These stories by Ron Rash are hard-hitting, inquisitive, and conclude with abrupt endings that frustrate, satisfy, and sometimes only led me to wonder if I understood any part of the story that came before. From a story about a couple short on luck to one about runaway slaves during the Civil War, to a girl befriending a pair of hippies and a rural town draining a pond, the range and depth of the book’s contents stretches into a plethora of corners of the imagination and societal affairs in the southern Appalachians.
Although there is darkness throughout the pages of Nothing Gold Can Stay (also the title of one of the stories), hope and peace are also a key part of the events that unfold. A prisoner working on the road hopes to escape using a farm girl who hopes to escape her cold husband; a diver comes to terms with a tragedy that keeps him up at night; a fired schoolteacher takes a chance to find what truly makes her happy while trying to leave her past behind. The beauty of Ron Rash’s words and breezy construction helps with turning these twisted stories into wondrous accounts of humanity.
Sometimes I like to challenge myself to not choose a favorite story in a collection such as this, because why can’t we just love all of them equally/all be friends?! Alas, I do have a favorite. It’s entitled “Twenty-Six Days,” and a paragraph after the Copyright page acknowledges that this story originally appeared in the Washington Post. “Twenty-Six Days” seemed to me a damask of most of the other stories, in that it was more explicit about hope and optimism rather than devastation, while the potential tragedy loomed just beneath the surface; hidden, but still reminding the characters and the reader(s) of its existence. The title represents a countdown to relief, and while the story ends well in text, the possibility of it not ending well beyond the pages looms heavily.
I am now very interested in reading Ron Rash’s well-received novels, after discovering how enticing his writing style is. I am curious to see if his longer prose stands sturdily at each moment as each of these short stories do, and if his interest of the mantra “Nothing Gold Can Stay” carries over to his more wordy publications. Hey, maybe I’ve just whittled down a selection for my Summer Reading Challenge!
The last thing I would like to address is the title itself, which as I mentioned above is also the title of one of the stories (perhaps my least favorite story in this collection, honestly). It’s very reflective of the messages in all of the stories, and that is that what is here now is not here to stay. Not being a poetry enthusiast myself, I found out that “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a line from a Robert Frost poem of the same name. It’s a short poem, so I’ll include it here:
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
(Every now and then I find a poem that reminds me I actually can like poetry if I stop being so stubborn, but that’s not what this post is about.)
“So Eden sank to grief” had to be a close second contender for Ron Rash’s collection; it gives me an image of shrugging shoulders, an acceptance that heaven or paradise is short-lived. I like that it’s not a message of “life is short, so appreciate every second.” Rather, “the good things in life will not stick around, that’s just the way it is.” This is a more concrete philosophy, and I think that rigidity, that realistic pessimism, is why I enjoyed, and was moved so much by, the words and stories of Ron Rash.
I’d unknot the rope from the white oak, set my fishing gear and Coleman lantern in the bow, and paddle out to the pond’s center. I’d fish until it was neither day nor night, but balance between. There never seemed to be a breeze, pond and shore equally smoothed. Just stillness, as though the world had taken a soft breath, and was holding it in, and even time had leveled out, moving neither forward nor back.
-from ” The Woman at the Pond“
Ron Rash, Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2013)