Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson

Last year, I enjoyed Crystal Wilkinson’s short story “Humming Back Yesterday” so when I found her book Water Street on display at my local public library in the  “local” section, I decided to pick it up and give it a try. Not surprisingly, I’m glad I did.

375750

We are almost Southern but not northern at all. Stanford’s black children root here. Some of her white ones, too. This street is our homeland.

We have streetlights but we are not quite country. Not city at all.

These opening lines set the stage for a series of related vignettes that revolve around Water Street in Stanford, Kentucky. Though Stanford is a real place (I looked it up on a map), the stories and characters are fictional. Each story is about a different resident and may be set in various timeframes. The reader might hear a minor mention of a charater in someone else’s story and then get a larger story about that character later on. The interrelationship between the stories mirrors the relationship between the characters.

The story that Jeanette Stokes tells intrigued me because it almost stands alone unlike the other stories. She tells of her mother leaving her when she was a girl – not physically but mentally after Jeanette’s father dies. Her mother continues to talk to her father setting them apart from the other neighbors. She gets ridiculed at school for living in a haunted house.  Eventually, Jeanette deals with the death of her mother:

In the weeks that followed, I kept my eyes peeled for Mama’s second coming. I had hoped she would come back a sprightly vision, her and Daddy two-stepping around the old couch. But I don’t think we have choice in the spirits who haunt us. We have to settle for what we get. And I have.

In a slightly happier story, Pearline, the elderly mother-in-law of Lois Carter (who has her own story), tells about having to move in (for health reasons) with Lois and Pearline’s son, Roscoe. The ladies don’t really get along. They do try to put on their best faces for each other, though:

“Bye, Honey, You are so sweet.” Pearline could act too. She was Lena Horne made over.

Pearline watching TV with her friend Hazel over the phone makes for some good laughs, too. I enjoy the way Pearline isn’t giving up – especially with her morning walks.

Wilkinson beautifully manages to show the individuality that exists on Water Street as well as the community. She shows the uniqueness of Water Street compared to the rest of the world but she shows the sameness, too.

Another Wilkinson story is on my list for Deal Me In 2017 and I’m looking forward to when that one shows up in my deck.

 

 

Chris Offutt: Horseweed (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 17)

A♠ A♠ A♠ A♠ A♠ A♠ A♠ A♠

Chris Offutt’s short story “Horseweed” brings to mind Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. William, a drywaller by trade in a small Kentucky town, helps a man bitten by a copperhead. The man happens to be in William’s secret hemp garden, his hope for a little extra cash.

9408304

The fascinating aspect of this story is how Offutt takes a small moment and packs in gererations of tradition and couples it with changing attitudes. This change is slow in coming based on the fact that William initially discovers the man’s snake bite because he’s looking at him through the scope of a rifle.

The generational change gets summed up like this:

William moved through darkness, following the creek. At the fork, he climbed the hill to Crosscut Ridge. He felt momentarily glad that his grandfather and father were dead and unable to know he’d helped the man live. His father would have left the man snake-bit, and his grandfather would have shot him. If William’s own grandson understood his decision, he’d give the rifle to the boy.

I read “Horseweed” this week when I selected the Ace of Spades for Week 17 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories by Ron Rash (Part 3)

…I’m beginning to believe that even in a fallen world things can sometimes look up.

– from “The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth”

22571015

And now here are my thoughts on the final 11 stories from Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories:

A Servant of History – A darkly funny take on the feuds that have occurred over the centuries in Appalachia – and Scotland.

Twenty-Six Days – A touching story about parents looking forward to their daughter’s return from Afghanistan.

Last Rite – Don’t expect this one to be a happy story and that brings up the question about which of these stories would one consider happy. Not many of them. The ones that are funny come the closest so far. This one’s not.

Blackberries in June – In this story, Rash succeeds in making me loathe one character. I get angry just like Matt after every comment his sister-in-law makes.

Chemistry – What a great story! I gave it a post of its own right here. And I take back my previous comment – this one comes the closest to being a happy story (so far) but its difficult to say it has a happy ending.

The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth – OK, this is the happiest story so far and its the funniest! If I had read just a little faster, this might have been my Easter story. Unfortunately, this is not far off the mark based on my church experience. But it’s still hilarious!

The Harvest – Short, poignant, sad. That hardness shows up again even among helpful neighbors. The neighbors understand this, though.

Badeye – Snakes show up again in this one as a result of the curiosity of an eight-year-old boy instead of religious purposes. The child as the narrator gives this story a certain charm as he tells of his mother’s great lengths to get him to see the errors of his ways.

Love and Pain in the New South – Very short and wonderful humor and it involves a monkey:

She had loved the monkey, and at first even loved me again. It was the Indian Summer of our marriage.

Shiloh – Already posted about this one here.

Outlaws – An author tells the story he wrote and then tells the real story and then meets one of the characters involved 40 years later. Not really a happy story.

Favorites from this group? Chemistry and The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth. I can’t pick one over the other. It depends on my mood.

There are some excellent stories in this group and I have to say it’s been a while since I’ve read so many enjoyable stories in one collection. I am a little sad that I’m finished. I’m pretty sure this collection will rank up there as a favorite this year.

Here are the posts for the rest of the stories:

Part 1

Part 2

 

 

Barbara Kingsolver: Stone Dreams (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 16)

3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣ 3♣

“When I went to college, which was supposed to make you feel, you know, uplifted, I felt like my loafers were screwed to the floor. The other students would ask these questions that made the professors pause and reflect, and they’d see symbolism without having it pointed out, but I just couldn’t conceive of anything beyond what I saw on the page. I kept thinking there was some explanatory brochure I’d forgotten to pick up during registration. Or maybe it was because they all lived in dorms and I lived at home. Those other girls probably sat around in the halls with their hair in rollers and talked about symbolism.”

In Barbara Kingsolver’s “Stone Dreams”, Diana goes on a trip to the Petrified Forest with her boyfriend, Peter, while her husband, Nathan, is at an eye doctor conference in Hawaii and her daughter, Julie, is visiting her grandmother in Kentucky.

17167581

Diana tells the story and gives all kinds of great insights (see the quotation above) about her life, her daughter, and the two men with whom she is currently involved. Most of these insights are told to Peter about Nathan; however, she will stop and point out to the reader what she thinks of Peter.

Throughout Diana’s story, it’s not difficult to feel that she might be blaming the men in her life, specifically her husband, for her life’s lack of excitement or for her inability to mobilize any ambition – but she never quite gets there. That’s probably because I’m not convinced that the men are doing the stifling. Yes, Nathan’s interest in rocks (hence, the title) might take center stage in their marriage but I don’t think he is forcing her to have the same interests. She doesn’t have anything else so she gives in to the rocks.

I’m fascinated with Kingsolver’s ability to write conversations that are “conversational” but also give depth to the characters in the story. I feel like I’m hearing something casual until I finish the story and realize it was so much more.

“Stone Dreams” is included in Kingsolver’s collection Homeland and Other Stories which I borrorwed from my public library. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for Week 16 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

Ron Rash: Chemistry (A Short Story Easter Extra)

As I’m reading through Ron Rash’s short story collection Something Rich and Strange, a collection of short stories set in Appalachia over various time periods, I’ve been wondering (stereotypically, I know) whether snake handlers would show up. They do in his story “Chemistry”.  However, I didn’t expect them to be a part of such a poignant story or one that coincidentally would make me think about Easter.

22571015

Teenager Joel begins the story as his father, a high school chemistry teacher, leaves the hospital after a mental breakdown. Recovering, the father goes back to work, takes up scuba diving and leaves his Presbyterian church to return to the Pentacostal church of his childhood.

While not portraying mental illness lightly, Rash paints the father as someone who now has a new lease on life, almost as someone who has been reborn. The contrast between old and new life accompanies a deeper look at the roles of knowledge and faith and asks the question whether faith is reasonable or unreasonable. He tries to explain this to his son:

“Your mother believes the holy rollers got me too young, that they raised me to see the world only the way they see it. But she’s wrong about that. There was a time I could understand everything from a single atom to the whole universe with a blackboard and piece of chalk, and it was as beautiful as any hymn the way it all came together.”

He includes a story of a newly found friend:

“There was nothing in this world to sustain him, so he had to look somewhere else. I’ve had to do the same.”

The father seems to have come to terms with what he believes and has found a peace for himself. Joel still isn’t sure but his father has made an impact on him or else, at least in my mind, he wouldn’t be telling the story. And I’m glad I’ve read Ron Rash’s story as I contemplate Easter today.

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories by Ron Rash (Part 2)

By the time I’m over the barbed-wire fence, I can look back and no longer tell what was and what is.

-from “The Woman at the Pond”

22571015

Welcome to the second installment of my thoughts on the stories in Ron Rash’s collection Something Rich and Strange!

Where The Map Ends – A story that shows the complexities of the Civil War – specifically in this corner of North Carolina.

Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven – Another story about meth addiction framed around a haunted house. The ending was not what I was expecting. Meth addiction is a common occurence in these stories and the ones in which its the main focus are agonizing.

Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes –  More men in their 80’s and this time they are trying to catch a fish that nobody believes exists. This is one of the funnier stories in the collection-at least so far.

Falling Star – From the perspective of a husband who sees his marriage falling apart. The marriage doesn’t actually end during the story but the husband’s predictions seem very spot on.

The Magic Bus – 1960’s San Francisco meets 1960’s rural North Carolina – marijuana vs. tobacco. Who is the winner in the underlying conflict? That’s one of those book club questions. I’ll say North Carolina has a slight edge. But you can look at it from numerous perspectives.

Something Rich and Strange – The situation in one of the shorter stories in the collection gives an appearance of something supernatural. Whether that is truly the case I think is up to the reader.

The Dowry – This is a well-written story (as they all have been) with interesting Civil War- based characters, themes and moral questions. It just wasn’t my favorite. Certainly a church pastor can play a role in healing a community or family but this seemed to go a tad too far.

A Sort of Miracle – Denton’s dislike for the state of Florida is hilarious:

It was a wonder the Founding Fathers hadn’t just sawed the damn state off and let it drift away. A state where the most famous person went around pretending to be an eight-foot-tall mouse.

His brothers-in-law are named Baroque and Marlboro. Everyone knows where Marlboro’s name came from but nobody knows how Baroque was named. This reminds me very much of Tobias Wolff’s story “Hunters in the Snow” yet with its own spin.

The Corpse Bird – Mountain superstitions haven’t gone away even in the present time. I thought I knew where this story was headed but it didn’t quite get there.

Dead Confederates – Yes, grave robbing can be both funny and disturbing but I thought this one went on a little too long.

The Woman at the Pond – The reflections of the protagonist gave this story more power than the simple plot would have given it.

And for the favorite of this group? A Sort of Miracle.

 

 

Joe Ashby Porter: Yours (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 15)

5♣ 5♣ 5♣ 5♣ 5♣ 5♣ 5♣ 5♣

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

I’m off newspapers for the moment and to fill the breakfast time this morning I plotted a graph of my life on a napkin.

From the beginning, we sense that the unnamed narrator in Joe Asby Porter’s short story “Yours” is talking to someone or perhaps writing a letter to someone. This could be a result of the title being a common closing for a letter. We also understand that the narrator is traveling or a more accurate description could be wandering. I’m reminded of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings poem that says “Not all who wander are lost”. I think this describes the narrator. He’s wandered to Bardstown, Kentucky, the birthplace of his father.

This story also reminds me of Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon”. Outside of the wandering, the reader doesn’t get much background or actual plot until the end of the story in which the idea that this is a letter is confirmed. The story reveals that some sort of break-up has occurred prior to the letter. It’s difficult to say whether the wandering is the result of the break-up or the break-up is the result of the wandering. Personally, I would go with the former.

A certain wacky bitterness exists in the narrator but we never wonder whether he has lost his sanity. He knows what he’s doing – even when he knocks on the door of a farmhouse for no apparent reason and is invited in for no apparent reason:

I just kept walking away from town, climbing fences and giving wide berth to the grazing cattle, happy not to see anyone for a couple of hours until I came to the navel of the universe, the Platonic idea of the farmhouse with dust and a yellow dog…

Then he tells the woman of the house the essence of the whole story but we only get this one little sentence:

I told Katie what I’d left, where I’d been, how when I’d begun wandering or fleeing I’d seemed to be reborn.

Fleeing? Hmmm… wonder what that means?

In a word, “Yours” is delightful. I read it when I picked the Five of Clubs for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.