cover image Kentucky Straight: Stories

Kentucky Straight: Stories

Chris Offutt. Vintage Books USA, $14 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-679-73886-2

The stories in this debut collection share more than a setting in poor and sparsely populated Kentucky; they share a certainty and frankness of language that renders them powerful. When a young boy's grandfather presents himself after an extended absence, the boy wonders if he should believe that he's his grandfather: ``Grandfathers whittled a lot and taught their grandsons how to fish. Lije was just old.'' Offutt's visual imagery is equally strong and direct. After a man loses a leg in a construction accident and is taken to the hospital, one of his colleagues carries the severed limb around for a while, unsure of what to do with it. Many of the stories center on the isolation underlying social relationships. A pool-playing young man who longs to escape the grim hog farm that is his home is distracted from his game only by his seductive sister, who drunkenly visits strange men in their vans. At a poker game held in a smokehouse, an eager gambler stakes a bet on the size of his penis, and wins, but ends up feeling humiliated anyway. Offutt, who grew up in the Kentucky Appalachians, offers taut stories filled with strained relationships and unarticulated desires; his characters deceive themselves into believing that their lives are simpler than they are. (Nov.)