Ron Rash’s Short Stories
I recently started reading Ron Rash’s short stories about western North Carolina, and I was recently drawn to them because of the unique perspective they convey. Rash manages to make the reader feel the harshness of the Smoky Mountain region without allowing it to irrevocably mark all of his characters. Not all of them.
There are the people who find a way to make a success of life, and there are people who aren’t so lucky and are sucked down by the forces around them. Since these places are small, however, those who “have” cannot separate themselves from those who “have not”. At times, they survive by profiting from their misery, although really not being the outright cause of it. Yet when problems become too acute, they are also there to help.
It’s a quandary; what is the right choice to make?
Rash isn’t so concerned with that; he’s concerned with what is.
The story that stands out the most to me is “Back of Beyond”, in which a pawnshop dealer discovers his brother and sister-in-law having been nearly starved out of their home, literally, because of their son’s meth addiction.
A recent run of books on the topics of “hillbillies” and Appalachia often focuses on the problems in these areas. While these issues frequently come up in Rash’s stories, the focus is not on the troubled individuals, but on the everyday folks who love their homes and don’t want to leave them. They find a way to make it work, and though they see the despair around them, they don’t let it consume them.
Are they right or are they wrong?
Who knows? But they aren’t running away.
More from The Lois Level:
Bedtime (Short) Stories Category with more articles about great short story writers!
What I did not realize, until I got into the books, is that Ron Rash is also the author of Serena, the basis for the 2014 film. Although I have seen the film, I didn’t remember that much about it, but as soon as I started the book, I began to realize what a difficult job the filmmakers had. The tension was so internal, it must have been really difficult to film. There isn’t that much TOO film because everything is calm on the surface while tensions brought on by Serena’s behavior and the general callousness of both George and Serena build.
In the novel, you want to like and respect Serena because she is such a strong woman, but you know what? Women are just like men: their being strong does not mean they are good people, and in fact, they (we) are just as ruthless. Which Rash captures.
Being recognized as being equally evil as well as equally competent is true equality.
And Rash does not leave us with Serena as the only strong female character. I was a bit surprised to find myself rooting for Rachel, the mother of George’s illegitimate baby. She is another one of Rash’s characters who loves the mountains, can make her way within them pretty well, and doesn’t want to leave them.
The 2015 film did a disservice to the material, which admittedly, must have been hard to film. But the invisible nature of the evil in this story is exactly what makes it so chillingly real.
If you have read Serena and liked it, try In the Valley, in which Rash brings the character Serena back to North Carolina.
I definitely want to read more about these characters.
A view from Smoky Mountain National Park. The purchase and development of land for the National Park Service is a major issue in Serena.