OUT OF THE WOODS

STORIES

68482556.299 Offutt, Chris OUT OF THE WOODS Violence, dislocation, the contradictory yearning for sustaining roots and for the rootless freedom of the road, as well as the difficult negotiations between men and women—all figure in this strong and startling collection. Over the course of several books, including a debut collection (Kentucky Straight, 1992), Offut has been working a rich vein of material, dealing with the tough, laconic hill people of Kentucky, and based on the razor-sharp stories here, the vein shows no signs of being played out. The wonderful title tale follows the efforts of a relative newcomer to the culture—the isolated, ancient culture of those hardscrabble hills—as he struggles to adapt himself to his wife’s taciturn, violent family. Sent to bail a brother-in-law out of trouble in another state, he discovers that the man has in fact been shot by his girlfriend, and died. Without cash but determined to impress the family, he manages to wrest the man’s body from officialdom, then haul it home in the back of his pick-up. In “Malungoons,” a deputy who prides himself on having escaped from the lethal feud that has enveloped several families in the nearby hollows finds, in one bloody moment, that he’s escaped his heritage after all. That archaic Kentucky culture, Offutt seems to suggest, is persistent, inescapable: it broods survivors, but it also breeds despair. Even those who seem to escape don’t often manage to evade the kinds of hard blows life seems to reserve for the powerless and poor. In the astringent “Tough People,” a couple on the road, scrambling desperately for a stake, and well aware that most things in life “will out you or burn you,” sign up for “Tough Man” and “Tough Woman” fights to raise money; they get the money but destroy their love in the process. There’s little good news in these nine tales, but there is in compensation ferocious portrait of an otherwise almost invisible culture, rendered in a salty, spare, memorable prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-82556-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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