It is not an exaggeration to compare this first collection of Chris Offutt’s stories with the fiction of William Faulkner. The superficial similarities are clear to see. The nine stories are related to each other thematically and in location; the locale is Southern, rural Kentucky; the stories are infused with folklore elements; we are plunged deeply and sympathetically into characters from a little known and usually marginalized corner of American culture.
The two most impressive stories may be the first-person narratives of young men who find themselves alienated from their local culture. Junior in “Sawdust” is intellectually curious in a society that distrusts book learning and enforces conformity with violence. His struggle to earn a GED leads him to see that most of his neighbors are just waiting to die, though they get up early just the same. The boy narrator of “Blue Lick,” in a painfully humorous voice, reveals the disintegration of his family; he is precocious enough to understand well how this happens, but he is unable to avoid blaming himself.
Another especially impressive group of stories draws on folklore, presenting people and places of mystical power that survive and pass on legacies from a pre-technological culture. For example, in “The Leaving One,” an ancient grandfather passes mystical woods lore to his grandson. And in “Old of the Moon,” an ambitious preacher encounters the “old powers” of the land that he abandoned at his conversion.
Offutt’s subjects remind one of Faulkner, but his style seems more spare and direct. This first title in a multi-book contract with Random House suggests that Offutt may soon be a major voice in American writing.
Sources for Further Study
The Christian Science Monitor. February 16, 1993, p. 11.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, January 31, 1993, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, September 14, 1992, p. 115.