Monday, April 10, 2017

"Something Rich and Strange" by Ron Rash

It took me a verrrrrry long time to read this book, considering it's only 434 pages long.  That's because most of the short stories included were, well, rich and strange.  I would read one a day, maybe.

I absolutely loved that nearly all the stories took place in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Them's my stomping grounds, folks.  Many stories mentioned towns like Boone and Blowing Rock that I have spent many happy hours in (including my honeymoon).  Some involved actual places like Mast's General Store that I have also been to.  And one took place in a fictionalized version of Tweetsie Railroad, this wonderful wild-west-themed amusement park that I went to many times as a kid, and now go to with my kids and my parents whenever we visit down there in the summer.

I did not love all the stories, though.  I wasn't meant to.  Most of them involve harsh things like drug use, poverty, and death.  He seems to be saying that life on the edge of existence is not very pretty.  But neither is it always ugly.  

Rash's writing is vivid and thought-provoking.  I was continually amazed at how much character development he could pack into just a few pages.  I read this collection as much to study his writing as to enjoy the stories he told.

My favorite stories are all ones with happy endings:

"Lincolnites," in which a young mother whose husband is away at the Civil War encounters an enemy and triumphs over him.

"Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes," in which some old coots obsessed with catching an enormous fish actually do, but can't prove it.  That one reminded me of "The Old Man and the Sea," but humorous.

"The Dowry," in which a pastor takes his role as servant and protector of his flock very seriously, and makes a great sacrifice for two of his church members.

"Twenty-six Days," in which two parents work two jobs each to save up money so their daughter, who is away on a tour of duty to Afghanistan, can go to college when she gets home.

"The Harvest," in which people secretly harvesting cabbage's from a widow's field turn out to not be stealing them, but harvesting them for the widow without her having to tell them thank-you.

Particularly Good Bits:

Easier for the victors than the vanquished to forgive, Pastor Boone knew (p. 230, from "The Dowry").

The young could believe bad times would be balanced out by good.  They could believe the past was something you could box up and forget (p. 328, from "Last Rite").

Fog could stay in our valley for days.  It was like the mountains circling us poured the fog in and set a kettle lid on top (p. 383, from "The Harvest").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  either a hard PG-13 or a soft R.  There's a lot of drug use, mostly meth, always portrayed in a very negative way.  There are some sexual situations, none detailed.  There's some bad language.  There's some violence.  Individual stories would probably mostly be PG-13, but a few instances might bump that up to R.


  1. Great to hear your thoughts on these stories! I was debating about whether to go ahead and read all of them now but I'm really glad I did. I think I liked the humorous stories best and a few of the sadder ones. I loved "Chemistry"!. The ones involving meth were well-written but they were so agonizing. I guess that was the point.

    1. Thanks! I was really interested by the theme of meth-destroys-everyone that ran through a lot of the stories. It made me wonder how prevalent a problem meth is in that area, as I did not run in the sort of circles where people would be using it.

    2. Yeah, a lot of people don't think of it being a problem in rural areas - only urban areas. I don't think that's the case, though.

    3. I suspect that it may be more of a problem in rural areas simply because it's easier to hide meth labs out in the middle of nowhere. Like moonshine stills.


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