Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nothing Gold Can Stay
PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash returns again to Appalachia to capture lives haunted by violence and tenderness, hope and fear in unforgettable stories that span the Civil War to the present day. In the title story, two drug addicted friends return to the farm where they worked as boys to steal their boss’s unusual but valuable war trophies. In ‘The Trusty’, Ron Rash’s first story to appear in the New Yorker, a prisoner sent to fetch water for the chain gang tries to sweet talk a farmer’s young wife into helping him escape, only to find she is as trapped as he is. In ‘Something Rich and Strange’, a diver is called upon to pull a drowned girl’s body free from under a falls, but finds her eerily at peace below the surface. The violence of Rash’s characters and their raw settings are matched only by their unexpected tenderness and stark beauty, a masterful combination that has earned Rash an avalanche of praise.
I first discovered Ron Rash when I read his 2008 novel Serena, a brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and have been a fan of his prose ever since. Rash hasn’t had as much success in Australia as he should. His storytelling is concise and to the point – a talent that is paramount in the craft of short-story writing – and his latest collection, Nothing Gold Can Stay, is true to form. The book’s title may refer to Robert Frost’s poem of the same name, and Frost’s sentiment of innocence lost seems to be echoed in each tale.
In the title story, two drug-addled young men revisit the farm they worked on as boys to steal their former employer’s very unusual trophies of war. In ‘A Sort of Miracle’, Denton deplores his brothers-in-law, the oddly named Marlborough and Baroque. He thinks they’re lazy, naive and lack ambition. But one day he drives into the forest with them to set bear traps. Hopefully his passengers have learnt something from the medical reality programs they watch.
‘The Magic Bus’ finds sixteen-year-old Sabra entranced by hippies Thomas and Wendy when their bus overheats in front of her family farm. She knows her parents wouldn’t approve, but she insists that they stay overnight in the barn. Her ingenuousness and lack of judgement ends in disaster. Two runaway slaves, one young and flighty, one older and worn down, find themselves at the mercy of an elderly farmer after they are caught trespassing on his property in ‘Where the Map Ends’.
Each work here ends with a surprising turn. I had to spend a day between some stories mulling their sometimes devastating conclusions. Despite the Robert Frost reference, please forgive me when I say Nothing Gold Can Stay is mis-titled. This collection is made up of 14 brilliantly glimmering nuggets.
Jason Austin is a buyer and bookseller at Readings Carlton.
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