on May 5, 2012
Edd Voss describes himself as a drifter.
I beg to differ. At least in one sense.
While there is no dispute he has lived a varied and eventful life, I would suggest he is anything but.
Drifter, by one definition, implies aimlessness, untrustworthiness even worthlessness. Edd Voss, by his own admission, states that most of his stories are somehow based or inspired by events in his own life. If that is true, then he is as opposite of drifter as east is from west.
Now for the record I'm pretty sure Voss is being tongue-in-cheek when he describes himself this way. I have reason to know he is not the kind of person who would willfully describe himself in negative terms. Rather, he is simply displaying a little hint of the quirky humor that is a part of his personality and which shows in most of his stories. It is a means to an end: which is to entice you to read his book.
To this point, I think Voss is being shrewd and ultimately I think his approach is entirely correct.
RAMBLING, a collection of short stories and novellas, perfectly reflects what is best about Voss' self-description. A life-long resident of the western U.S., he has been a long haul truck driver for over 20 years. He also served with the U.S. Army Airborne for several years before that. Hence the drifter connotation. As a result, he has no doubt had the opportunity to see about as much of America and the world as any one person is likely to see. Which means he has certainly seen many strange, wonderful, frightening and even unbelievable events. The result? This lifetime of "drifting" and "rambling" as well as a deep abiding love of his western roots provides the basis for 13 of the best stories you will ever read.
The collection opens strong with "Welcome Home", an unabashed salute to America's service men and women. So often in the past our service people have been the object of derision by some. Especially our Vietnam era vets. As a result, many vets have chosen to underplay their contribution to our country. Not even members of their own families are completely aware of what they have experienced. "Welcome Home" tells the story of one man who answered the call of duty but chose to shun recognition. One day he is forced to recall many memories that have been locked away for years and from an unexpected source. How he handles the situation will inspire you and the ending will surely bring a tear.
Voss includes two other stories which are clearly based on his service in the Army. One of them, "Airborne: One Man's Journey", is actually not a fictional story but is an outright autobiographical account of his ordeal to complete the Army jump school training and thereby earn the coveted title of Airborne. Voss' descriptions of the various weeks of training are so vivid you will almost feel like you're in training as well. He also does a great job of relating to the reader how he felt and what he was thinking at the time. It should be noted Voss is very good at this and it shows in every character he has created throughout the collection. At the end of this account you will not only feel you've been to Jump School but will also feel flushed with the same pride and sense of accomplishment for Voss that he felt for himself.
When reading this collection I believe you will quickly come to realize what Voss' guilty pleasure is as an author. Nearly half of the stories included are westerns; either classic in nature or modern. And with all due respect, I think this is his strength as an author. Let me quickly remind you that every story in this book is excellent, in my opinion, and more than worth the time to read. But there is something about his westerns that really caught my eye and touched my heart.
I will only highlight two of them in the interest of time, one classic and one modern, but all of them are wonderful.
The classic tale "Apache Tears" tells the story of an Indian raid on a white settlement. As he explains in his author's notes at the end, this is Voss' take on an age-old western legend. He fleshes out the tale with specific characters and a much enhanced description of the elements of the original story.
Voss has a real talent for creating believable characters and for "getting" them to reveal themselves to the reader. And he has a excellent eye for detail which makes you feel a part of the story. At the risk of sounding clichéd, you can almost feel the heat of the desert, the smell of horses and the sounds associated with groups of men and animals moving about.
Now I have to say that while this story is great on its' own, I must be honest and reveal that I had just a touch of a letdown. Why? I was spoiled. As it turns out this story is actually now the basis of a much longer version which Voss has entitled "The Last Raid". I had the pleasure of reading the longer version first and what a difference it is. Wow! So what I am saying again is "Apache Tears" is an absolutely wonderful tale. But with all due respect to Mr. Voss, if you only get to read one version, definitely read "The Last Raid". Unfortunately it is not available in this collection, but it is available as a separate story. I have a review posted for it separately and won't try to repeat it here. Just remember, whichever version you read, you are in for a treat.
It may not be what Voss would call a modern western, but I think "Tyler's Courage" fits the bill perfectly. A young boy has just gotten the news that he is going to spend some time with a great-uncle on a fishing adventure. He is a mid-westerner but his uncle has a place near Spokane. From there they will go to a ranch in Montana owned by a friend of his uncle. The lake where they will fish is so far off the beaten path that it will take them a couple of days on horseback just to get there.
Tyler is all but ecstatic about the trip. Along the way his Uncle Gene is taking great pleasure in spending time with the boy. He is very special. Gene spends every opportunity teaching Tyler the skills you need when out in the wild. How to handle a horse, how to read a map and use a compass to plot your route, what dangers to watch out for.....
All seems idyllic. But just as Gene has tried to warn, the situation turns terrifying in an instant. Suddenly Gene is hurt and Tyler is faced with a task where failure could mean life or death for either of them. And he is already dealing with a challenge that few people have ever had to face.
This story is simply riveting. It is one of the longer stories and I found myself wishing it wouldn't come to an end. The pages flew by as it is truly one of those stories where you have to see how everything turns out. Be sure to read the authors' notes at the end.
The other westerns collected here, "Christmas on the Mesa", "Dreaming of a Warm Place" and "Storm" are all excellent. "Storm", a classic tale, is also riveting. Great writing and another perfect example of where Voss' strength lies.
Some of the other stories such as "Their First Hunt" are traditional and heart-warming. And this one has a neat twist at the end. "Going Home" is perhaps the longest piece. It is another rite-of-passage story of another young boy and again showcases Voss' gift for creating realistic people dealing with seemingly normal circumstances. But you just can't help but get caught up in their lives and caring what happens to them. Especially when circumstances aren't as normal as they seem at first glance. It should be noted that this story is a sequel to a previously published story called "A Tree for America". Again, with respect to Mr. Voss, I would highly recommend you read this story first before reading "Going Home". But also note it certainly isn't necessary to and it isn't going to hurt your enjoyment of either story if you don't.
"The Ghost of Hi Jolly" is sort of in a class by itself as I would call it somewhat whimsical. Another expansion of a real legend, it is also based in some fact and is a result of some of Voss' explorations of America as he travels about the country hauling freight. A fun read.
"Blind" and "Shade" are great examples of the range and interest Voss exhibits as a writer. I'm not going to specifically categorize these stories here as I feel it would give something important away, especially for "Blind". Both stories, however, deal with men who find themselves in strange circumstances. How they deal with it and what they discover is, of course, the point to the stories at least in part.
"Shade" is arguably the most relevant and important piece of the collection in my opinion. At least in the sense of showing insight into the authors' mind and revealing how he sees the world. A cautionary tale of contemporary life in America, the story follows one man living in a time where today's current political upheavals have run one possible natural course. Compelling characters and chilling scenarios are top-notch. Voss has a deep love for his country and this story is his way of showing it. Frighteningly realistic, "Shade" is a wake-up call everyone needs to read. The good news here is that Voss is reportedly at work on a sequel.
The undisputed masterpiece of this collection is "Jo Anna." This is the third of his stories inspired by his military service.
How does one cope with death?
Most of us realize the answer is as varied as there are people who deal with it. Which, of course, means all of us. Many factors are involved: the circumstances of the event, whether or not you have others to support you, your own values and beliefs and perhaps most importantly, who has died.
Sgt. Ben Tucker, U.S. Army Airborne, has just received devastating news. A member of his family has died. But it is not just any member.
Suddenly life is upside down and inside out. Nothing is real anymore. But somehow life must go on....or does it? In spite of his grief, Tucker realizes fast he must find a way to deal with the tragedy. To cope. But how? And first he must get through the next few days.
Ben Tuckers' journey through the rest of his life has just begun. It will be a hard road and what lies at the end of it? What he discovers should give us all hope and joy, even through the worst times of our lives.
The authors' notes for this story are an absolute must read. Do not fail to do so.
I'm not sure how long Voss has been writing and publishing but he clearly has the talent for it. I have only spoken of his skill in general terms so far and I would be remiss not to elaborate a bit. His prose is very smooth and polished which makes it a joy to read. He does not waste words with a lot of flowery language and yet his descriptions of people and places are vivid and fill the mind's eye easily. There is no pretense in either action or dialogue. Everything is stated simply and matter-of-fact. People talk to each other and act as they would in real life. He is a master of pacing and description and not one story failed to draw me in and make me feel a part of it. The westerns especially made me feel as if I was watching an immersive 3-D movie.
Finally it becomes obvious very quickly that family and country are extremely important to this author. There is one overriding impression you are left with as you read any of these stories with the possible exception of "Shade". You will feel a gentleness and a familiarity come over you as if you are reading about someone you know. Or should know. Simple, sincere values are a large part of what makes Voss tick. And it shows.
In fact, it shows so much as you read through these stories, you will also soon notice that the main character in most of these stories just so happens to have very similar physical attributes, is gentle and giving, has a loving, supportive wife and family who are his bedrock and in some cases, drives a truck for a living...
Very similar to the traits of a self-described modern drifter.
Wait no longer. Read RAMBLING.