Odd that the last two books I've read had chemistry in the title but little about it in the stories.
Ron Rash's collection of short stories was another surprising treat from the library's new book shelf. He was one of the writers at the West Virginia Book Festival last year, but I had not read his work at that time so I didn't go to his session. Dumb me.
Rash is a writer from the mountains of North Carolina, and that land is the force behind his stories. The people act out their lives on the slopes of mountains and banks of rivers. They are as funny, twisted, unexpected and simple as people are anywhere on earth, but through every story runs the inevitability of the landscape and its impact on the people who strive to survive in a landscape at once harsh and majestic.
From the incongruity of the chemistry teacher in the title story who practices obscure mountain religion to the stubborn hope young couple in Blackberries in June to the greed and arrogance of the young man in the final story, each tale introduces people I felt like I'd met--at the farmer's market, or the little restaurant in town, maybe on a fishing trip. Pemberton's Bride is frightening and yet compelling. Just how far would we go for the one we love? The old men in the first story weather the ridicule of others in their quest for a fish of mythic proportions, and yet in the end, it is their own doubt that was most important to overcome after all.
While I might not like or understand these people, I was riveted by their struggles, pulling for them to survive. And they will--in my mind and that of anyone lucky enough to read this book.
Ron Rash, Chemistry and Other Stories, Picador Press, 2007.