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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

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In 1945 Indiana prohibited marriage between a white person and anyone with more than one-eighth "Negro blood." Yet Daniel (black) and Anna (white) gave up family, friends, and eventually even country to create a life together. Their 42-year marriage…
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THE BANG BANG BROKERS HITS AMAZON PRIME WITH A BANG

Focusing on the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, The Bang Bang Brokers tells the story of a hedge fund manager (based on a composite of real life traders) who got rich off of predicting the subprime fallout. His guilt and suicidal impulses lead him to a chance meeting with a Latino Gang, headed by small time weed dealer Ramon (Erik Michael Estrada). In hopes that Ramon will kill him in exchange for the favor, Rolley (played by Donihue) robs a rival Black Gang, earning the pair a ton of…See More
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First speculators of WNC

Zachariah Candler and Waightstill Avery were first land-buyersby Rob Neufeld             “In mid-2010, while compiling the descendant chart for the Zachariah Candler family,” Charles Haller writes in “Pushing the Indians Out,” his book about first developers, “I became interested in Zachariah’s obsession with accumulating land grants issued by the State of North Carolina.”            Zachariah was one of the resident landowners who jumped on the big post-Revolutionary War land sale.            …See More
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Click to Listen: Church Hoeshttp://bit.ly/2u6MgbnLil Dee Has A Message for Church Hoes and it’s Nothing NiceKnown for pushing the envelope with his confrontational lyrical offerings, Lil Dee releases his latest single Church Hoes. The title inspires avariety of images ofwhat one may expect to hear in a…See More
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Kristin Hannah at UNCA February 16

Best-selling “Nightingale” author comes with new saga Rave“I’m thrilled to put into your hands the most honest exploration of both human frailty and resilience that I have ever read,” St. Martin’s Executive V-P and Publisher, Jennifer Enderlin says about Kristin Hannah’s novel, “The Great Alone.”  The publisher is betting the bank on this one. What aboutHannah writes evocative woman’s sagas, and her previous novel, “The Nightingale,” about two sisters surviving Nazi-occupied France, was No. 4…See More
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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Gail Godwin’s latest crosses a mental boundary by Rob Neufeld Asheville author Gail Godwin, now a Woodstock, NY resident, comes back home here Wed., June 14 to present her new novel, “Grief Cottage” at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m. “Grief Cottage” is the story of an orphaned, sensitive, troubled boy, named…See More
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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.

 

THE BOOK

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

AUTHOR EVENTS

  • 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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