Rash is a consummate writer, his short stories reflecting the discipline and appreciation of place so common in his novels. This collection is a sampler of Rash’s unique perspective, an Appalachian writer whose characters reside in the old and the new South, where history is as indelible as the iconic personalities who people these stories: “Don’t trust people who make a spectacle out of what they believe.”
“Chemistry” plunges into the murky territory of despair, forgiveness and spiritual remedies for troubles of the mind. Unmoored by sometimes crippling depression, a father takes up his old hobby, scuba diving, and returns as well to his Pentecostal roots. Eventually, a son will puzzle over his father’s solution to mental illness, making peace with his father’s embrace of a watery grave.
“Last Rite” addresses a mother’s need to put her child to rest, trekking with a paid surveyor to define the place where her son died, “murdered for a few pieces of silver.” With little to her name, this mother demands peace for her boy and the blessing of a man of God over his final resting place before she can return to a solitary existence.
The burdens of family and loss of dreams play a significant role in “Blackberries in June.” A hard-working young couple has mapped a careful future only to find their plans hijacked by the tragic accident of an extended family member. Expected to abandon their dreams for the benefit of family, the diligent, responsible couple is told “things have been too easy” and “you got to accept life is full of disappointments.” Confronted with a twist of fate that would defeat weaker individuals, Jaimie and Matt simply adjust the time frame of their aspirations, unwilling to forego their future.
“Overtime” speaks to the power of young men’s dreams as a group of former high school players meet for an evening basketball game. Hard-scrabble men and one white companion gather at the court. Thanks to the work some do, their arms are “mostly gray from the shirtsleeves down like a new race of people.” The magic of competition returns on the court, especially when they are joined by the one individual who escaped from poverty and actually became a star. But reality intrudes with a long-brewing conflict and along with it the ugly face of truth, of opportunity thrown away like so much trash.
Rash’s Appalachia is a place of wisdom, grace, stubbornness and survival, a manner of living in conflict with the intrusions of the outside world, where religion and patriotism are as solid as the mountain and where feelings run deep, from generation to generation. This is a rich history, an endless source of human misery and small triumphs, where man stands not in opposition to nature but in harmony with it. Whatever the story, Rash’s characters are as indelible as the territory they inhabit.