This perfectly rendered story collection (208 pages) was published in July of 2020 by Henry Holt and Company. The book takes you to Appalachia. David read F*ckface and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
This collection of 12 stories set in Appalachia will stop you in your tracks in the best way possible. These are tales about sex and death and being human and the collapse of the environment — all set in post-coal Appalachia.
Author Leah Hampton said of the assertive title of her literary debut, ‘If I’m going to be 46 years old when my first book comes out, y’all are going to know the name.’ The stuff inside the covers of her book is worthy of the attention. Her characters are park rangers and GameStop employees and rural firefighters. They wrestle with family trouble and health issues and loneliness and desire.
Some of the stories are funny; most will make you wince at least once. All of them will transport you directly to the Blue Ridge mountains.
The title story is worth the price of admission — It will stomp all over your heart and then take up residence in it. Exhibit A to back up this assertion: The first line. ‘Nothing’ll ever fix what’s broken in this town, but it would be nice if they’d at least get the dead bear out of the parking lot at Food Company.’
It goes on very effectively from there. The narrator is a young queer woman living a sheltered life in a small town. Her name is Pretty, and she works in the grocery store while nursing a crush on her friend Jamie. Jamie is leaving town for Asheville — which they call ‘hippietown’ — and is trying to convince Pretty to move with her. As she’s making her sales pitch for why the city could be a good move, she says, encouragingly, ‘Girl, you could be out and proud.’ Pretty picks at a scab on her ‘fat knuckle’ and shrugs. ‘Proud of what?’
The story ‘Saint’ begins this way:
_Your brother is going to die in twelve years. It is winter. Lake Huron has frozen, and the family is staying in a cabin near the shore. These cabins are cheap in winter; nobody even bothers to ice fish around here. It is so cold. You are eight. Your brother is eleven and demands that you accompany him on a walk by the lakside. ‘We might see bears,’ he says, ‘but don’t be scared.’ Your brother is eleven. He knows where the bears are.__
Another story ‘Sparkle’ features a ‘cotton-candy-pink ticket booth,’ a water park next to Dollywood, and a near-mythological promise of seeing Ms. Dolly Parton in the flesh.
This book was named a Best Book of 2020 by The Paris Review, the New York Public Library, Slate, and others. It’s easy to see why.
Inside the cotton-candy-pink ticket booth, Mavis — that’s what her name tag said — shifted her ample, cardiganed breasts off the counter and looked out the customer window to see if there was anybody behind us.
‘Now, it’s not her usual thing,’ said Mavis when she’d decided we were alone. ‘But.’
Behind me, James tensed. I figured it was going to be some kind of sales pitch for Splash Country, the water park next to Dollywood. James and I did not want to go to Splash Country. It was November, and it was raining. Mavis looked me square in the face.
‘Bu-ut’ — Mavis dropped her twang to an emphysemal whisper — ‘Dolly … is in the park today.’ She twitched her mouth and pursed it to the side, satisfied with herself, then placed her hands primly on the cotton candy windowsill.
‘No shit,’ I said.
‘Oh, yes, ma’m,’ said Mavis. Her hands went pat, pat, softly. — Leah Hampton
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