Paperback review: Nothing Gold Can Stay, By Ron Rash

What we really want from each other

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The Independent Culture

A couple of years ago, it seemed as though the short story really did belong to women – from Scheherazade's nightly tales to the 20th century's equivalent, Katherine Mansfield, from Grace Paley and Alice Munro, to Lorrie Moore and Claire Keegan, women's prominence and excellence at the form made many of us wonder if it was particularly well suited to women writers.

Rash would no doubt give short shrift to such gender bias, but his jacket covers offer comparison to great male short story writers alone, not female ones – Carver, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy. It's as though there's a fault-line, separating the sexes. Yet Rash's stories also recall Carson McCullers in their authentic rural setting, and there's more than a hint of Shirley Jackson in the deliciously Gothic-seeming tale of the witless Englishman James Wilson, in search of near-forgotten English folk songs among the immigrants of the Appalachian mountains, who stumbles across a very old and bloody betrayal, much to his cost.

The battle of the sexes takes on a new twist between "trusty" prisoner Sinkler and the innocent Lucy Sorrels; an impoverished young couple chance their luck on the one-arm bandit; a war-wounded father won't let his daughter marry the man she adores until reparation is made. All these stories speak about relationships, and at their heart is often the desire for something better, something more. Rash's unforgettable, beautifully crafted, sure and strong stories tap into what human beings want from each other, and want from the world. That subject matter is surely genderless.