Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Hard Times" by Ron Rash (2010 from Burning Bright, 2010 Frank O'Connor Prize Winner)

About Ron Rash

Ron Rash's family has lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains since the mid-1700's, and it is this region that is the primary focus of his writing. Rash grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and graduated from Gardner-Webb College and Clemson University. He holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University. Rash is the author of 9 books: The Night The New Jesus Fell to Earth (short stories), Casualties (short stories),Eureka Mill (poetry), and Among the Believers (poetry), Raising the Dead (poetry), One Foot in Eden (novel), Saints at the River (novel), The World Made Straight (2006), and Serena(2008). His poetry and fiction have appeared in over one hundred journals, magazines, and anthologies, including The Longman Anthology of Southern Literature, Western Wind, Sewanee Review, Yale Review, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Southern Review, Shenandoah and Poetry.

In 1994, Rash was awarded an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he won the Sherwood Anderson Prize in 1996. In 2001, he won the Novella Festival Novel Award, and in 2002 the Foreword Magazine’s Gold Medal in Literary Fiction for One Foot in Eden. The novel was also named Appalachian Book of the Year. His second novel, Saints at the River, was named Fiction Book of the Year by both the Southern Book Critics Circle and the Southeastern Booksellers Association. In 2005 Rash won an O. Henry award for his story “Speckled Trout” and received the James Still Award by the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Awards and Special Recognition...

2011 Ron Rash has been inducted into The Fellowship of Southern Writers, whose members have included Eudora Welty and Walker Percy among others.
2005 James Still Award Recipient for Writing of the Appalachian South
2005 Thomas and Lillie B. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing Winner

One of the 25 Top Fiction Titles from January Through April 2012 selected by Library Journal
Selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of Summer 2012
Best Books of 2012 in the Fiction category by Publishers Weekly
Best Books of 2012 in the Fiction category by Amazon UK, top 10 list

2011 Fiction Award from Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA)
2010 Frank O’Connor award. The award is the foremost prize for a short story collection in the world and celebrates great writers of the form. Previous recipients include Yiyun Li, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Haruki Murakami. 

"Hard Times", the lead story in Ron Rash's 2010 Frank O'Connor Prize winning collection of short stories Burning Bright (the premier prize for a short story collection world wide) is truly a marvel, a work that comes from deep knowledge, compassion, and an unfiltered view of American Appalachia.  Anytime one begins a short story by a contemporary American writer focusing on poor, isolated, "backwoods" people the first impulse is to see it as Flannery O'Connor derivative.  Maybe there is this in Rash (but remember Frank O'Connor said the masters of the short story focus on isolates, marginalized groups of people with no one to speak for them.  The people in "Hard Times" live in rural Appalachia, (encompassing North Carolina, parts of Virginia, and West Virginia) in the late 1930s, a period of horrible economic   Times in the USA called "The Depression".   Just staying alive was a challenge.  

In "Hard Times" a married couple, both their children left home vowing never to return as soon as they were old enough, on a farm in rural North Carolina are finding some of the eggs from their chickens sucked out at night.    At first they think maybe it is an "egg sucking dog" or a fox.  The wife, a woman made very hard by their grinding poverty, thinks maybe it is the dog of their closet neighbor.   People in Appalachia are very proud.  When the husband lets the neighbor know he suspects the neighbor's dog, the neighbor, in a chilling scene, cuts the dog's throat.  The neighbor throws the dog in the bushes and says if the egg stealing continues you will know it was not my dog.  The husband and wife, he blames her hardness for driving away their children, decide maybe it is a snake so they put a hook on a fishing line in one of the eggs.   What happens at the close of the story is truly heartbreaking.  

"Hard Times" is a marvelous, multidimensional story.  It is very rooted in place but its truths are universal.  I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in the collection.  

Please share your experience with Rash and other Frank O'Connor Prize winners with us.

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