Chris Holbrook: Upheaval (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 22)

J♣ J♣ J♣ J♣ J♣ J♣ J♣ J♣


The truck’s engine throbs through his chest, and for a moment it is as if his heartbeat rises and falls with the idle speed. He tastes diesel at the back of his throat, feels the sting of it high in his nostrils. His head swims like he is drunk. He fumbles for the seat belt catch, and then realizes if it was going to go it would have gone already. He sucks deep breaths. It was not the ground giving way, he’d seen. It was heat shimmers. Or it was the shadow of a cloud passing. Or it was light on his mirror.

I admit that I initially didn’t find interesting the details of strip-mining in Chris Holbrook’s short story “Upheaval”, but as the story progressed, I realized the brilliance of using these details to explain potential dangers of the job and ultimately, the stress of Haskell, the third person narrator of the story.

Not only does the stress affect Haskell at his job but it affects his home and family, too. Holbrook makes it easy to feel the tension in the home as Haskell sees his wife come home from her grocery store job with her own stress but continue to take care of their young son and walk on eggshells to make sure their son doesn’t bother his father.

While not specifically mentioned, its my guess that Haskell wants to be a better father and husband but continues to allow his job’s stress to keep him in a state of continual desperation – a desperation that’s engrained in the details of the job.

I read “Upheaval” when I selected the Jack of Clubs for Week 22 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories from 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.


2 responses to “Chris Holbrook: Upheaval (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 22)

  1. Strip mining is much hated by my Mom (among countless others). As a West Virginia native, she witnessed first hand the scarring of the beautiful mountain landscape surrounding her home town. Now there is also the “Mountaintop Removal” method, which is even more of an obscenity.

    The book “Hillbilly Elegy” is on my one book club’s reading list in a few months. After reading Ron Rash’s stories, and some of the ones your deal me in suit has covered, I’m looking forward to reading that one more and more.


    • I’ve heard a lot of good things about “Hillbilly Elegy” and I’ve seen that Ron Howard is doing a film version of it. I’m more and more fascinated with Appalachian authors and story telling.

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