Nothing Gold Can Stay

By Ron Rash

(Ecco, $24.99, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

Ron Rash, whose novels and stories often are set in the wild and beautiful mountain region of North Carolina, writes about Appalachia and legacies of Southern pride and prejudice with the grit and grace that only a native can possess. His novel “Serena” was a 2009 PEN/Faulkner Finalist and New York Times bestselling novel, and three others —  “One Foot in Eden,” “Saints at the River” and “The World Made Straight” – also were prizewinners. He has published three poetry collections and four of stories, including “Burning Bright,” which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.  He also has won the O.Henry Prize twice. Rash teaches Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University.

What is this book about?

It’s a collection of 14 short stories set in Appalachia, from the Civil War years to the present, featuring characters struggling in one way or another, and in some cases, for their very lives. “The Trusty,” which you may have read in The New Yorker, is about a chain-gang prisoner who hopes to get a beaten-down farm wife to help him escape. Another features two druggies out to steal a former boss’s disgusting war souvenirs. In another, a Scottish ballads researcher does some bragging that turns out to be spectacularly ill-advised. A darkly humorous story involves a bear trap. Each story is powerful in its own way; all are memorable.

By the way, if the title sounds familiar but you cannot place it, here is the entire Robert Frost poem from which it was taken:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

 Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf,

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day

Nothing gold can stay.


Why you’ll like it:

Rash get kudos from reviewers for the way the beauty of his prose mitigates the dark violence that runs through these stories like a gorgeous but dangerous mountain torrent. He writes with authority about a much-maligned, frequently misunderstood part of America, where swollen pride and festering race-related anger keeps people with one foot in the past and another in the present. Too often the hill people of the Appalachian South are treated as comic caricatures, a la “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Rash makes them complex, human, occasionally appalling and always real.

What others are saying:

Says Janet Maslin in The New York Times:  Ron Rash’s new short story collection… is excitingly versatile, covering time periods from the Civil War to the present and ranging in mood from wryly comic to brutal. The 14 stories are united by clean, tough specificity, courtly backwoods diction, and a capacity for sending shivers”.

“With ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay,’ Ron Rash cements his reputation as one of the foremost chroniclers of that mythic uber-America known as the South. Rash’s new stories depict, with almost anthropological precision, a proud, poverty-scarred milieu “where checkbooks never quite balanced and repo men and pawnbrokers loomed one turn of bad luck away,” says The Washington Post .

Publishers Weekly says: “Rash’s latest short fiction collection explores the often harsh vicissitudes of life in North Carolina. …“Night Hawks” features a former teacher with a self-inflicted facial scar who seeks refuge as a late-night radio DJ. Rash’s period stories, though, make the biggest impression, like the Depression-era “The Trusty,” in which a con man on a chain gang seduces a lonely farmer’s wife in the hope of using her to aid in his escape. In “The Magic Bus,” a 16-year-old country girl encounters two San Francisco hippies in a flower-painted VW microbus who entice her to run away with them. “The Dowry,” set immediately after the Civil War, relates how a pastor’s surprising sacrifice allows a young Union veteran to marry the daughter of a Confederate officer who lost his hand in battle. For a change of pace, in the humorous “A Sort of Miracle,” an accountant on an illegal bear hunt finds safety in the hands of his two slacker brothers-in-law. Although too many of the stories rely on the same basic dynamic, Rash impresses with clear-eyed, sympathetic writing about flawed and troubled characters.”

Says Library Journal: “His previous novels “Serena” and “The Cove” are set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, so it is no surprise that Rash … sets this collection of short stories in the same loosely defined but culturally abundant geographic region of the eastern United States. …Rash’s short stories thematically paint Appalachia not as a definitive place but as a series of many interconnected ways of relating to human and environmental frailty. VERDICT Another fine addition to the Rash bibliography, and a great entry point for the uninitiated reader…”

When is it available?

Nothing Gold Can Stay can be borrowed now from the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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