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.

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