Raw and rugged, the stories in Heathcock's collection push up against the sharp edge of a world where people live and die, and find any redemption hard-won and sometimes bittersweet.
The book encompasses eight stories, all centered around the fictional town of Krafton and its people, with many of the pieces informing one another. Several characters appear in multiple stories, most notably the town sheriff, Helen Farraley. The collection opens with "The Staying Freight," an affecting tale of guilt and burnt-out acceptance. Winslow Nettles, "as sure a thing as a farmer could be," accidentally kills his young son by running him over with a tiller disk. Nettles walks away from his farm, traveling afoot until he's taken in at a nameless town, only to become part of a freak show. "Smoke" sifts through the aftermath of a killing, one occurring after two trucks meet on an isolated one-lane road and neither driver will give way. "Peacekeeper" follows Sheriff Farraley as she copes with a flood and with the angst of a child-murder. She contrives to make the murder appear to be an accident but then brings vigilante justice to the killer. In "The Daughter," a grieving woman cuts a maze into her corn field, and a little boy goes missing, with guilt enough to cover more than one person involved. Vernon Hamby, a Baptist pastor, appears in several stories, most affectingly in "Lazarus." "Volt," the title story which ends the book, is particularly remarkable for its portrayal of the Delmore clan, a modern family akin to the Snopes of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Heathcock's work is starkly realistic, and his writing is clear and concise and regularly relies on simple declarative sentences. The compendium offers readers a Spoon River Anthology–like sense of place and people, with characters radiating authenticity and coping with fate and folly in an entirely believable manner.
Heathcock has earned a National Magazine Award for his fiction. This book affirms that promise.