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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories


Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

If this was a perfect world, there would be a book by Ron Rash in the home of every reading family in the United States. Actually, given the man’s output --- five novels, four volumes of poetry and several short story collections --- a dedicated shelf would be more appropriate. I was reminded of how he towers above many of his contemporaries when I began reading SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE, a very generous collection of 34 of his short stories. Thirty-two are culled from previously published collections, while the remaining two are seeing publication in book form for the first time.

Rash is an author’s author. His stories, set in the American South along a timeline that begins during the Civil War and stretches through this afternoon, are shot through with a pristine and often deadly beauty that deserve to be preserved under glass as sterling examples to the fledgling writer and veteran author of how the task, duty and, yes, privilege of storytelling is properly done.

"Each and all of the selections in this volume should be savored slowly and reread. And if someone is looking to make a dramatic television anthology of one-episode stories, there are 34 here with which you can start."

Rash, whose work has earned multiple academic and literary awards, writes primarily of the poor. These are victims of whim and circumstance, and those whose lives are changed forever by a moment’s impulse built upon the shifting sands of poor judgment. The results, more often than not, are stark and unyielding. I have a well-thumbed edition of Rash’s NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY, a collection of short stories that I always keep at the ready. A number of the stories in SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE are taken from that collection, including the title story, about the lives changed by a young girl’s fateful swim in a fast-moving creek. I have read the story about 15 times over the years, and did so again here. I know what happens, yet I kept hoping somehow that the result would be different this time --- and still screamed when it was not.

“Hard Times,” which opens this wondrous collection, is very faintly a mystery of sorts, and a tragedy from beginning to end. The last words of the story, which is set against the stark southern poverty of the Great Depression and deals with a seemingly minor theft, will haunt you until the end of your days. Time and again, Rash hits that sweet spot where language is most beautiful and events are most painful. He also throws in just a bit of lagniappe to set it off and make it memorable. Such is the case in “Lincolnites,” which, as the title might suggest, is set during the closing days of the U.S. Civil War. A woman waiting for her soldier husband to return home finds herself confronted with a rough and dangerous choice. What is going to happen is almost obvious; it is the manner in which it occurs, in addition to Rash’s wonderful telling of the tale, that sticks in one’s mind.

Not all of the stories are entirely tragic. Some are bittersweet. In “Love and Pain in the New South,” a husband and wife on the brink of divorce contemplate each other across a kitchen table, with divorce papers creating a barrier between them, that the husband tries one last time to breach. And there is a bit of droll humor in “The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth,” in which a shady used car dealer intersects advertising with Christ’s passion to create an almost unthinkable new low. Most of the stories, though, are distilled in sadness, particularly “The Corpse Bird,” in which the knowledge of folklore gleaned from a man’s past is utilized to save a little girl’s life. Possibly. We’ll never know.

Do I have a favorite story from SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE? I might answer “No.” That’s not entirely accurate; it keeps changing, and so quickly that there is no point in mentioning one over another. Each and all of the selections in this volume should be savored slowly and reread. And if someone is looking to make a dramatic television anthology of one-episode stories, there are 34 here with which you can start.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 7, 2014

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories
by Ron Rash

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 006234935X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062349354