I found Ron Rash's short story collection "Something Rich and Strange" at a drugstore soda fountain in Hayesville, N.C., while waiting for the community Christmas parade to begin on an unseasonably warm, humid evening last December.
As children and their parents waited for bright-eyed young women to make old-fashioned milkshakes and ice cream cones, I stood at the counter and entered Rash's world, which re-creates the Appalachian Mountain culture of western North Carolina towns like Hayesville.
Rash, who writes poems, novels and stories, gives mythical weight to the lives of people who struggled to earn a living from the mountain soil, whether through farming, logging or working in textile mills.
He tells stories of their violent, hardscrabble lives, with manifestations of beauty, courage and humor. Religion and commitment to work and family are major themes.
A volume of new and selected poems, simply called "Poems," traces family histories of the region with the narrative power of his prose fiction, His short poems encompass stories that possess a relevance deeper than their brevity.
Linked together, they create a narrative with novelistic range. While adorned with symbolic language, his poems read like short stories, depicting strong characters and stories that achieve dramatic force over a few lines.
Language recalls Frost's
The simplicity of language recalls Frost, although Rash has his own voice. His language displays metaphorical power, although at times his similes misfire rather than sparkle.
His stories like his poems revive traditional literary virtues. The best find universal significance in local history, character and place. The weakest, while enjoyable, depend too much on formulaic coincidences and ironic turns.
Rash claims the mantle of regional writer, but his work reaches a larger significance. His multifaceted work calls for a deep immersion. While Rash has received national recognition, he deserves wider readership.