Posted in Short Stories

Ron Rash: The Baptism

A Birthday Short Story Extra

Since today is my birthday, I thought I might start a birthday tradition to use this day as sort of a fifth wild card for my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. I realize that I can read a story whenever I want but there’s something about a tradition.

At the library not too long ago, I saw that the 2018 edition of the Best American Short Stories edited by Roxanne Gay included the story “The Baptism” by Ron Rash. A few years ago I read Rash’s collection Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories and found it to be full of great short stories mostly set in Appalachian North Carolina. So I was excited to read one that I hadn’t read before and “The Baptism” didn’t disappoint.

“You believe Gunter capable of such change?”

“No,” Reverend Yates answered, “but God is capable. It is the mystery of grace. I cannot be true to my responsibilities if I doubt the possibility.”

Reverend Yates provides this answer to members of his congregation who don’t support the baptism of the community’s most ruthless husband. Just to be clear, Reverend Yates’ response comes out of shear responsibility. It’s more head knowledge than heart felt. His run-ins with Gunter make this situation more personal than it might have been.

Gunter’s baptism takes place outside on a very cold day in January and Rash describes this chill so vividly I felt like I was getting frostbite just reading it. The story’s ending has a Flannery O’Connor feel to it and Rash provides a sort of suspense. The reader can sense something is going to happen but can’t quite tell which way it will turn. All the better to keep reading!

Destiny or free will? Grace or revenge? All questions easily asked but maybe not so easily answered when everything is said and done. Go ahead and read it yourself and see what you think?

Here are my posts about Something Rich and Strange:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Another favorite Ron Rash story is Chemistry, also from Something Rich and Strange.


Posted in Short Stories

Anniversary #6!

Today is the sixth anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and to celebrate, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2017!

10.)  Mary, The Cleaning Lady – Scott McClanahan

I enjoyed reading the anthology Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia but this story is the only one that made it into my top ten.

There were good things like ice cream cones, and trying to keep houses clean, and your mother bringing you to Mary’s house wrapped in a blanket, so you could watch cartoons and dream your cartoon dreams.


9.)  Snowing in Greenwich Village – John Updike

I’ve enjoyed several of John Updike’s stories over the years, but the subtlety and nuance in this one made it a favorite.

Richard’s suspicion on the street that he was trespassing beyond the public gardens of courtesy turned to certain guilt.


8.) The Snow Image – Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’ve realized that I have never put a Hawthorne story in my top ten so I am including this story the same way some win awards for a body of work – of course, Hawthorne doesn’t really need my approval.

…for all through life she had kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and clear as crystal, and, looking at all matters through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.


7.) Poor Visitor – Jamaica Kincaid

A little homesickness or maybe something else makes me want to read more stories by Kincaid.

In a daydream I used to have, all these places were points of happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my small drowning soul, for I would imagine myself entering and leaving them, and just that – entering and leaving over and over again – would see me through a bad feeling I did not have a name for.


6.) The Cafeteria – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Leisurely lunches by people who have experienced some of the worst evils of the 20th century make this a very satisfying story.

I decided not to rest until I knew for certain what had happened to Esther and also to that half writer, half politician I remembered from East Broadway. But I grew busier from day to day. The cafeteria closed. The neighborhood changed. Years have passed and I have never seen Esther again. Yes, corpses do walk on Broadway. But why did Esther choose that particular corpse? She could have got a better bargain even in this world.


5.) Rembrandt’s Hat – Bernard Malamud

Not your usual short story relationship makes this story intriguing and one that I continue to think about.

That evening, leaving the building, they tipped hats to each other over small smiles.


4.) Yours – Joe Ashby Porter

I loved the wacky bitterness of the jilted narrator in this story and it provided one of my favorite quotations.

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.


3.)  Chemistry – Ron Rash

Ron Rash’s short story anthology Something Rich and Strange was one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017 and this was the favorite story. It’s also the only story on my top ten list that was not from my Deal Me In project.

“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.”


2.) Absolution – F. Scott Fitzgerald

A great story with a great first line.

There once was a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears.


1.)  The Balloon – Donald Barthelme

This is a departure in the type of story I usually choose as a favorite but it was just too unusual, but perfect, in structure, plot and style that I had to put it at the top.

…there were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there – muted grays and browns for the most part, contrasting with walnut and soft yellows.





Posted in Short Stories

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”


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



Posted in Short Stories

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.


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.

Posted in Short Stories

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”


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.



Posted in Short Stories

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories by Ron Rash (Part 1)

Ginny would speak to people in bedrooms, to clerks drenched in the fluorescent light of convenience stores, to mill workers driving back roads home after graveyard shifts. She would speak to the drunk and sober, the godly and godless. All the while high above where she sat, the station’s red beacon would pulse like a heart, as if giving bearings to all those in the dark adrift and alone.

-from “Night Hawks”


I’m reading through Ron Rash’s collection Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories. The collection includes 34 of his stories, two of which I’ve already read and posted about. I’m doing mini-reviews of each story so as not to leave any of them out. I’ll try to cover them all in three posts. So here goes:

Hard Times – A story set in depression-era North Carolina with a chilling incident occuring in the middle of the story. The title definitely refers to the difficulties facing the families involved in the story but the “hardness” I think also refers to the manner in which some choose to deal with others including their own families.

Three A. M. and The Stars Were Out – I have more of an affinity, now, for two men in their 80’s delivering a calf than I would have thirty years ago. There’s both a sadness and a resilience to these men. Due to the mentioning of a cell phone at the very beginning, the reader understands the story is set in the present day.

The Ascent – The direction in the title I believe is imaginary. Reality seems to be headed the opposite way. This one was gut-wrenching.

Night Hawks – Any guess as to what painting Ginny and Andrew are talking about in the diner? I went back through the story several times just to see if it was mentioned and I had missed it. But I couldn’t find it. It’s a painting where a man and a woman aren’t looking at each other? Grant Wood’s American Gothic came to mind.

The Trusty – I think a good prison break story means you can’t trust anyone. This story is very good.

Back of Beyond – In spite of the close proximity within which families live in these stories and the decades they live with each other, there is a hardness that exists between them. And I figured out where Brushy Mountain is. I think there’s a prison there. At least there is in a song by Old Crow Medicine Show.

Lincolnites – Living in Civil War-era North Carolina, Lily is one brave girl. To say that she won’t be able to knit tonight is a huge understatement.

Into The Gorge – I posted about this story here.

Return – As a World War II soldier returns home to North Carolina, he steps off the bus and makes his way on foot to his parents’ home. Along the way, he reflects on events while he was in the Pacific. I like the way the story ends before he interacts with any of his family and friends. The story is all him.

Waiting for the End of the World – Devon is an ex-high school teacher who eeks out a meager living playing music at The Last Chance bar. The title references an Elvis Costello song of which Devon thinks highly, but I got a kick out of his analysis of the proverbial request for “Free Bird”:

Heads rise from tables and stare my way. Conversations stop. Couples arguing or groping each other pause as well. And this is the way it always is, as though Van Zant somehow found a conduit into the collective unconscious of his race. Whatever it is, they become serious and reflective.

Burning Bright – Loneliness is a frequent theme in these stories; however, Rash manages to make each one different with its own spin – including this one.

The Woman Who Believed in Jaguars – Self-imposed loneliness is in this one. It reminds me of an Alice Munro story. Ruth doesn’t mind the isolation. It gives her time to think about Jaquars and where they might have lived – among a lot of other things.

Of the stories in this post, my own personal favorite would be Three A. M. and the Stars Were Out with Waiting for the End of the World a very close runner-up.


Posted in Fiction

The Cove by Ron Rash

The path slanted downward and the shadows deepened. She felt like she was wading into dark water, with little in the gloaming to anchor her to the world. Then she heard the flute, faint and far off, a sound she’d followed up the creek to its source three months ago…Follow it a while longer, Laurel told herself.


In Ron Rash’s The Cove, Laurel Shelton has lived in the cove outside of Mars Hill, North Carolina her entire life. After her parents died and her brother Hank was conscripted to Europe during World War I, she lived there by herself. Now, though, Hank has come back from the war with only one hand but a diligence to make things good. It’s at this time that a stranger makes his way into their lives.

Rash expertly combines the beauty of the cove with its darkness and Laurel’s intense fear of loneliness. The loneliness is intensified by the fact that the people of Mars Hill superstitiously consider the cove to be filled with evil spirits and are afraid Laurel is a witch.

At the cove’s entrance, a tree has colored glass, bottles and cans hanging from it – an attempt to ward off these evil spirits or at least keep them inside the cove. The occasional mention of this tree reminds me that the plot of this story is not a new plot. It reminds me that human beings continue to fear that which they don’t understand or that which is different from themselves. They also continue to judge an entire group of people for the actions of a few.

The novel begins with a prologue set forty years after the events of the story. A human skull is found in an old well in the cove. Underlying the entire novel is the question to whom does the skull belong. It provides a wonderful mystery to the entire story.


I enjoyed this novel and am now reading Rash’s collection of short stories Something Rich and Strange. I’m enjoying his short stories even more than the novel.

Posted in Short Stories

“Shiloh” by Ron Rash – A Recommended Story

Sounds eight months unheard – the chatter of boomers, a raven’s caw – he heard now. Yellow ladyslippers Emma used for tonics flowered on the trace edge. A chestnut three men couldn’t link arms around curved the path. Everything heard and everything seen was a piece of himself restored. He thought of the soldier in the peach tree. It had been as if the man was trying to climb out of hell itself. And now I have, Benjamin thought. A whole mountain range stood between him and the horror and meanness.

For Week 6 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project, I had read Ron Rash’s “Into the Gorge”. As a result, Jay at Bibliophilopolis (who hosts Deal Me In) recommended Rash’s story “Shiloh” from the collection Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories. You can read his post about “Shiloh” and the rest of the collection here.


As Jay points out, something about “Shiloh” resembles Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge”. A soldier during the Civil War heads back home with a major head wound making the reader wonder how he is able to make the long journey. Similar to “Owl Creek”, “Shiloh” has a twist at the end but it’s not the same twist as Bierce’s story.

I always enjoy a good surprise ending and it’s no different with Rash’s story but it’s also impressive that the story’s ending simply reinforces the entire story’s theme of homecoming and death being intertwined. A theme that was also prevalent in “Into the Gorge” although I would have to say that “Shiloh” is the more powerful development of this theme. And the decision that the soldier makes in the final paragraph blew me away more than the twist.

It seems as though many of the stories I’m reading lately remind me of pop songs. This story reminds me of one of U2’s early songs “A Sort of Homecoming” Check out the lyrics below from

And you know it’s time to go
Through the sleet and driving snow
Across the fields of mourning to a light that’s in the distance.

And you hunger for the time
Time to heal, ‘desire’ time
And your earth moves beneath your own dream landscape.

On borderland we run.
I’ll be there, I’ll be there tonight
A high-road, a high-road out from here.

The city walls are all come down
The dust a smoke screen all around
See faces ploughed like fields that once
Gave no resistance.

And we live by the side of the road
On the side of a hill as the valleys explode
Dislocated, suffocated
The land grows weary of it’s own.

O com-away, o com-away, o-com, o com-away, I say I
O com-away, o com-away, o-com, o com-away, I say I

Oh, oh on borderland we run
And still we run, we run and don’t look back
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
Tonight, tonight

I’ll be there tonight, I believe
I’ll be there so high
I’ll be there tonight, tonight.

Oh com-away, I say, o com-away, I say.

The wind will crack in winter time
This bomb-blast lightning waltz.
No spoken words, just a scream
Tonight we’ll build a bridge across the sea and land
See the sky, the burning rain
She will die and live again tonight.

And your heart beats so slow
Through the rain and fallen snow
Across the fields of mourning to a light that’s in the distance.
Oh, don’t sorrow, no don’t weep
For tonight at last I am coming home.
I am coming home.

And Shiloh also seems to be a popular title. Bobbie Ann Mason’s story of the same name is on my 2017 Deal Me In list. I’m now very interested to read it and compare it to Rash’s story. In addition, when my kids were younger, we enjoyed a series of stories about a dog named Shiloh. The first in the series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, called Shiloh, won the Newbery Medal.

Posted in Short Stories

Ron Rash: Into The Gorge (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 6)

K♠ K♠ K♠ K♠ K♠ K♠ K♠ K♠

They told stories about her and every story was spoken in a reverent way, as if now that his great-aunt was dead she’d once more been transformed back to her true self.

“Into the Gorge” is the first work I’ve read by Ron Rash. It’s included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the King of Spades for Week 6 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.


Sixty-eight year-old Jesse enters the gorge that had been in his family for two centuries. Around fifty years ago, his father sold it to the government to be turned into a state park. Jesse anticipates seeing the “homestead” even though it is only a burned down cabin with a half-standing chimney. He also stumbles onto his father’s crop of ginseng – also around fifty years old and apparently worth more than marijuana.

In the process of finding his old home, he commits a crime. A crime that is neither accidental nor premeditated. As he makes his way through the gorge running from authorities, I couldn’t help thinking of various television crime dramas. Rash helps put most of my sympathies toward Jesse but I would find myself wondering why Jesse made the choice he did.

The powerful parts of “Into the Gorge” come with Jesse’s remembrances of his great-aunt who was elderly when Jesse was a boy. One of the more heart-breaking memories shows his great-aunt hoeing her garden even when she was no longer able to plant anything. Ultimately, the woman wanders off to the gorge and is found dead.

I’m not one to try to find symbolism in every detail of every story I read, but it does seem that this gorge represents both home and death – or maybe a home that one can’t really go back to outside of death.