Friday, December 8, 2017


Herewith a copy of a review I posted on Goodreads in 2013 on Casualties by Ron Rash, one of my favorite writers.

Ron Rash is rapidly rising as one of my favorite short-story writers. His prose is different from other Southern writers I love (Conroy, Frazier, O'Connor) and less dark (McCarthy), but the stories are no less powerful or enjoyable. This collection is sterling, nearly every story a gem. The common theme, as reflected in the title, is loss. . .of family, futures, faith, played out by men and women in stories spanning two centuries. The characters often struggle, reflecting the hard lives of people from the Appalachians and the South, though their experiences may also be affected by life outside the region (as in service overseas). His stories often touched me personally, as I know these people, or know people who have related their stories to me, and the South with all its blemishes will always be a part of me. Rash is one of a handful of South Carolinian writers that transcends his region while plowing up the historical loam of this special and unique land, with all the pain and effort and sacrifice sweated into the soil, but does so with a keen eye and a sympathetic---yet still critical---voice. These are people on the edge, often rough survivors fighting to maintain dignity and carve out a place for themselves and their families, often against stiff odds. Rash's tales are straightforward and decidedly outside the current rage for fantastical and weird, yet they are every bit as good and worthy of an audience. In "Last Rite" a middle-aged mother seeks a final piece of the puzzle to obtain closure in the loss of her son. Several characters deal with serious health issues, as in "Chemistry" (told through the eyes of a son) and "Casualties and Survivors." A combat nurse and an infantryman struggle with their experiences in "Cold Harbor" and "Return," respectively. Many stories have characters who are well beyond their prime, looking back reflectively on their high school years as jocks (football, basketball) and the scars brought along or the failure of expectations. One young man deals with disillusion as he earns his manhood in the eyes of his kin in "The Projectionist's Wife." George Saunders would have approached life in a carnival sideshow far differently than Rash, though "Dangerous Love" is just as good a story as one the former would have presented. Rash often tackles class division, regret, moral failings, disappointment. A revengeful prank gone wrong. A promotion turned punishment. A few stories caused me real pain and were hard to read. There is rich diversity in the stories, even as common themes and backgrounds color the paragraphs, but do not expect lightness or humor, as they are meant to reveal a more hardscrabble existence. Still, I'm not being rash when I say I have, and will continue to, recommend this book and others by Rash.

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