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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.
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.