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Volt: Stories Paperback – March 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975771
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975777
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Heathcock's impressive debut collection pursues modern American prairie characters through some serious Old Testament muck. If it's not flood or fire ravishing the village of Krafton, then it's fratricide, pedocide, or just plain ol' stranger killing. In the National Magazine Award–winning "Peacekeeper," middle-aged grocery store manager Helen Farraley becomes the town's first sheriff and cuts her teeth on a missing-child case. When snow tracks lead her to discover the girl's grim fate, Helen skirts the law so that "the unrighteous cause of her death kept a gracious unknown." In "Smoke," the sins of the father visit 15-year-old Vernon when his war vet father drags him out of bed to cremate the man he's killed. In the suspenseful "The Daughter," we watch the sins drip down the maternal line, as well. Misery is in plentiful supply throughout these dark, thickly atmospheric tales of spiritual desolation and savagery. Fans of William Gay and Daniel Woodrell will savor these stories where sin and suffering shroud the hope of redemption. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In these eight stories, four previously published in literary journals, the settings are small towns in the mountains and valleys of the northern plains states. No peaceful rural areas exist in Heathcock�s imagination. There�s a violent death, whether accidental or planned, in every story. The last six stories constitute a terrific cycle, set in the same town, with the repeating characters of sheriff, mayor, and minister and plots that provide climaxes and resolutions that suit the cycle. It is carefully structured and introduces the town and recurrent characters in the first story, Peacemaker, and then includes them in the ensuing events that trouble the community and disturb the equilibrium of the townspeople. But what really distinguishes the collection is the lyricism of the prose. Heathcock displays a real talent for describing a character in a telling phrase and shows a deep appreciation of the petty and serious violence of daily life. Recommend Volt to fans of Cormac McCarthy, Larry Brown, and Tom Franklin. --Ellen Loughran

More About the Author

Alan Heathcock's fiction has been published in many of America's top magazines and journals. VOLT, a collection of stories, was a "Best Book 2011″ selection from numerous newspapers and magazines, including GQ, Publishers Weekly, Salon, the Chicago Tribune, and Cleveland Plain Dealer, was named as a New York Times Editors' Choice, selected as a Barnes and Noble Best Book of the Month, as well as a finalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Prize. Heathcock has won a Whiting Award, the GLCA New Writers Award, a National Magazine Award, has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and is currently a Literature Fellow for the state of Idaho. A Native of Chicago, he teaches fiction writing at Boise State University.

Advanced praise for VOLT:

"This is a big, ravishing, commanding story collection. Heathcock presents a riveting portrait of an imaginary town called Krafton: through its streets and farms and minds spin questions about civilization and wilderness, lawkeeping and lawlessness, faith and faithlessness. Each story in its way shows how we reverberate after tragedy, and how we try--and sometimes fail--to vibrate our way back toward equilibrium. VOLT is (dare I say it?) electrifying."
--Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall and The Shell Collector

"The stories in VOLT are intense, suspenseful, and utterly compelling. Heathcock writes about violence and bad luck and bad choices with a cool, grim eye that recalls Cormac McCarthy, yet he also approaches the hard lives of his stoic Westerners with great empathy and compassion and heart--a kind of miraculous combination. By turns hair-raising and tender, the tales in this collection draw you into a tough, bleak, beautiful world that you won't soon forget."
--Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

"Alan Heathcock's VOLT is simply masterful. Its weave of stories is heart-filling and breath-stopping and his language achingly spare and yet, mysteriously generous, kind and luxurious. Take your time when you read it and then read it again."
--Robert Olmstead, author of Far Bright Star

"The stories in VOLT are rich in surprise moments of brightness and bleakness, told in strong straight sentences. Alan Heathcock has a cowpoke's eye for the bloom and detritus of the landscape, and language that puts one right there in the picture, banging through the greasewood, the cornfield, crossing the flats and sudden gullies. These are tough and potent stories, deeply felt and imagined. Heathcock is a writer who goes without flinching into the darker corners of human experience, but has the grace to bring any available light with him."
-Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone and Tomato Red

"Alan Heathcock doesn't so much write stories as fire them like bullets--they speed into the reader's consciousness and zip toward an impact that feels both stunning and irreversible. These are stories that arrive fast, hit hard, and linger."
--Keith Lee Morris, author of The Dart League King

"In the tradition of Breece D'J Pancake and Kent Meyers, Alan Heathcock turns his small town into a big canvas. Like the tales in Winesburg, Ohio, the stories in VOLT are full of violence and regret, and the sad desperation of the grotesque."
--Stewart O'Nan, author of Songs for the Missing

"VOLT is booming, cracking good. Heathcock's characters are trying to make things right, whether they're busting up a town, avenging the grief of a mother, or trying to live with the self-imposed judgement of loyalty or remorse. Guilt and grace are the pillars of this excellent collection, and there are no stronger or more mysterious pillars than those."
--Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead and Taking Care

"Alan Heathcock's voice is the American voice, doing what it was meant to do. It's full of distance and wind, highways and heart. He's the real deal."
--Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North

"Alan Heathcock is an epic storyteller--and VOLT is an epic collection. You will come away from each of these majestic stories thrilled, alternately terrified and heartened, ultimately full of wonder at how the author manages to make twenty pages so timeless, so deep and sweeping--every story like a novel writ small."
--Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh

Customer Reviews

Just finished Volt and can't stress enough that you MUST READ THIS BOOK!!
casenji
The characters who populate these stories inhabit some of the darkest most anguishing interior landscapes of the human experience.
Evelyn A. Getchell
Like the love you'll have for Volt, and the greater understanding of life you'll gain.
J Hands

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David Abrams on March 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
The title of Alan Heathcock's debut collection of short stories practically begs for allusions to electricity, but the fact of the matter is, Volt really does energize and jolt the reader from the very first paragraph to the final lines which linger, sparking and buzzing, long after the last page is turned.

Heathcock worked ten years on these stories and the hard, lonely hours of the solitary writer at his keyboard have paid off as readers now hold one of the year's best short story collections in their hands. Volt makes us think, makes us feel, and makes us believe in the power of short fiction once again.

In a tradition stretching from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, Heathcock links the stories in Volt through location and character--the residents of the fictional Krafton. They are set in an indefinable place and time. It could be Indiana in the 1950s or it could be Montana in the 2010s, but the characters are, at heart, those folks who live next door to us; or, more precisely, those who live in the mirror. Heathcock has gone directly to the heart of what makes us tick and breathe in a world thrown into disarray, no matter if it's the Cold War or the Iraq War in the background.

With a certain Midwestern stoicism, most of Heathcock's characters are men and women of few words. In the collection's opening story, "The Staying Freight," Winslow Nettles embarks on a weeks-long cross-country odyssey after he accidentally kills his boy and causes a train derailment. Before he departs, however, he leaves a note on the kitchen table for his wife: Took a walk. Be back soon.

In fact, Winslow will not be back anytime soon.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By B.Olivas on March 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has been so well reviewed that I'm a little intimidated to add my two cents. I lack eloquence in this area. I will say that reading the opening story "Staying Freight," made me want to just sit and be grateful for family in the same the way that watching a good friend or family member fight and struggle against some terrible circumstance that leaves us all helpless makes me need to sit back and be grateful. These stories reflect back to the reader what it means to be human e...more This book has been so well reviewed that I'm a little intimidated to add my two cents. I lack eloquence in this area. I will say that reading the opening story "Staying Freight," made me want to just sit and be grateful for family in the same the way that watching a good friend or family member fight and struggle against some terrible circumstance that leaves us all helpless makes me need to sit back and be grateful. These stories reflect back to the reader what it means to be human especially when we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in all the things in this world that would encourage us to forget that. In addition, the writing beautiful throughout and language makes me ridiculously green with envy. I haven't finished the collection -- in a strange way I am hoarding it, reading it a story at a time only when I have a enough time to properly fall into the book, I am simultaneously dying to find enough time to finish it and lamenting the fact that at some point it will be over.
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Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock is an edgy collection of short stories which, when I finished reading, I had to put aside and allow my reaction to simmer in the back of my mind for a few days before attempting to describe the impact each of these eight stories had on me. For one quality or another, each of these stories produced for me an intense and unforgettable effect.

Volt: Stories, as the title suggests, is a highly charged collection of fictions which will be felt in every nerve ending: fictions that discomforted and made me uneasy, fictions that shocked and agitated me, but also fictions that touched me and moved me profoundly. These are stories of a disturbing poignancy which demand to be read again and again.

They each have in common the grim, rural town of Krafton, a place of the author's imagination where grief and guilt, tragedy and violence, desperation and regret, are found at every turn. As dense a moral wilderness that Krafton appears to be, there is at its heart a character who has a grounding presence in almost every story, a lady sheriff named Helen, who though a damaged individual herself, dutifully strives to bring peace and equilibrium to the community in her charge, a community wracked by acts of nature and tragic accidental deaths, violent murders and child abuse, drugs and alcoholism, sons lost in the war and other sons who return from war damaged.

And at the core of Krafton and its flawed community is the Baptist church with its promise of grace and redemption.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly Wade on August 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a tough review for me to write. I thought about not writing it at all, but the prose here is at once crisp and spare and beautifully lyrical, such a rare combination it seemed wrong not to take note of it.

My reservations about recommending the book stem from its almost unremitting violence, sometimes sadistic ("The Furlough"). It presents a world view so bleak, I can't quite get my head around it. At the same time, familial love is a common theme in these stories; a relative's willingness to cover-up a crime, especially one committed by a parent, is a recurring theme that I found interesting. It just may be a metaphor for things we keep hidden within ourselves.

In the collection's opening story, "The Staying Freight," a man who grieves for the son he accidentally killed ends up with his jaws wired shut, allowing himself to be punched in the gut for money. He can't go home and face his wife. I've never read a fuller expression of repressed emotion. Here's a revealing passage:

"But the grace of Krafton came with the seasons, sowing, reaping, breeding an understanding that last year has no bearing on this one; this crop might be better, or worse, and regardless there'll be another and then another. In this there was only the future and diligent work, and not emotion but movement, just as the rain falling or crops sprouting was not emotion."

In "Smoke," a young man helps his father dispose of the body of a man he murdered in a fit of pique. The father asks his son, "You know why I believe there's a God?"
"No, sir."
"I feel a powerful tenderness for Mr. Augusto (the murdered man). Don't make no sense otherwise. A man what come after me. A man I don't know from Adam. Yet I'm still very sorry for him.
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