Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: Volt

Read 12/30/10 - 12/31/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Release date: 3/11

So in my mad rush to cram another book into 2010 - I cracked this collection of short stories open and found myself unable to lift my eyes from it's pages. Not because I wanted to finish it before the ball dropped, but because it completely sucked me in and refused to spit me back out!

2010 seemed to be bursting at the "short story" seams. I read more short stories this year than any other years combined and it looks as though 2011 is headed in the same direction. What I love about Alan Heathcock's collection, what sets his book apart from most other collections, is an interconnectedness amongst his characters and their setting.

Volt is a series of short stories that all take place in the made-up town of Krafton: A bad luck, back-woodsy sort of place that reeks of tragedy and mischief. Running into some of the same characters, at different points in their lives, helped create a sense of familiarity and eased the transition between stories for me.

We meet Jorgen as a sort of love-sick, confused young man on the verge of returning to the war - and then catch up with him much later in life, when an outside police force contact Helen, the local sheriff, with a warrant for his arrest after he fails to show for a court date. By this time, we've already met Helen, the local sheriff, as she rescues the townspeople during a flood while reminiscing about a murder she attempted to cover up. Vernon, who we know once helped his father dispose of a man he killed, winds up knocking on his ex-wife's door many years later with a shoe box filled with unread letters from his dead son.

Reading Volt is almost like flipping through the family album, or reading a decades worth of back to back newspaper clippings from a single town. Each story cuts deeper and deeper into the wounds of Krafton and it's residents. Each chapter pulls the skin back a little farther, exposing more of it's filthy rotting core.

Heathcock is a master at torturing his characters - sometimes physically, sometimes mentally. Heathcock allows them to grieve and grow and be human. But he does not hand them resolutions. They do not get closure. We are left to believe that their pain and suffering and frustrations continue long after the stories we've read have ended. That is the beauty of Volt.

His writing and his stories reminded me very much of author Benjamin Percy - who, believe it or not, is acknowledged on the back cover of the ARC with advanced praise for Volt. A must read for fans of the dark, dreary, underside of humanity.

Many thanks to publisher Heathcock's publisher Graywolf Press for making the ARC available to me for review!

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