I had a little money left over on an Amazon.com gift card and began to choose some Kindle books. I picked up a couple of short story selections, Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock and Volt, by Alan Heathcock. Pretty much by a flip of the coin, I read Volt first.

Volt has eight semi-connected longish short stories. Right off the bat, the description of a farmer accidentally killing his son while tilling a field resonated with me. I’m a father and have spent a little time on a tractor seat bouncing in the heat and dust, watching a mile-distant fence line slowly, inexorably approach.  That awful scene was enough to justify the price of the book and the time to read it. I thought that first story could have ended after those two pages.

It didn’t though, as the father, destroyed by the accident and jolted by a near miss with a freight train – runs away. And runs and runs and runs – putting Forest Gump to shame. He ends up wiping his life away and building a new one, of sorts. It’s a journey worthy of Odysseus, and likewise, he finds that home is not what it used to be. Too much water under the bridge.

The stories are all small-town Gothic. They are set in the hopeless wide-spot-in-the-road of Krafton… an imaginary town. Trust me as one who knows – there are a lot of Kraftons out there. One hell of a lot. These are forgotten hamlets where everyone with any ambition or brains left town long ago – leaving the impression that the remaining conscripts – imprisoned by tradition, lack of imagination, and ennui – exist simply to work their way back down the evolutionary chain. There is even a Biblical Flood – though plenty of unworthy survive.

There is one hopeful character, Sheriff Helen Farraley, a plump middle-aged former grocery store manager pressed into service to combat evil no mortal should have to face. Her decisions seem insane, until you try to see her world through those eyes.

At the end of the finely crafted book, I felt I knew the doomed citizens of Krafton, and hoped somehow, someday they find the redemption that they deserve, even if they don’t see it or don’t chose it for themselves.

Now, on to Knockemstiff.

New York Times Review – Stories of Small-Town Strife

‘Volt’ writer Alan Heathcock’s internal duality fuels his gripping prose and creates his epic stories

‘Volt’: Stories for Mourning, After A Nameless Loss

BOOK REVIEW: Alan Heathcock


13 responses to “Volt

  1. Hi there,

    just a quick visit to stop and say that I enjoy your writing tremendously and read your blog entries daily, looking forward to every new one!


    • Thank you for the kind comment. The thing takes a a surprising amount of work and lately I have been having trouble writing an entry every day – it’s nice to know that somebody is getting something out of it.

      • Really any of her collections are good. I think she is getting better with time – you might want to try “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” – which is sometimes published as “Away from Her” after the movie of that name came out.

    • I hope you like it.In a big way, Volt is about place and it is a very American sort of place. I would be interested in what readers from other countries think about the stories.

      Thanks for the comment, hope I’m not misleading you.

      • Well, it’s on my wish list so when it’s available over here I shall buy it. I love learning about new places, that’s really cool. Have you ever read any Alice Munro? Canadian writer. She has a collection of short stories called ‘Open Secrets’ and they are all set in this place in Canada throughout different time. So the stories are linked by community, if you like. It’s pretty cool. 🙂

    • I’m a huge fan of Alice Munro – have read all her stuff, at least what has been published in a collection. I study her techniques closely, but what she does with time and remembrance is so subtle – I am in awe of what she is able to pull off.

      • That is really cool. I’m glad to have mentioned that because now I can ask you what you would advise me to read next. Have only encountered the ‘Open Secrets’ set. 🙂

    • I’ve been reading a lot lately, will have some more coming up (that book, Knockemstiff, is a doozy). I try to write about what I’ve read without giving too much away – it’s tough to do.

  2. Pingback: Knockemstiff | Bill Chance

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