Friday, June 11, 2010
Recently, on a trip to the library, I discovered a new author. He is Chris Offutt who hales from Iowa City in the USA. His book, Kentucky Straight, is a collection of short stories, all set in the same unnamed Appalachian community. It was published in 1992 by Vintage Books.
These are stories of coal miners, backwoods medicine men, gamblers, hemp farmers and other interesting characters. They are at times brutal, yet always heartfelt. Offutt takes you through forests and rivers, up hills and across ridges, then throws bears, panthers and snakes at your feet.
I shivered when I read of blizzards and cried when a child lost his Grandpaw. His sparse prose paints a real world you can touch and smell and taste.
I was hooked from the first page:
When I was a kid we had a coonhound that got into a skunk, then had the gall to sneak under the porch. He whimpered in the dark and wouldn't come out. Dad shot him. It didn't stink less but Dad felt better. He told Mum that any dog who didn't know coon from skunk ought to be killed.
And delighted in the descriptions of the setting, which is itself a character in the stories.
On Saturday Vaughn sat in the white glare of a low noon sun and watched the woods. Softwood leaves, crisp with equinox color, floated them treetops near the sun. His pocket held leftover breakfast pork in case Lije was hungry. Vaughn sweated in the heat but stayed on the porch.
And a knowing comment on life, for those who lived hard, hunting or growing what they ate.
Men's lives ran in bursts of work, drink, and quick death, while women wore down slow and steady, like a riverbank at a sharp curve.
The library has another of his books, which I'll be taking out on my next visit.