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Irish Times (UK) - August 25, 2012
This slim collection netted Ron Rash the 2010 Frank O’Connor Short
Story Award and earned him comparisons to Raymond Carver, John
Steinbeck, William Trevor and Cormac McCarthy.
Sceptical? Don’t be. In Burning Bright, Rash calmly sets about
creating a literary world that is entirely his own. The stories are
set in his home territory of rural Appalachia. The situations range
from the thematically familiar – a woman suspects that her husband
may be an arsonist; a farmer and his wife find an intruder on their
land – to the heartbreakingly singular, such as The Ascent, in which
a boy whose parents have been destroyed by poverty and addiction
keeps vigil in a crashed plane with the bodies of two frozen
strangers. The language is precise, the pace stately; Rash began his
writing life as a poet, and it shows. Every word counts. Every story
glitters with beauty and malevolence. If you haven’t read Rash yet,
you have a treat in store.
-- Arminta Wallace
Weekend Australian - October 9, 2011
"Rash would not be upset by being called a southern regional writer
(as William Faulkner was, or James Dickey), one who works the same
narrow moral and physical terrain, whose canvas is intimate rather
than expansive. He has powers of reflection, imaginative daring,
inwardness with an agrarian setting that seems always to have been
Renewing his art through remembered idiomatic speech, the cadences
of the Bible and hymns from church, folkloric tales, Rash is a
prevailing master of language and one in venerable American
-- Peter Pierce, chairman of the fiction judging panel for the Prime
Minister’s Literary Awards.
Qantas The Australia Way - September 1, 2011
"In these stories of the Appalachian backwoods, rampant meth
addiction is ravaging the social structure with all the savagery of
a starving wolf. People without much are losing it all: a woman
hopes her new husband is not an arsonist; a pawnshop owner deals
with the ruin of his brother’s family; a road worker plunders Civil
War graves. Stripped-back-
to-barebones American tales in the tradition of John Steinbeck,
Cormark McCarthy and Raymond Carver. Good company, indeed."
The Independent (UK) – August 21,2011
"The US poet and author Ron Rash is probably not a writer who
appears on the radars of most British readers, but hopefully that
will change with this exquisitely crafted collection of short
stories... Burning Bright is delivered with such a surety of hand
and such a considered distillation of the human spirit as to warrant
the book jacket's comparisons to Carver and Faulkner. Highlighting
the continuity of the human struggle over the ages, Rash has used a
focused spotlight to illuminate a wider truth about society and our
place within it."
The Times (UK) – Saturday August 20, 2011
In the title story of this superb collection, Marcie is a widow in
her sixties. When her husband died and the local help fell away, she
endured incredible loneliness at the end of a five-mile dirt track,
until the church recommended a “handyman”, Carl, who could help out
on the farm. This silent man from nowhere marries Marcie, but
remains mysterious – and there’s an arsonist in the neighborhood.
Isolation in the middle of a community is also the theme of the
magnificent Back of Beyond. Parson keeps a pawnshop out in the
boonies. “By noon he’d had 20 customers and almost all were meth
addicts” One of these is his nephew. Parson, who has “inoculated”
himself against family feelings, sets about the thankless task of
saving his brother and sister-in-law but do they even want to be
saved? Rash can create a character in a single sentence; this is the
great American short story at its best.
Weekend Press (NZ) - August 20, 2011
"These are stunning stories, deceptively simple, with characters who
are worn down, or out, with the business of getting through life...
All these people emerge from the pages to glimmer and flare briefly
before moving aside to make room for the next. None of the stories
are especially long but seem connected in ways uncommon in books of
short stories. This has little to do with the characters, or the
subject matter, but the strong sense of place that thrums below the
-- Joan Curry
Stay In (Sydney, AU) - August 9, 2011
"One pretty average yarn can’t mar this otherwise stunning story
collection. Rash’s deceptively straightforward narratives take us
into the sometimes violent lives of the American South’s working
poor, its meth addicts and struggling farmers, illuminating their
despair and feeble hopes. Rash’s cool delivery belies a powerful
Moving, disturbing, and highly recommended."
Canberra Times (AU) - July 30, 2011
No Escape And Nowhere To Hide
For Ron Rash, a short story is less a synopsis than a synthesis, a
short-form distillation of a moment that matters, written with the
concise precision demanded of poetry but opening up other people’s
worlds in the way which novels do. His stories are really
epiphanies, studies of the defining occasion when character is
exposed and fate determined...
So, too, is every short story Anton Chekhov wrote, almost all of
William Trevor’s output, and much of Ernest Hemmingway’s. Short
stories may b e novels as carpentry is to architecture, but all of
Rash’s stories are crafted, jointed and dovetailed in quite
beautiful, striking ways... All of Rash’s stories are crafted,
jointed, and dovetailed in quite beautiful, striking ways."
-- Mark Thomas
The Irish Times – July 30, 2011
An uncompromising celebration of the short story
THERE IS a young child so hungry she takes to sucking the eggs from
her neighbour’s hen house, and continues doing so, even after her
father killed the family dog that had been wrongly blamed for the
crime. Another man is so poor he agrees to dig up long-buried
soldiers in the hope of finding confederate memorabilia dating back
to the US Civil War. Things go badly wrong and the bully who had
devised the idea up and dies, felled by the effort of grabbing a
sword from a corpse’s grip. The old watchman who had been guarding
the graveyard – obviously not all that well – remarks to the
narrator that he feels their secret is safe. “Far as I can tell you
don’t say nothing unless it’s yanked out of you like a tooth.” In
another story, a boy unintentionally helps pay for the drugs that
are destroying his parents by taking the ring from the hand of a
woman who died when her light aircraft crashed nearby. The gifted US
poet and novelist Ron Rash allows fate to take full flight in this
astonishing, diverse collection.
Burning Bright, the title story, with its echoes of
Steinbeck, sees Marcie, a widow who has unexpectedly married her
handyman, mainly because of social pressure, wondering who is
starting all the fires, all the more serious because of the drought
conditions. Marcie is a self-protecting kind of individual. “When
her first husband, Arthur, had died two falls earlier of a heart
attack, the men in the church had come the following week and felled
a white oak on the ridge. They’d cut it into firewood and stacked it
on her porch. Their doing so had been more an act of homage to
Arthur than of concern for her, or so Marcie realised the following
September when the men did not come.” Carl is taciturn and strange,
but a terrific handyman and, as Marcie comes to feel, her property.
So she feels it is enough to pray for rain.
Rash possesses a realist’s vision that resounds with truth yet never
falters into the heavy handed righteousness of tone that at times
burdens the prose of Cormac McCarthy with whom he has been compared.
Readers of Rash’s novel Serena (2008) will know what to
expect and will be well rewarded here. Rash tells great stories, raw
and powerful, but he is above all, an instinctive writer. These
narratives, whether told in his laconic first person, or in a
detached third-person voice, are well served by his flawless use of
language. Every word carries meaning and intent. His dialogue is
convincing. There is a sense of Daniel Woodrell’s majestic novel
Winter’s Bone (2006) and most emphatically of all, the modified
Southern cadences of Richard Bausch. Literary prizes incite all
manner of rhetoric and riot but in winning the 2010 Frank O’Connor
International Short Story Award with this book, now published for
the first time in Europe, Rash not only endorsed the quality of the
competition, the judges honoured the short story form.
It is impossible to select the finest of Rash’s stories, so good are
they all, and so wide-ranging. He understands the way life works,
the weird shifts and shimmies, the side steps, the inevitability. In
Into the Gorge , a place seems to determine a family’s
history. “His great-aunt had been born on this land, lived on it
eight decades, and knew it as well as she knew her husband and
children . . . and could tell you to the week when the first dogwood
blossom would brighten the ridge . . . Then her mind had wandered
into a place she could not follow, taking with it all the people she
knew, their names and connections.” Jesse remembers all of this and
more. He had been a young boy when she had wandered off to die alone
in the gorge. The years have passed and now Jesse is old and not
expecting to be caught by a park ranger in the act of harvesting his
long dead father’s crop of ginseng. “Can’t you forget this,” Jesse
said. “It ain’t like I was growing marijuana. There’s plenty that do
in this park.” The ranger sneers at his captive and Jesse fights
back, then fate and family history take over.
Memories burn deep images in the mind and a soldier returning home
from war recalls a man that he killed and whose body he had then
knelt by while performing a ritual that he had needed as much as the
dead man had. Elsewhere during another war, a century earlier, a
young woman while waiting for her husband to return, is surprised by
the enemy in the form of an older man she had met while she was a
child. He wants the horse she has kept hidden, she offers to trade
herself instead. Personal anarchy sustains her vigil.
In The Woman Who Believed in Jaguars, Ruth, alone and
middle-aged, decides to investigate something she had seen in a
schoolbook when she was a child. She contacts the local zoo and asks
the director if jaguars once roamed South Carolina. On her way there
she thinks she has spotted a missing child. Having caused some chaos
she then meets the director who reads her a moving account about the
loyalty animals, in this case birds, display to each other.
The short story, particularly the American short story, as high art
is celebrated throughout this uncompromising, candid collection that
does indeed burn bright in every way.
-- Eileen Battersby is Literary Correspondent of The Irish
Miami Herald - Sunday March 14, 2010
[Rash] has written a memorable, if often brutal, elegy for a
vanishing way of life.
The New York Times - March 8, 2010
"Ron Rash was the seasoned author of nine books of fiction and
poetry before his 10th, the stunning 2008 Serena, established him as
one of the best American novelists of his day. With its stark
Appalachian setting, piercing language and coolly ferocious title
character, Serena was a big book filled with bleakly beautiful
details. Mr. Rash's artistry was blinding enough to eclipse his
craftsmanship. But the skill with which his tales are constructed is
more apparent in Burning Bright... these paired down short stories
make it much easier to see how expertly Mr. Rash fine-tunes his
work... elegantly sophisticated work... enormously effective...
another instance of Mr. Rash's tactical precision... remarkable
stories... Mr. Rash certainly knows how to rivet attention..."
-- Janet Maslin
Bookpage - March 1, 2010
"[Rash's stories] flow so seamlessly into each other that the reader
is tempted to devour them all in one sitting like a novel. But doing
so would mean losing the power of each individual story—and that
power is formidable, well worth slowing down for... tight,
hauntingly melancholic studies... set against the lush, atmospheric
backdrop of Appalachia that Rash has so firmly mastered...
exquisitely effective... All 12 stories are worthy, a rarity in many
short-story collections, and all call for a slow, careful re-read.
Those readers who normally eschew short stories for lacking
character development or depth will want to take a chance on Burning
Bright, and those who embrace the art form already will want Rash's
newest offering in their permanent collection."
-- Kristy Kiernan
Library Journal – October 15, 2009
The stories in Rash’s (Serena) aptly titled new collection
burn themselves on the memory in much the same way as the
photographs Walker Evans took of Southern sharecroppers in the 1930s
that were later collected in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Rash’s spare narratives are set primarily in today’s Appalachia,
with families decimated by poverty, drugs, and every other
discernible kind of heartache. A pawnshop owner knows all the local
addicts by virtue of the junk they bring in for money and becomes an
unlikely hero when one of these deals uncovers a family member’s
disgrace. A husband who no longer knows how to talk to his wife
elicits our sympathy even after he communicates his message by
slashing her tires. A neglected boy with meth-addict parents finds
treasure in a plane wreck he happens upon when his wanderings lead
him into Smoky Mountains National Park.
Rash, who has authored not only fiction but also three volumes of
poetry, is a master craftsman who pares down language to its
essential elements in these starkly beautiful stories.
-- Sue Russell, Current Science, Inc., Philadelphia