Showing posts with label Ron Rash. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ron Rash. Show all posts

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ron Rash Story Collection Reviewed by Gary Carden

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
New York:  HarperCollins, Publishers
$24.99 - 239 pages

“The term, “sea change” is both poetic and informal, meaning a gradual transformation in which the form is retained, but the substance is replaced:
a marvelous petrification.”

   Ron Rash’s latest collection of short stories resonate with a theme that runs through all of his works:  An awareness that Appalachia is in transition; it is becoming something else.  Of course, this is a quality that is shared by all things - what the poets call “mutability” - but in this instance, the author is mindful of what our world is becoming in contrast to what it once was. Like the drowned girl in his short story by the same title, Appalachia may be undergoing a “sea change” and will emerge as “something rich and strange” ....The substance may be alien, repugnant and/or fascinating.

   However, although the world is changing around them, many of the characters in Nothing Gold Can Stay are trapped, victims of forces beyond their control. Tricksters, fools and doomed lovers abound; many owe their origin to prototypes that are found in Chaucer,  Grimm and Native American folklore. Rash’s Pied Piper is driving a minibus down the Blue Ridge Parkway; he is freighted with marijuana and “magic tabs,” on his way to San Francisco; Coyote, the trickster has metamorphosed into Sinkler, the chain gang “trusty” who plots to win the trust of a mountain girl (who has an agenda of her own).

   There are “good people,” too: mountain veterinarians who venture out amid deep snows to deliver a breached calf in a distant mountain cove because of a promise made once at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.  Some of Rash’s struggling dreamers will touch your heart - especially the lovers.  Consider Danny and Lisa in “Cherokee,” a young married couple with an overdue truck payment, cutbacks at the cement plant and dwindling funds. Like thousands of others, they harken to the siren call of the big casino in Cherokee. The big billboards glimmer like mirages. Eventually, they gas up the truck for one desperate bid.  Then, there is Jody and Lauren, the doomed couple in “They Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven” are especially tragic since they embody blasted promise. Again, this is a frequent refrain in Rash’s work: Appalachia’s  talented, hopeful youth who are entrapped by poverty, biological necessity or naturalistic forces.  Jody, lonely and discouraged, is in college. Lauren, who shared Jody’s promise, becomes hopelessly addicted to drugs and is slowly succumbing in an abandoned farm house that now contains a meth lab in the basement. When Jody returns from  college to rescue her, he knows that their future is at stake: either she goes with him, or he joins her in the old “haunted” farmhouse.

   There are other responses to entrapment in Nothing Gold Can Stay. Amy, the mentally and physically disfigured protagonist of “Nighthawks,” finds solace in becoming a nighttime d.j. at the local radio station - a job that allows her to interact with other people without any direct contact with them.  She is a “nighthawk” (like the customers in Edward Hopper’s midnight cafe) ... solitary, gainfully employed and finally...needed. Then, there is the nameless woman in “The Woman at the Pond,” a poignant figure who may represent multitudes. Abused, trapped in a loveless marriage and perceiving the future as hopeless, she chooses to slip over the side of a boat with a cinderblock tied to her arm.  This story has a disturbing element.  It may be that the narrator could have saved her.

   However, there is little to admire about the unnamed narrator and his buddy, Donnie in "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Rendered stupid by pills and beer, these two young men spend their days trolling the countryside  looking for part-time work or an opportunity to steal something that can be bartered in Asheville.  When they meet  an old WW II veteran with a jar full of gold teeth - a souvenir of from a brutal battle in the South Seas.  The old man ruefully notes that after the experience, he had to “learn to be a human being again.”  Donnie is fascinated.  How much would those teeth bring in an Asheville pawn shop?

   Rash frequently acknowledges the old scars and lingering pain - mute evidence of the Civil War.  There are still bitter memories, like the rope that hangs in a farmer’s barn in “Where the Map Ends” - a place where two escaped slaves experience an encounter that has much to do with loss and retribution.  In like manner, a grievance that had its birth in a 17th century Scottish ballad finally finds a kind of belated justice in “A Servant of History.”  When an erstwhile ballad collector finds himself in an Appalachian cove recording “The Snows of Glencoe” from the lips of an ancient beldame, he belatedly discovers that he has become an unwitting instrument of justice.

   There is humor, of course - a bit dark perhaps, but humor nonetheless. In “A Sort of Miracle,” Rash gives the reader another heedless fool who yearns for undeserved wealth. Denton is not plagued by debts nor does he need funds to improve his education. Watching TV, he has learned that the paws and gall bladders of black bears are valuable, and he begins to develop a scheme.  Why not buy a ham at the grocery store, drive deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, tie the ham to a tree limb and set a trap. What could be easier? After waiting a few days, Denton, accompanied by his wife’s teenage brothers, Baroque and Marlboro (visiting from Florida),  decides to claim his prize.  In some ways, “A Sort of Miracle” reads like a parody of “Something Rich and Strange.”  Alas, poor Denton!  He too, is destined to undergo a transformation.

   This is a marvelous collection.  Like a gifted musician in a midnight speakeasy, Rash glides from muted love songs to funeral hymns to bold marches soulful ballads.  They are all here then, the people of Appalachia. Foolish, flawed, vain and callow.  Many of them elicit empathy for they are all  mortal and foolish.  They are like Chaucer’s pilgrims or Christian’s fellow travelers in Pilgrim’s Progress.  However, unlike the indomitable Christian, many will sink in the muck of the Slough of Despond and vanish, or they will go charging off  in pursuit of phantasms and mirages ... perhaps not  of the Celestial City, but ...a Cherokee casino.

Gary Carden

Ron's book will be released this week and he will be signing at the Community Room in the new library in Sylva on March 15th.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review of Ron Rash's new poetry book by Gary Carden

If you haven't heard of Ron Rash, author of Serena, and other popular books, be sure to google him, and visit Gary Carden's blog, Holler Notes.

Read his excellent review of Ron's new book of poetry, Waking. This review will also be in the Smoky Mountain News this week.

If you live in the area, you will want to know that Ron Rash will appear at City Lights Books to read from this book on Sunday, August 28th, 1:00 p.m.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Nancy Sales Cash, Mary Jo Dyre, Lana Hendershott, Glenda Beall, Ken Kinnett, and Pat Davis at conference last year.
Did you attend the Fall Writers' Conference held by NCWN in Durham this month?

If you did, please leave a comment and tell us about it.

If you did not go, but you wanted to go (like me) tell us why you were longing to be there, but just couldn't make it this year.

My driver was out of commission. That's why I didn't make it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Gary sent this email regarding his experience at the NCWN Fall Writers and Publishers Conference

I had a ball at the conference. It was a hard trip and I drove five hours through rain and fog to the Raleigh/Durham Hilton. However, once I got there, I was treated like visiting royalty. I made a lot of friends and it was a gratifying experience to be with folks who shared my interests. There were playwrights there, fiction writers, non-fiction writers and journalists. I suspect that we have those people up here, but I rarely meet them.
I heard Ron Rash's keynote speech and it was a winner. He talked about research and the fact that it sometimes comes dangerously close to eclipsing the actual writing of a novel. He addressed its significance in relation to Serena and talked about eagles and rattlesnakes. He also discussed the "chorus" in the novel, the voices of the workers in the lumber camp that enabled him to add richness to his plot.
The workshop that I taught, a total 18 people who were interested in converting oral history into effective theatre was a wonderful experience. I had playwrights in the class that were far more experienced than I, but the basic simplicity of what I presented appealed to them. I am still getting calls from them, and I have even been advised as to how to promote myself in the piedmont. That was wonderful to hear, but I prefer to mimic the mountain laurel and "grow where I am planted."
The conference offered endless opportunities for writers and the display area in the lobby was filled with folks who offered opportunities that ranged from self-publishing to manuscript evaluation. Several publishers were soliciting regional history and non-fiction, memoirs, essays, etc.
There was also an impressive display of North Carolina writers ranging from Ron Rash to Vicki Lane (who I had dinner with) and new works from people like Jill McCorkle, Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Randall McKehan, Ruth Moose ... all of whom I have been reading for years. I was impressed enough by a fellow named Stacy Cochran to buy his video on "How to Get Published and How to Get an Agent" and I brought it home where Ben Eller and I watched it and decided that it was worth the money. He also has a website.

I was also approached by some media people who asked about interviews for local TV shows and radio programs, but it depresses me to think that I have to drive to Raleigh to be interviewed. I have a healthy ego, but I am not driving five hours to be interviewed.

In fact, that is pretty much the way I feel about the Conference. It was like a candy store for writers, but it is in Raleigh. I guess our resources are scant by comparison, but I do intend to find whatever I can in this region. I won't drive to Raleigh, but I will drive to Asheville. There seems to be a tendency to hunker down and try to practice our art in a very narrow area ... like a twenty-mile radius of home. That needs to change.

Gary Carden lives in Sylva, NC. He is a storyteller, writer, playwright, teacher and journalist. Contact him at

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Begin in the Middle!

A look at Ron Rash’s new collection of fiction, Chemistry and Other Stories

Book Review by Lonnie Busch

In Chemistry and Other Stories, Ron Rash’s most recent collection of short stories from Picador, Rash does exactly what Aristotle suggested to young writers over 2000 years ago; he starts his stories in medias res—“In the middle of things.” Aristotle knew that for a story to be successful, it had to focus on the main conflict immediately. Rash executes Aristotle’s idea flawlessly in this fine collection.

The spring my father spent three weeks at Broughton Hospital, he came back to my mother and me pale and disoriented, two pill bottles clutched in his right hand as we made our awkward reunion in the hospital lobby. So begins “Chemistry,” the title story of Rash’s collection. Rash drops the reader in the middle of things by cutting to the heart of the conflict in the first sentence. He follows “Chemistry” with “Last Rite.”—When the sheriff stepped onto her porch, he carried his hat in his hands, so she knew Elijah was dead.

If you study Rash’s lead-ins closely, you’ll see a pattern emerge; Rash always starts with characters—characters at the edge of peril, conflict, or confusion, characters with their bare toes curled over the precipice of change. Lately, it seems, fiction in some of the finest literary journals attempts to entice readers into its fictional web with initial offerings no more challenging than weather reports, bird nests, and hammered metal bells. Rash understands the structure of effective storytelling and how to imbue a tale with urgency. He starts so precisely, it’s hard to imagine his stories could begin anywhere other than where they do. His lead sentence always elicits questions and evokes mystery. Once his story’s in full swing, Rash sketches in supporting events and backstory with the deft of a magician, never releasing the spell he casts with his initial image.

I met Lee Ann McIntyre on a date suggested by my wife. From Rash’s story, “Honesty.” How can bird nests and metal bells possibly compete with lead-ins like these? Or the first sentence of “Dangerous Love.”—When Ricky threw his knife and the blade tore my blouse and cut into flesh eight inches from my heart, it was certain as the blood trickling down my arm that something in our relationship had gone wrong. This is powerful writing and exquisite storytelling. Let’s not forget, Rash is also a poet. He knows about economy of language and writes like he has to pay for each and every word out of his own pocket. John Gardner, author of October Light, Mickelsson’s Ghost, and many other titles, once remarked that every line of poetry should be “red meat.” Rash obviously knows to stick to the main course, serving it up hot from the inception.

When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after four months in Boston settling his father’s estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a woman pregnant with Pemberton’s child. From “Pemberton’s Bride.”

Like a riptide, Rash’s openings sweep the reader into the story, making compelling promises to his audience, and delivering on those promises each and every time. These aren’t tricks, or slight of pen; this is solid storytelling at its best. After the second time his hardware store had been robbed, both times at night, Marshall Vaughn bought a pistol. That from “Deep Gap,” and this from Rash’s O. Henry Award winning short story, “Speckled Trout.”—Lanny came upon the marijuana plants while fishing Caney Creek. This, like many of the other beginnings in this collection, is simply elegant and astonishingly provocative. Chemistry and Other Stories is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable collections I’ve read in a long time, and could serve as a valuable primer for new writers and veterans alike, a precious reminder of how powerful story beginnings can be.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review by Gary Carden

Turnback Creek by Lonnie Busch
Huntsville: Texas Review Press $12.95 – 65 pages

In reading the works of major Southern writers in recent years, a singular theme repeatedly emerges: the protean nature of water. In the novels of Ron Rash, water appears as both lethal and life sustaining (Saints at the River); while in One Foot in Eden the building of a dam obliterates a small farming community. At other times, water is an agent of renewal or teasing mystery. In the writings of James Dickey (Deliverance) and William Gay (Provinces of the Night), water sometimes brings violent transformations. Lonnie Busch’s slender novella, Turnback Creek, manages to embody many of these diverse themes in this skillfully crafted work - only 65 pages – a truly amazing accomplishment! In essence, Turnback Creek represents a kind of literary distillation in which the author has stripped his story to a polished crux.This accomplishment has not gone unnoticed. Turnback Creek has received the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and the praise of his peers, many of whom stress the work’s resemblance to a parable of life, death and redemption. The book’s protagonist, Cole Emerson, is a man who is in the process of “coming to terms” with his misspent life. Now in his 70’s, Cole finds himself living on a small farm in a remote section of Missouri. He has lived a heedless, nomadic existence as a heavy equipment operator, often bragging of pulling down a white-collar salary operating backhoes and tractors. He has little to show for it. At the end of his life, Cole, now a widower and estranged from his daughter, spends his days tending a dying sister. At night when the sister is sedated, he fishes a tributary of Hartman Lake called Turnback Creek and ponders the past. It is here that he first encounters Hannah, a naked fourteen-year-old girl, who emerges from the darkness one night, driving a backhoe through the moonlit woods adjoining the lake. Is she real? Is she perhaps a projection of Cole’s yearning for his own lost youth? Regardless, the naked girl behaves like a demonic sprite as she struggles to control the backhoe. The old man is transfixed by the girl’s antics. Further, Cole senses that she knows he is watching her, and when he turns his boat towards home, he sees the moonlit figure on a cliff above the lake. The next night, he is back, hoping she will appear again. In time, Cole comes face-to-face with the girl and learns that her name is Hannah. Despite daylight encounters that reveal Hannah to be a troubled and angry teenager with an alcoholic father, the old man continues to perceive her as a near-supernatural being. Cole becomes obsessed with Hannah and finds himself plagued by guilt and foreboding. He begins to brood about his former jobs – removing coffins from graveyards that are destined to be flooded, constructing dams and diverting rivers. When Hannah asks Cole to teach her to operate the controls of the backhoe, he discovers that she intends to dig a hole near her home … a hole deep enough to “bury a man so that he will never be found.” Finally, Cole perceives a disturbing parallel between Hannah’s irresponsible father and his own sire – another heedless, undependable man who mysteriously vanished one day as though “the earth had swallowed him.” There is much to admire in Turnback Creek. The beauty of Busch’s descriptive passages are noteworthy, especially those that capture the haunting imagery of a lake at night, the sheen of moonlit water and the plop of a lure. Reading these passages brought to mind, Any Cold Jordan by David Bottoms, another midnight fisherman who can capture the soft whistle of a cast line and the splash of a moon-drunk bass. Lonnie Busch is currently serving as co-editor (with Jubal Tiner) of the quarterly literary magazine, Pisgah Review, which is based at Brevard College.