From Publishers Weekly
The latest from Rash (Serena), a collection, begins with Hard Times, in which a struggling farmer in the midst of the Great Depression tries to discover who's stealing eggs from his henhouse without offending the volatile pride of his impoverished neighbors. The present-day stories are also situated in poverty-plagued small towns whose young citizens are being lost to meth addictions: in Back of Beyond, a pawnshop owner has to intervene when he learns his nephew Danny has kicked his parents out of their house and sold off their furniture to support his habit; in The Ascent, a young boy lovingly tends to a couple of corpses—victims of a small plane crash. Rash's stories are calm, dark and overtly symbolic, sometimes so literal they verge on redundant: in Dead Confederates, when a man falls into the Confederate tomb he's looting, the graveyard caretaker notes: I'd say he's helped dig his own grave. With a mastery of dialogue, Rash has written a tribute and a pre-emptive eulogy for the hardworking, straight-talking farmers of the Appalachian Mountains. (Mar.)
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Born and raised in the Carolinas, Rash—also a poet and novelist (Serena, 2008)—has become known as a writer of Appalachia. Although these 12 stories are set in that region, in times ranging from the Civil War to today, they display a universality that goes beyond time or place. Rash’s characters, often struggling to make their way in the world, act as they believe they must to save what is dear to them—family members, a marriage, a heritage, a nation, and even a neighbor’s child. In the title story, a woman widowed and remarried to a younger handyman drifter lies to protect her husband, despite what she knows in her heart. In this, as in other stories, Rash leaves the reader with thoughts of the near-inevitable aftermath and its consequences. There is a purity and precision in Rash’s prose, reminiscent of his poetry, that makes these stories as deceptively easy to read as they are hard to forget. This is memorable, unflinching short fiction by a master of the form. --Michele Leber
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