Refresh, Refresh, By Benjamin Percy

Reviewed,Brandon Robshaw
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:14

Blood is spilt in every one of these 10 stories, whether as the result of a fight, a car crash, a gunshot wound, the killing of an elk or a mauling by a bear. In one story a man falls from a tree and breaks his pelvis; blood fills his scrotum until it's the size of a baby's head. Written in an urgent present tense, every story starts out tough and gets tougher. Events follow a wild, remorseless logic of their own. Whenever you expect Percy to touch the brakes, he hits the accelerator. Few of the stories end calmly, with the plot neatly wrapped up; Percy prefers to end on a note of ongoing tension. "When the Bear Came" leaves the reader with the memorable image of a giant grizzly straining at the leash that holds it, staring ferociously into the eyes of the man who stands 10 paces away with a levelled rifle.

"Meltdown" takes you on a trip on a Harley Davidson through the badlands of Oregon after a nuclear disaster in 2015; the trees glow at night with radioactivity and the area is terrorised by a roving band of looters and murderers who tie their trophy victims to the roofs of their Cadillacs, like deer. "Whisper", a tale of long-unsatisfied lust, ends with a scene in a hospital ward that is shocking, repulsive, sad and embarrassing all at the same time.

Percy explores the tensions inherent in marriage, in friendship and, especially, father and son relationships. He has an acute sense of place, of the hills and caves and woods and wildlife of Oregon, and the small towns where the war in Iraq hangs over the menfolk like a stormcloud. This is a big, bold, brave, ballsy, beautiful book. Reading it is like being punched in the face 10 times. But in a good way.

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