In a second collection of blue-collar stories (The Rat Becomes Light, 1990), Secreast continues to impress with gritty, heartfelt fiction that chronicles life in a North Carolina factory town—this time by interconnecting 11 pieces that tell the moving saga of one family. Curtis and Adele Holsclaw, in the Appalachian foothills, have three children: wild Marleen, curious Phyllis, and bashful Dennis. The stories about the family move from their early life together to last things, mostly in chronological order. In ``Where the Modern World Begins,'' set in 1952, Curtis is a gambling man busy in his yard digging a septic tank. A rooster won by gambling attacks his son Dennis, and Curtis puts an end to the rooster—and, we suspect, to his gambling career—by impaling the bird. By ``Road Skills,'' set several years later, we're watching Marleen, already clever to the world, pretend to learn how to drive from her father (boyfriends have already taught her): ``Marleen knew which [gear] was which, but she waited until Curtis pointed before touching the pedal he indicated.'' ``If You See Me Coming'' is a dazzling coming-of-age story featuring Phyllis that climaxes with her climbing into an iron lung in order to understand the limitations of life. After the title piece—in which Gaither Drum, who ``on a busy day...could carry twelve tacks at a time in his mouth,'' saves Marleen from Junior McLaughlin (``shiftless enough and stubborn enough to be considered dangerous by the local law'') through an upholstering contest—things turn grim. Remaining stories chronicle the death of a grandparent, Marleen's divorces and slow death from cancer, and Curtis's and Adele's effort (in ``The Necessary Arrangements'' and ``For Sentimental Reasons'') to grieve without turning to stone. A bull's-eye—full of luminous detail and a wisdom grounded in seasonal, industrial and, most of all, familial cycles.
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