cover image Chemistry and Other Stories

Chemistry and Other Stories

Ron Rash, Author . Picador $13 (230p) ISBN 978-0-312-42508-1

An award-winning Southern novelist (The World Made Straight ), short story writer (Casualties ) and poet (Raising the Dead ), Rash returns to short fiction with 13 snapshots of contemporary Appalachia. There are double-wide trailers, aging cars and lost souls "resigned to bad times and trouble," but there's also, in "Honesty," a lit professor struggling to get out from under his rich, cynical wife. In the title story, a chemistry teacher prescribed Elavil and shock treatments for a "chemical imbalance" seeks emotional ballast in the backwoods evangelical religion of his youth. In "Blackberries in June" a young couple—he a logger, she a waitress—buy a fixer-upper house, spend their free time repairing it and plan to take night classes at the local community college, but family demands and random events conspire to keep them down. In the haunting "Pemberton's Bride," the local lumber-mill owner brings home a Boston bride; she quickly adapts to the rough and tumble surroundings, remorselessly dispatching any threat to her position or to her husband's business interests, real or imagined. There are pacing problems throughout, particularly when characters get let off the hook with hurried resolutions. But the setups are imaginative, and Rash gets the feelings right. (May)