As a huge Rash fan, I was not disappointed by Chemistry, a finalist for the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Yet, by half-way I was once again feeling the "love." Rash's prose are tight and poetic and for the most part his stories are well-constructed and feel complete (at least as short stories go). My favorites include "Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes," "Blackberries in June," "Dangerous Love," "Deep Gap,""Pemberton's Bride," (later turned into a novel, Serena--also a 2009 finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award) and "Speckled Trout" (which won the O'Henry Award and was also later turned into a novel, The World Made Straight).
Ah, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation moves South (from Winesburg, Ohio) where Ron Rash details the sad and sometimes tawdry tales of mostly Carolinians DEEP in the countryside, many of them so down and out it is as if they are from another epoch entirely. Many of these short stories don't so much end as cease talking to us.
Update, update: I wanted to document that my favorite story in the collection is "Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes" - I love it! Update: I finished the collection and the last two stories freaked me the heck out! The stories cover different eras of people living in the Appalachian region - pretty much in the same area of North Carolina.
"Some grief is like barbed wire that's been wrapped around a tree.The longer it's there,the deeper the barb go,the closer to the tree's heart." Chemistry and Other Stories is a gripping collection of stories set in Appalachia, a rural community struggling with the arrival of a new era.
The stories are certainly entertaining and well-written, down deep into some of the good stuff of southern Appalachia, but they mostly all seem too smooth in a sense. While lacking more of the colorful oddities and Appalachian quirks for entertainment, Rash examined an issue that would plainly not make sense, or at least not matter much, to most educated, middle-class readers outside the south.I'd like to see Rash attempt more of that kind of writing, even if it means losing all his recent awards.
Of course, it is not too hard to understand why the unemployed young man did not take the advice of the person to whom he was selling the stolen "goods." The other 10 stories are shorter. Blackberries in June tells the story of a young couple who are doing everything right to get themselves a better life than their parents. When the wife's brother is injured, they are faced with a difficult decision and you are left to wonder if there was any choice they could make that would not change them and make their life, in some way, very different. A former Koran War nurse who I am sure has PTSD (back before it was recognized) goes to see the young soldier whose life she saved in the early days of her tour of duty. Sadly, he is a wounded warrior who now wonders if he would have been better off dead -- a gut wrenchingly sad story. Honesty is about a college teacher who is unable to write the book he took a year's leave of absence to do. The Projectionist's Wife tells the story of a young boy who sees something he shouldn't have on the day he shoots and kills his first deer.
Blackberries in June, Overtime, The Projectionists Wife, and Deep Gap show a deep bitterness that runs through a downtrodden people. Pembertons Bride, a long short story, was expanded by Rash into the standalone novel Serena. Rash is best known for his short stories, and this collection is one of his best: it was a finalist for the PEN/Falkner Award for Fiction and Speckled Trout won a 2005 O. Stories: Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes; Chemistry; Last Rite; Blackberries in June; Not Waving but Drowning; Overtime; Cold Harbor, Honesty, Dangerous Love, The Projectionists Wife, Deep Gap, Pembertons Bride, Speckled Trout.