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