Nothing Gold Can Stay is a collection of short stories by award-winning author, Ron Rash. These stories explore the consequences of desperate decisions, the power of blood ties, and the rewards or punishments of sacrifice. The title story is about two young men who sneak into an old man’s house for his war trophies. But throughout the story, one of the men repeatedly thinks back to the days of his youth and the fun they had fishing. In the end, the young man only takes himself further from those Eden-like memories. The innocence was lost long ago and the man has, in a sense, already written his destiny. This is the case with many of the characters in these stories. They are trapped, whether through their own doings, or by virtue of the roots that they have in the land…or that the land has in them.
In Cherokee, a young couple gambles their money in a last ditch effort to save their truck from being repossessed. And though they may have come out on top, the true cost of their decision is only beginning to be realized. In A Servant of History, an English professor comes to Appalachia seeking old songs that have been lost. His quest for fame takes an unexpected turn when he finds himself facing the consequences of an ancestral feud from down his mother’s bloodline. And in The Dowry, an old, Confederate officer who lost his hand in the war, refuses to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to a young man who fought on the Union side. His price is, as quoted from the Bible, “an eye for an eye.” So a minister, advocating on behalf of the young couple, makes the ultimate sacrifice.
The writing is mostly stark with occasional, surprising poetic moments. The stories are usually grim. When there is violence, it comes in a startling form. But there are also moments of morbid beauty. In Something Rich and Strange, a diver finds a drowned girl, but is haunted by how peaceful and life-like she is. In his dreams, she tells him that she should never have been afraid of it; that the world down there was better than the world above. It’s an eery moment, beautiful and frightening. And you get the sense that the land–Appalachia–is a powerful player in the lives of these characters.
I fully enjoyed this reading. I sometimes think that literary fiction must be read with a furrow on my brow and a note-taking pen in my hand. But the thematic elements in this, though powerful, are not overly complicated. You can read, relaxed, and let them wash over you. There are surprises here that will make you laugh. And even the occasional moment of redemption for some of the characters.
I recommend this to anyone. It’s my first experience with this author and I intend, now, to look into his other work as well.
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Ecco. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.