Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ron Rash's Short stories and Above the Waterfall

I became a fan of Ron Rash through his short stories. They were depressive and gritty little pieces that left me feeling like shit or like I was punched in the stomach; I loved it. They dealt with the meth epidemic and the economic downturn of the Appalachias, loss, displacement, desperation and a feeling of disconnect from the modern world and they hit close to home for me. 

Growing in the Rust Belt area I saw what heroin, uppers and downers, coke and alcohol did to my peers, and my peers' families.  I saw people I respected and loved slowly devolve into junkies: they self-harmed, shot-up before school, snorted coke during class, and in more extreme cases they would try to kill themselves during restroom breaks because life was too much for them.

I also saw and experienced what happens when the economy turns to shit: houses bein' taken away, jobs bein' taken away, depression and people struggling to survive and doing things they usually wouldn't do: robbing, stealing, hurting the ones they love.

This is what Rash brings to me, all these memories. I see my reflection in his characters and stories.

One would think that such things would push someone away: not me, I enjoy these memories, well, enjoy is not the right word, I don't have an allergy to them. The reason I don't is because they're who I am to an extent. These memories shaped me and made me who I am today. I don't want to forget them, no matter how painful they are.

I also remember them because I don't want to forget my peers. The peers who made me laugh, feed me, supported me, got me in trouble, got me into shady situations and who I saw destroy themselves through their addictions. These memories and pains are my memorial to them.

There's another reason I'm a fan of Rash: they propel me from the first sentence, from the first word. Once I start reading, I can't stop, can't put it down. There are very few writers that can do this and Rash is one of them.

So when I came into Above the Waterfall, I had high expectations. I wanted to feel like I felt when I read his short stories and wouldn't accept anything less. Should have I put that on an author? I don't know.

Luckily, I got what I expected.

From the first page of the first paragraph:
Though sunlight tinges the mountains, black leather-winged bodies swing low. First fireflies blink languidly. Beyond this meadow, cicadas rev and slow like sewing machines. All else ready for night except night itself. I watch last light lift off level land. Ground shadows seep and thicken. Circling trees form banks. The meadow itself becomes a pond filling, on its surface dozens of black-eyed susans.
What a hell of a way to start a novel; especially, a novel that revolves around meditation on the effects of violence, loneliness, and how the landscape and people are so inextricably tied together, that if one thing happens the other is affected.

Rash does do something different, yes, there is the grit and the meth and desperation and disconnect that litter his short stories, but there's something else: hope. This is one of the most hopeful stories I've read by him.

In Rash's stories, there's barely a chance for redemption or ends that neatly tied-up. In Above the Waterfall we can feel that there is an underlining sense of hope. That life will hopefully get better. That these pains and miseries happen--and they just happen, no rhythm or reason to them--to strengthen us and to hopefully get us closer together; to get us closer to ourselves and what we can take and give. That really got to me.

It got to me because it reminded me that I got out. That I got the hope that my peers didn't.

Now, I never did strong drugs like my peers, but we all dealt with severe to debilitating depression and suicide. But unlike my peers, and I found hope like the characters in Above the Waterfall. I was able to get out, not without scars, of course, but those scars left me with a new outlook on life.

Maybe this is why I remember. Not for a memorial for them, but to show me, there's always hope no matter how dark it gets.

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