Home > 2010, 21st Century, American Literature, Highly Recommended, Rash Ron, Short Stories, TBR20 > Burning Bright by Ron Rash – compelling

Burning Bright by Ron Rash – compelling

Burning Bright by Ron Rash (2010) French title: Incandescences

I discovered Ron Rash at Quais du Polar and bought (and got signed 😊) a collection of twelve short stories, Burning Bright. Unfortunately, it took me two years to read it. As always, it’s difficult to write about a collection of short stories. Write about all of them? Boring. Pick one to three favorites? That’s an option. Have an overview of the collection? That’s my choice.

The stories in Burning Bright are all set in the Appalaches, where Ron Rash comes from. Ron Rash was at Quais du Polar this year too and he said that he writes about his region again and again because it’s home, because he wants to tell about this land and its people and because he thinks that if he digs deep enough in one place, he’ll reach the core of the human soul and his stories will have a whiff of universality.

His exploration takes us in different times. A story is set during the Civil War (Lincolnites), one during the Great Depression (Hard Times), one just at the end of WWII (Return) and the others are set in the last decades. As you can see, historical stories happen at a pivotal moment of the history of America. In the others, the timestamp is less clear. A way to reach universality, probably.

Several stories picture people at a rough moment of their lives. Money is tight and they’re one step away from poverty. A brother has to evict his nephew and his junky friends from his brother’s house. His brother and sister-in-law are stuck in a trailer, scared to death of their violent and drug addict son. A farmer and his wife struggle to survive during the Great Depression and discovering who or what snitches eggs in their henhouse is vital. A child steals valuable objects on the victims of an airplane crash to his worthless parents in order to sell them and put food on the table. A man digs up in tombs of confederate soldiers, looking for belt buckles and other tokens to be sold to people who collect such items or like to reenact battles of the Civil War. He needs money to pay for his mother’s medical bills. These stories show to what length humans are ready to go when their survival is at stake. Some become nasty, selfish and tend to lose part of their humanity in the process. Some keep their dignity and kindness and do what needs to be done but feel guilty.

Ron Rash describes a tough world where people struggle to survive in a region where the economy was based on the wood industry and coal mines. At Quais du Polar, he explained that people have hard lives and live on and off the land. Their lives are intertwined with the land.

His great aunt had been born on this land, lived on it eight decades, and knew it as well as she knew her husband and children. That was what she’d always claimed, and could tell you the week when the first dogwood blossom would brighten the ridge, the first blackberry darken and swell enough to harvest. Then her mind had wandered into a place she could not follow, taking with it all the people she knew, their names and connections, whether they still lived or whether they’d died. But her body lingered, shed of an inner being, empty as a cicada husk. (Into The Gorge)

In Into The Gorge, Rash describes an old man who wants to harvest ginseng in a place that used to be communal woods, where everyone could help themselves and is now a National Park, where it’s forbidden to pick anything. It’s hard for him to accept that the land where his great aunt had died, where his father had planted ginseng is now off limits. His relationship with the land that provides his living runs deep. He earns enough from his tobacco plot but would like to earn a bit more by selling ginseng, to have a bit of money in case of emergency.

Ron Rash also writes about old beliefs. In the Corpse Bird, an engineer who has trouble sleeping hears an owl at night and he remembers that it is said to be the death bird. When he hears that their young neighbor is suddenly ill, he becomes restless, unable to find logical reasons convince her parents to bring her to the hospital. They think he’s nuts but his unease remains.

Burning Bright is a compelling collection of short stories. Rash’s prose is beautiful and he also writes poetry. He says that he reads his texts aloud to hear how they sound. Each word is valuable and I wish my English was good enough for me to hear everything he put in his words.

Comparisons are always dangerous in literature but these stories reminded me of Annie Proulx’s short stories. They have the same rough edges, the same understanding of the roots of America. The stories are dark but not bleak. They put common people in the spotlight and shows how they cope with what life throws at them.

Highly recommended.

PS: The English cover of Burning Bright goes better with the stories than the French one.

  1. Marina Sofia
    April 26, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I remember meeting Ron Rash with you and getting a book signed (which I still haven’t read, so I’m worse than you). But the way he talked about his writing made me think he’d be delectable, so glad he lived up to expectations.

    Like

    • April 26, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      I feel like I’ve found a new favorite. We’ll see how I like his novel Serena.

      Like

  2. April 27, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your billet and insights into Rash’s session at QdP. The stories sound great, rooted in emotional truth and authenticity. He seems like a writer with a deep connection to the Appalachian community, something that comes through very strongly from your commentary, and from my previous experience of reading his work (Nothing Gold Can Stay).

    Like

    • April 28, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Thanks Jacqui. He was an interesting writer to listen to. One of the most interesting aspects of QdP is that writers are not interviewed to promote their books. Of course, they talk about their books but always in the frame of the festival.

      It’s a great collection of short stories, one I think you’d enjoy. I’m looking forward to reading Serena.

      Like

  3. April 29, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    I can think of regions in Australia where coal miners and timber getters live in forested mountains but the Appalachians (of literature anyway) seem to have a unique apart-ness.

    Like

    • May 1, 2019 at 8:09 pm

      Yes, there’s something special about it.

      Like

  4. April 30, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    It does sound very good. Rooted in the specifics of place but well written enough to have resonance beyond that.

    I thought Quais du Polar was a crime festival. Is he a crime writer? He doesn’t sound it particularly.

    Like

    • May 1, 2019 at 8:12 pm

      I think you’d like this collection of short stories.

      Quais du Polar is a crime festival and his novel Serena is more on the crime fiction side. I haven’t read it yet but even if it’s not crime, it’s dark and it is covered by the term “polar”

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