Sometimes lyrical, sometimes scarifying stories by the up-and-coming author of Honey from the Lion (2015).
What happens to a body when it’s been dumped in the woods under a loose pile of leaves? Maybe you don’t want to know the details, and perhaps it’s enough to say, as Null does, that “the bears and the foxes broke him apart and scattered him far and near,” language tender and elegant enough to serve in a Scottish border ballad by way of Appalachia. Null does not let that suffice, though: the body of the poor traveling salesman who ventures unwisely into the hollers is more than broken up—gnawed by dogs, half-buried, and worse—outside the confines of the story, ironically titled “Something You Can’t Live Without,” forgotten but for one thing: its former occupant’s wise observation, not long before dying, that “an animal has just enough brains to cure its own hide.” Hmmm: cured indeed. Not all the stories in this small collection are bleak and violent, but those are the dominant moods, fitting the severe landscape. Within that setting of crags, foreboding forests, and onrushing creeks, Null finds poetry and moments that can sometimes bear something like grace: “The sky went from indigo to blackness, and he saw nothing ominous in it, nothing but cold stars wheeling in their course, a course determined by the same firm hand he hoped was guiding his own.” Whether logging, farming, or damming creeks, the people who inhabit these stories are also mostly at war with each other and certainly at war with the land, which repays them with all sorts of mayhem—but sometimes, as in the closing story, with a bit of dumb luck as well.
Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40 years, and it’s high time someone else did. Null is a natural writer with much to say.