Book Review: Burning Bright: Stories by Ron Rash

Burning Bright: Stories
by Ron Rash
9780061804120, Ecco Press (HarperCollins), $12.99

Though I had every intention of attending his appearance at Harvard Book Store last month, I’m afraid in the end I missed it. I did, however, finish reading his book on the day of the event. Despite my missed attendance, everything else about this book was the perfect set of circumstances. I walked into the library and saw it in front of me on the shelf. I read a little bit of it every morning and afternoon on the T to-and-from work, and finally finished it the day of the event. Short stories are a favorite form of mine, so I was even more thrilled to be reading this collection by one of my favorite southern authors (Dorothy Allison being another).

Overall, Burning Bright is a collection of thoughtful, evocative, charming, and quick reads. The language is not wasteful of words but is also fully descriptive. Speech in dialect normally drives me up a wall, but in this case fits naturally with the Appalachian setting. I think the word “raw” is often overused, but that quality comes from the stark lives of the characters; much like the words used to describe them, there is no flash–no excess–in their living. What little happiness or advantage appears in their lives is so unexpected and often burdened that you question whether it’s worth it.

For instance, an older woman, widowed, marries a young outsider. The community that should have taken care of her now questions not only her relationship, but if her new husband is the one setting the recent rash of forest fires.
In another story, a young man, burdened by the hospital bills for his mother, agrees to grave robbing for Civil War artifacts. Though his mother’s bills get paid, he’ll have nightmares of what happened that night for the rest of his life.

The portrayal of modern day poverty leading to drug usage in that historical a setting was especially meaningful.

A pawn broker takes family matters into his own hands: Who is worth saving? His brother? His nephew?
Two loving yet meth-addicted parents struggle to provide a Christmas for their son while coming down off a high. The son provides momentary salvation for them by secretly stealing pawnable items from a plane crash, but is the quick fix worth the ultimate sacrifice?

From historical to modern day, these brief slice-of-life moments offer a powerful glimpse into one view of Appalachian society.

For more Ron Rash, read my review of his novel, Serena, here.

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