Tuesday, June 25, 2013

And The Scars Run Together (Golden & Green)

When you give a story collection a well known and weighty title like “Nothing Gold Can Stay” there is some considerable risk inherent in the choice. Robert Rash likely understands that such a reference is more than an homage to Robert Frost – it also comes with some serious expectation about content and impact. After all, the original poem is one that even casual readers of the form know and appreciate. It certainly has depth for the critical eye, but the thing is you don't need that critical eye to find the core of the poem's power.

Some of these stories are like that. The best of them are at least. The fact that this collection which normally would have taken me roughly about two hours to read ( given the short length) ended up taking me four days to complete says something . The struggle was entirely due to that gravel-in-your-guts feeling that effectively bleak writing can give you. Another strong point of this collection is that while the time periods vary, the sense of place is still a strong anchor which grounds the stories in a common kind of rough reality.

I've never read Rash before, though I gather that he has published several collections previously and has gotten a fair bit of acclaim (being a PEN / Faulkner finalist, and winning the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award). This was a good impression for an introduction to his work, though I have no way to know if it fully showcases his talent. My favorites were the title story Nothing Gold Can Stay, Something Rich and Strange, A Servant of History, & A Sort of Miracle.

As a reader you learn to not expect happy endings in short fiction. Short story writers often go for raw nerves. This brand of Appalachia centric despair has a lot in common with the work of Daniel Woodrell , whose collection The Outlaw Album I have previously reviewed (and ranted about). In all honesty I do prefer Woodrell and that may be why I wasn't moved to give this a higher score. Make no mistake however, this was good - it just didn't have quite the shine for greatness. For the song I have chosen “Golden and Green “ by The Builders & The Butchers.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Judgments of All Kinds ( See Me and Suffer)

I haven't reviewed anything in ages. Honestly I was wondering for a while if I'd ever get back in to the habit of it. I decided to jump back in with D.B.C. Pierre's Booker Prize winning debut “Vernon God Little”. My decision wasn't based on a particular love for the book, as one might assume, nor was it based on a deep hatred of it. I say this noticing that this novel obviously inspired a fair bit of both on Goodreads. My desire to review this came instead from those strong reactions it has drawn out of other people. I enjoy seeing a book get discussed with real vigor by both defenders and detractors. My feelings on the work actually fall somewhere in the middle ground. (If I could give it 3 and ½ stars I would)

On one hand I see why a voice like Vern's could captivate some readers. The vulgarity and biting social commentary coming from a 15 year old kid can be endearing to the right ear. It may also be infuriating and laughable to the wrong one. I was made to understand quite early on that I was supposed to sympathize with Vernon. Likewise I was prompted to immediately dislike the vast majority of Pierre's secondary characters in this small Texas town. I did get a few laughs out of the observations young Vern provided, which is the most one has the right to hope for in a book dealing with the fallout of a school shooting. Still there were some overblown caricatures here that somewhat tarnished the overall strength of what would otherwise be perfectly valid criticisms of modern American life.

I've seen some responses that lambasted the Booker Prize selection committee – one reviewer who was apparently very offended stated that this was ' more proof that the Brits hate the United States' or some such blah. (ignoring the fact that although D.B.C. Pierre sounds like the name of a slimy Frenchmen – he is in fact a resident of the U.S.) Booker Prize winners haven't always struck me as great. In fact some have left me rather bored, but I wouldn't suggest that it proves much of anything about animosity felt across the pond.

I found this mostly entertaining if at times implausible. It does attempt to tackle heady issues, with a humorous bent -which as a lover of satire I can only appreciate. I won't give any spoilers away – the little blurb on the back cover says all you need to know, if you are wondering whether you'd be interested in it.

I went along D.B.C. 's insistence about who to root for, and who to despise in the story. But there is a point where I draw the fucken line partner ; *being the only reviewer I know who pairs their criticism with a musical accompaniment I could not in good conscious (or good taste, whichever you prefer ) make my return to reviewing and leave you all listening to an awful Glen Campbell song. No siree, I just wouldn't do that to you. So instead, here is a song that was quite clearly inspired by the novel itself.

See Me And Suffer “ by Owen Hackett