It’s grand to see a writer coming into his own, as Rash does in this punchy story collection, following some impressive novels (The World Made Straight, 2006, etc.).
Once again, we’re in the mountains of North Carolina, where life is hard and the locals age fast. In the extraordinary “Pemberton’s Bride,” set in the early-20th century, Pemberton returns to town with his bride. Waiting for him at the train station is a woman he has impregnated and her father, ready to kill her seducer. Knives flash. Pemberton quickly dispatches the old man; case closed. After all, he owns the lumber company, the only large-scale business in town. The icy, imperious couple dominates the community like royalty, until they overreach with a double murder. This long story, a natural for the big screen, chills to the bone. Some contemporary stories, though not in that league, are also powerful. In “Deep Gap,” a father, helpless against the spread of drugs into country towns, tries desperately to save his son from his habit, and the brutal dealers he can’t pay. “Dangerous Love” features a carnival knife-thrower and his partner; they fall in love. What makes their love dangerous is the intensity of their passion. “The Projectionist’s Wife” is a dramatic coming-of-age story; a 14-year-old boy saves a woman from a questionable tryst and kills his first deer, both within an hour. Violence is seldom far away. A college teacher, responding to a personal ad, is brought up short when the woman tells him her husband is set to kill her once he gets out of prison (“Honesty”). A daredevil teenager, stealing marijuana, gets caught in a bear trap (“Speckled Trout,” the basis for The World Made Straight). A charming exception is “Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes,” in which three old geezers get a new lease on life when they take on a giant sturgeon.
No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go.