THE RAT BECOMES LIGHT: Stories by Donald Secreast
Kirkus Star


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Fourteen stories from the blue-collar South, most set among workers in a furniture factory, that are first-rate evocations of the trailer-park crowd--and that invoke the spirit of Raymond Carver without being either derivative or minimalist. The Chalfant Furniture Factory is located in Boehm, North Carolina, a small Appalachian town so beautiful that one worker ""can see the Blue Ridge moutains in such clear outline that they made his teeth ache."" Such beauty contrasts sharply with the bleak lives of the workers. In ""Factory Hand,"" a representative story, Zerle Kitchebe, who works in the sanding room, gets a splinter in her hand that bothers her even through a trip to the beach. Back at work, she has it pulled finally, her hand ""swollen up to her wrist."" ""You was made for factory work,"" Zerle is told. There is little happiness here, and certainly little illusion. ""Lady Luck"" is about a long-lasting poker game at Myrtle Beach (a favorite haunt of these characters) focused on Lennis Murr, for whom ""repetition was a purifying act."" The game frees its participants to talk offhandedly about their lives and their hopes. In ""Bentley in Her Basement,"" Lela, a young mother, lives with a man who restores old cars in his basement--until her house is full of finish and a gas mask is common attire. ""When Loads Shift"" uses the fact that ""Trucks wreck when loads shift"" as metaphor for a trailer-house family faced with a midlife crisis: ""We got to get ready for age and sickness,"" the wife says. In the title story, Rawley Pendergraft, known universally as Rat (""only three or four people know Rawley's real name""), tries to escape from this humdrum existence--and the stunting world of the factory whistle--by climbing Brown Mountain, where ""The light had come to meet him."" A dazzling first collection; Secreast is a writer to reckon with.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row