quilt.  My hope is to describe that place and the people in it as well as I can—not only in the present, but through time.”

            In 2010, Rash won the Frank O’Connor International Story Award, considered the most prestigious for that literary form.  His latest volume embraces hard luck characters and uses narrative surprises and open endings to create feelings of empathy.


Conned or the conner

            The book’s first story, “The Trusty,” does a masterful job of playing with the reader’s empathy. 

            “They had been moving up the road a week without seeing another farmhouse,” it begins, connecting us to a man named Sinkler, a conman convicted of embezzlement.   It’s Sinkler’s job to haul water for road crew prisoners, who, unlike Sinkler, have to wear leg irons.

            “How come you not to have chains on you?” a young housewife asks him when he approaches to request use of her well.

            “I’m a trusty,” he says.  “A prisoner, but one that can be trusted.” 

            So begins a dead serious series of conversations, laced with flirtations, demands, and gambits, that would suit the hero and heroine in a James Cain novel.  (Picture John Garfield.)

            In a recent interview, Rash revealed how his fertile imagination works.

            “The Trusty” started with an image, he said.  “A friend of mine mentioned that when she’d been a child, a trusty had come to her house one time for water.  Essentially, I imagined him on a dirt road with a bucket in his hand.  I knew, for him to be a trusty, it would have to be in the past.

            “Okay,” Rash continued, “I have him walk up this road, and what’s he going to find?  He found,” he says, laughing, “this very attractive young woman.

            “I knew that he was wanting to escape; or he would want to be with this woman. I also knew that he would have a good number of assumptions about her, including her intelligence.”

            Outsiders’ assumptions about Appalachian people are part of the quilt. 

Veering and sinking

            As in much of Rash’s fiction, there’s the sense that the mountain region is both a haven and a trap.

            In the title story, two 23-year-old opiate addicts on their way to a heist reflect on when they used to go night fishing after a day’s work on a highway crew. 

            Mission accomplished—sadly with callousness—the boys cross the river and the narrator sees that “a small light glows on the far bank, a lantern or a campfire.  Out beyond it, fish move in a current, alive in that other world.”

            In “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out,” Rash takes a poem of the same name from his 2011 book, “Waking,” enlarges the characters’ lives, and, as in the poem, turns to the night sky for solace.

            “It’s nice to look up and see something that never changes,” Darnell, a farmer, tells Carson, a retired veterinarian.  “When I was in Korea, I’d find the Big Dipper and the Huntress and the Archer…same as if I were in North Carolina.”

            The mountains are a trap in Rash’s fiction for a few reasons: remoteness, economic hard times, a sense of fatalism, and the ways in which the region has been exploited.

            In the story, “Cherokee,” a young couple tries to climb out of their down-sucking poverty by taking their meager savings to the casino.  They’d overspent to buy a dream truck (used), and needed to make payments.

            Rash plays with the reader to the very end, making you wonder if the heroes are going to take what they’ve gotten or push their luck. 

A threatened people

            Drowning imagery recurs in Rash’s work as an expression of the love, pathos, and regret he feels for his people.

            How can we forget the drowning at the beginning of his novel, “Saints at the River”?  A new version of that episode appears in “Nothing Gold” as the story, “Something Rich and Strange.”

            And how can we erase from our memories the dam-project-flooded community in “Not Waving but Drowning,” published in “Chemistry and Other Stories”?

            The new volume adds to the pull of that consciousness.

            “Water has its own archaeology,” the story, “The Woman at the Pond,” begins—“not a layering but a leveling, and thus 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.”

            In the story, “A Sort of Miracle,” Denton, an accountant, falls into a freezing creek.  Rash is at his grim and comic best. 

            Denton is afflicted by two good-for-nothing brothers-in-law, but is no paragon himself, since he’s given to foolish desperation when he begins to have problems in the sack.

            He thinks about the way the boys’ eye color changes when they watch TV, and then about a 12th grade biology experiment that had altered his life with random bad luck.

            “Everybody else’s fruit flies had changed eye color except Denton’s,” Rash relates about Denton’s classroom failure.  “His just crawled around on the glass for an hour and then died.  He got a D- on a major nine-week project,” and he hadn’t even picked which flies he’d gotten.  He received no college scholarship offers.  “The damn fruit flies had made sure of that.”

            Bad luck is the name people give to the probability of injury in a merciless environment.

            The comic story comes in Part II of a three-part grouping.

            “What I was hoping to do,” Rash says about the structure, “is bring the reader into that world”— another kind of askew "world made straight."

            “In Part I, you start in the past and end in the past,” he explained.  “The second part—it’s like a musical score.  Two of the stories (in that section) are humorous.  It gives the reader a break from the dark intensity.  In the third section, I hope the reader senses a kind of lightening up, a more hopeful sense.”

            In the world of Rash’s fiction, there are tragic figures, willful outsiders, Faulknerian endurers, screw-ups, loners, and heroes capable of sacrifice.



Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories by Ron Rash (HarperCollins: Ecco hardcover, 247 pages, $24.99) 


  • 5 p.m., Sun., Feb. 24, ticketed event at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St. Asheville, 254-6734.
  • 6: 30 p.m., Mon., Feb. 25, at Blue Ridge Books, 152 S. Main St., Waynesville (456-6000).


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