Searing collection of short fiction from critically acclaimed Rash (Serena, 2008, etc.)
The scourge of meth addiction ravages North Carolina’s mountain communities in three of these 12 stories. For Devon, playing guitar for the wasted wretches at a funky roadhouse in “Waiting for the End of the World,” it’s mordant humor that gets him through the night. “The Ascent” takes a closer look at the human consequences of meth use. To escape a miserable home life with his zonked-out parents, 11-year-old Jared goes climbing and discovers a crashed plane. Pilot and passenger are dead, yet the boy finds it “snug and cozy” inside; there can be no happy ending for his fantasy about a different home. Even more devastating is “Back of Beyond,” the collection’s standout. Parson’s customers are addicts. This doesn’t bother the hard-boiled pawnbroker, but it gets personal when Parson learns that his thieving, strung-out nephew Danny has driven his brother and sister-in-law out of their remote farmhouse. There’s a shocking image of the old folks huddled fearfully under the covers in Danny’s trailer, but Rash knows how to evoke suffering without beating up his readers. In “Hard Times,” we meet a farming couple barely making it during the Depression; tracking down an egg thief makes for high drama. “Lincolnites” goes back to the Civil War to show a young wife, alone on the farm while her husband serves in the Union army, heroically holding off a marauding Confederate soldier. The violence in both these stories is sudden, deadly and over in a blink, a Rash trademark. The end comes just as quickly and unexpectedly in the contemporary “Dead Confederates,” a macabre account of a rascal literally digging his own grave. Also of note are the title story, in which a widow pays a high price for staving off loneliness, and “The Corpse Bird,” which pits ancient country lore against modern medical self-assurance.
A nicely varied feast from a master of the form.