Chemistry and Other Stories

Ron Rash




Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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Ron Rash's stories span the entire twentieth century in Appalachia, where rural communities struggle with the arrival of a new era.
Three old men stalk the shadow of a giant fish, though no one else believes it exists. A son watches as his father takes up scuba diving in the town reservoir to fight off depression. A grieving mother leads a surveyor into the woods to find and name the county where thieves murdered her son so she can inscribe his death in the family bible.
In this Appalachia, the collision of the old and new south, of antique and modern, resonate with the power of timeworn reginal lore.


Praise for Chemistry and Other Stories

"At first glance, Ron Rash's double-wide world . . . appears firmly set in the 'scraggly-assed pine trees' and red-dirt landscape of the South. Yet the culture represented in Chemistry and Other Stories resembles that of any number of rural American settings . . . Rash's stories are expertly told with a poet's eye for language. A divorcee runs off with a carnival knife thrower; a father valiantly tries to rescue his son from drug addiction; three elders find an equally ancient sturgeon in a fishing hole; a teenager secretly follows his father up into the mountains to a church of snake handlers . . . Rash will remind readers that this nation, despite its seeming prosperity and endless opportunity, still has places off the grid— and not just in the South—where it is simply enough to hang on for another day."—Stephen J. Lyons, San Francisco Chronicle

"A collection of very fine, almost mythic fiction about the difficult lives of decent people . . . Much to the author's credit, in his version of Appalachia—rife with hunting accidents, miscarriages, drug abuse and murder—the perils are rendered with a clear-eyed sense of drama rather than melodrama. And in even more interesting ways, his stories range throughout the 20th century in their settings, the collection a kind of Appalachian history . . . Both poetry and mythology underscore Rash's achievements here in the finest story, 'Chemistry,' magically sad and metamorphic. At his best, the author invokes a plangent tone, loss tinged with hope."—Alan Michael Parker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Chemistry doesn't disappoint. Rash grabs the reader by the collar on the first page and holds him riveted until the end . . . Each story is like a natural pearl, a pleasure to read and a masterpiece unto itself. Accomplishing this feat over and over again is no small task, and Rash proves himself even cleverer, because what he does with these pearls is craft them into an even lovelier strand. These stories aren't linked by characters or plot; they're linked by Rash's appreciation for a sense of place . . . A must-read and wholly refreshing . . . I read this collection in one sitting on a Sunday morning. It was the perfect way to do it. It was fitting, even . . . Chemistry and Other Stories is worth the time. Ron Rash has made me a diehard fan.”—Marc Fitten, Atlanta Style & Design

"He's collected an intense set of short stories in Chemistry, creating characters that walk a narrow edge between dark and luminous, and the book is haunted by the independent spirit, fragile beauty and sometimes-paralyzing poverty of the Appalachian mountains."—Blue Ridge Country

"It's grand to see a writer coming into his own, as Rash does in this punchy story collection, following some impressive novels . . . In the extraordinary 'Pemberton's Bride,' set in the early-20th century, Pemberton returns to town with his bride. Waiting for him at the train station is a woman he has impregnated and her father, ready to kill her seducer. Knives flash. Pemberton quickly dispatches the old man; case closed. After all, he owns the lumber company, the only large-scale business in town. The icy, imperious couple dominates the community like royalty, until they overreach with a double murder. This long story, a natural for the big screen, chills to the bone. Some contemporary stories, though not in that league, are also powerful. In 'Deep Gap,' a father, helpless against the spread of drugs into country towns, tries desperately to save his son from his habit, and the brutal dealers he can't pay. 'Dangerous Love' features a carnival knife-thrower and his partner; they fall in love. What makes their love dangerous is the intensity of their passion. 'The Projectionist's Wife' is a dramatic coming-of-age story; a 14-year-old boy saves a woman from a questionable tryst and kills his first deer, both within an hour. Violence is seldom far away. A college teacher, responding to a personal ad, is brought up short when the woman tells him her husband is set to kill her once he gets out of prison ('Honesty'). A daredevil teenager, stealing marijuana, gets caught in a bear trap ('Speckled Trout,' the basis for The World Made Straight). A charming exception is 'Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes,' in which three old geezers get a new lease on life when they take on a giant sturgeon. No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go."—Kirkus Reviews

"Rash, a poet and novelist steeped in Appalachia, offers 13 haunting and picturesque stories that illuminate the terms of survival in that often forgotten landscape . . . [E]ach character is imbued with empathy and grace . . . An apt encapsulation of a hardscrabble world, tinged with loyalty and love, but ruled by hard justice and revenge."—Deborah Donovan, Booklist

Table of Contents
Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes
Last Rite
Blackberries in June
Not Waving but Drowning
Cold Harbor
Dangerous Love
The Projectionist's Wife
Deep Gap
Pemberton's Bride
Speckled Trout

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Their Ancient, Glittering EyesBecause they were boys, no one believed them, including the old men who gathered each morning at the Riverside Gas and Grocery. These retirees huddled by the potbellied stove in rain and cold, on clear days sunning out front like reptiles. The store's middle-aged owner, Cedric Henson, endured the trio's presence with a resigned equanimity. When he'd bought the store five years earlier, Cedric assumed they were part of the purchase price, in that way no different from the leaky roof and the submerged basement whenever the Tuckaseegee overspilled
Read the full excerpt


  • Ron Rash

  • Ron Rash is the author of several novels, including the prizewinning One Foot in EdenSaints at the River, and The World Made Straight, all published by Picador.  He has also published three collections of poetry and two of short stories. He is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize and the James Still Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. For Saints at the River he received the 2004 Weatherford Award for Best Novel and the 2005 SEBA Best Book Award for Fiction. His work has been featured in The Yale ReviewSewanee Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere. Rash holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University and lives in Clemson, South Carolina.
  • Ron Rash