By Ron Rash
ECCO, $24.99, 240 pages
Though the short stories in Ron Rash’s Nothing Gold Can Stay span centuries, one would be hard-pressed to find a book that feels smaller or more claustrophobic. In Rash’s stories, residents of his much-lauded Appalachia are more often than not portrayed as people contained, trapped on the inside and looking out at a world that they cannot seem to effectively touch or relate to. The result is what a critic on the back of the book jacket might call “brutal,” but although the book feels harsh and melancholic, the reader will find that it does so with an astounding lack of abject brutality. What is most brutal is the book’s subtle reality. The stories often lack a solid resolution but they portray a sense of stasis and self-perpetuation. It is difficult to emerge from any story with the impression that things will get better, or that they will even change at all.
“‘Yes, I guess you could call them that,’ Mr. Ponder answered when Donnie asked if he’d brought back any war souvenirs.”
Rash’s writing is beautiful and engaging and his characters feel approachable and real. However, Rash occasionally resorts to cliché and convenience. The lack of explicit resolution works well toward his theme and style, but there are points where it makes the entire book feel incomplete or empty. And though the various time periods represented in the stories give the whole project an interesting texture, it is easy to become displaced. Overall, the book is definitely worth a read, though perhaps not for the hopelessly optimistic.
Reviewed by Melissa Gifford