Ron Rash

   Ron Rash has received many glowing reviews, but it would be hard to top the mash note he received from Janet Maslin last week for Something Rich and Strange, “a major short-story anthology that can introduce new readers to this author’s haunting talents and reaffirm what his established following already knows.”

   She added: “Ron Rash occupies an odd place in the pantheon of great American writers, and you’d better believe he belongs there. He gets rapturous reviews that don’t mean to condescend but almost always call him a Southern or Appalachian writer, and Mr. Rash has said he can hear the silent, dismissive ‘just’ in those descriptions. He also baffles anyone who thinks that great talent ought to be accompanied by great ambition. Mr. Rash has planted himself at Western Carolina University and eluded the limelight that his work absolutely warrants. …

“Mr. Rash’s stories glide with exceptional ease between the supernatural, which he can treat as a very beautiful extension of the natural world (the title story, about a girl who drowns, is deadly yet exquisite), and the mundane, which can be ghastly. Meth addicts turn up in all sizes and shapes in this book’s universe, and never as stock characters or social problems. Three outstanding tales about the ways this addiction reshapes lives are “The Ascent,” about Christmastime for a boy with meth-addicted parents; “Back of Beyond,” in which parents are terrorized by their addicted son; and “Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven.”

“Superb as all three are, this last one is the most resonant because it is least particular. It’s about something widespread: the stigma attached to being “book smart” in a place where being zonked and witless is just so much easier. And although there is so much hope and spiritual clarity in Mr. Rash’s books, this story is a unforgettable evocation of confusion. It inhabits one character’s struggle to imagine a bright future when a dismal present is so much closer at hand.”

Maslin is not alone. Reviewing this “simply beautiful” collection of 34 stories for NPR, Alan Cheuse avers that “in places some of the stories are so searing, it's as if someone has taken a stick from a blazing fire and pressed it into your hand. … Reading this collection is like taking a long walk into that haunted gorge where the ginseng grows wild. Trust me: In here you'll find many things, even the dark matters, quite wonderful.”

Born in 1953, Rash is an American poet, short story writer who sets many of his works in his native soil of the mountains of western North Carolina. His novels include One Foot in Eden (2000, Appalachian Book of the Year), Saints at the River (2004, Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction), The World Made Straight (2006), Serena (2008, PEN/Faulkner Award finalist) and The Cove (2012, winner David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction. He has also published several books of poems, including Raising the Dead (2002) and Waking (2011), and collections of short stories, including Chemistry and Other Stories (2008, PEN/Faulkner Award finalist) and Burning Bright (2010, Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award). 

Ron Rash’s Top Ten List

1. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606).
2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600).
3. The Iliad by Homer (ninth century b.c.e.?).
4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
6. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
7. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
8. The stories of Flannery O’Connor (1925–64).
9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929).
10. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (1979).