Unforgettable Prose in "Something Rich and Strange", by Ron Rash - Book Review

Ron Rash excels in expression and economy of words. His style is unpretentious, yet evocative. Something Rich and Strange is my first encounter with Rash, and certainly time well spent. It’s a book of short stories that crosses eras, from the civil war to present day. Each story, unique in it’s characters and circumstances, share the working class of North Carolina as its backdrop.

There is humor and tragedy, and sometimes both in the 34 stories. Whether overt or not, the book has a veil of melancholy throughout, providing us with a glimpse into lives hard-lived and sometimes our own condition. Rash’s characters are in the heart of Appalachia - farmers, soldiers, teachers, radio jockeys, janitors, carpenters, meth addicts, and widowers - each with a unique story in which their being  becomes palpable and relatable. Rash almost modestly presents us with heartbreak, and just as austerely, with wit, though it is also tinged with sorrow. 

And though everything seems swathed with this gloom, I could not tear myself away from soul-baring simplicity and stillness of Rash’s stories.  The title seems to sum the quality of this work perfectly, because the book is something rich and strange

Published: 2014
Publisher: Ecco

Vickie’s rating 5 stars

Intensely Intimate With “Thirteen Ways of Looking”, by Colum McCann - Book Review

Colum McCann is truly a master of his craft. This is my first read of McCann’s library of work, but his evocative nature begs further discovery. In the midst of writing Thirteen Ways of Looking, McCann himself was attacked while trying to help a woman who had been assaulted, after which he suffered a broken cheekbone and teeth. He writes in the book’s Author’s Note, “Sometimes it seems to me that we are writing our lives in advance, but at other times we can only look back. In the end, though, every word we write is autobiographical, perhaps most especially when we attempt to avoid the autobiographical”. When you read the book, you’ll understand how poignant this statement is.

Thirteen Ways of Looking includes a novella and three short stories. The title is based upon the poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens, of which McCann includes a stanza of the poem at the beginning of each section of the novella. The stories are quite different from one another, but the unifying theme is a strong sense of yearning and loneliness, vividly told.

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Coming of Age in “Brooklyn”, by Colm Tóibín - Book Review

Eilis Lacey is from a small Irish town. Everyone knows everyone; there are few jobs. It’s a beautiful place of family and friends with limitations to earn a living after World War II. Eilis lives with her fragile mother and charismatic sister, taking classes and caring for the home. Her three brothers have moved to London where work is abundant. She is in a comfortable, if not ideal, existence.

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A Classic Writer in Modern Times: “Go Set a Watchman”, by Harper Lee - Book Review

I’m a little behind on this review, as Go Set a Watchman was published in July, and I read it several weeks ago. My hesitation in writing the review for Harper Lee’s novel is primarily the controversy that surrounds it - our beloved Atticus Finch as a racist, and the questionable circumstances as to how this piece of literature came to publication. Another reason for the delay is that, well, I’m not sure how I really feel about it. Perhaps finally putting “pen to paper” will help me whittle that out.

I’ll begin with the storm around the publication of Go Set a Watchman. Lee has been fortunate enough to have her loving sister as her protector during illness, but her sister passed away recently. Lee has famously displayed chagrin about the state of American literature, "I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.” In essence, Lee was no longer going to participate in the literature scene, thus publishing only one book, her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’re interested in a rather scathing commentary, take a look at Joe Nocera’s opinion in the New York Times who is palpably angry about it, and makes a convincing argument that we should be too.

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