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Volt by Alan Heathcock

Volt (edition 2011)

by Alan Heathcock

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133890,390 (3.96)50
Authors:Alan Heathcock
Info:Minneapolis, MN : Graywolf Press, 2011.
Collections:Read but unowned

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Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
For my first "book club" read I wasn't too happy honestly with the book that I was hoping to enjoy immensely. The stories personally did not resonate with me in any fashion and in most instances felt like I was beginning to wonder why I was reading the book. I pushed through it because I never like to be the person to leave a book without reading the final word on the final page.

Mr. Heathcock does a great job of writing in this book, but that doesn't always mean that a story or in this case stories will resonate with the reader. He has too many stories in the woods or a wilderness setting that may be off putting to readers that do not enjoy the great outdoors. Also there is this almost "religious" feeling about the book that also didn't sit well with me. I am not an overly religious individual and that was some baggage I brought into reading this book which immediately put me off of it.

Also the theme of murder and death seemed to sound through almost every story contained within. While I love a good mystery these did not feel like those types of stories, save for one. These stories felt like just a reflection of anyone's life. These characters could have been anyone in any town, which may be what the writer was going for. It didn't work for me though. ( )
  EricPatterson | Mar 30, 2013 |
Volt: Stories apparently is Alan Heathcock's first short story collection, and it's an impressive one. All eight stories take place in a beaten down U.S. farm town named Krafton, and some characters, like tenacious former grocer store manager and now sheriff Helen Farraley, appear in more than one. The stories therefore loosely tie together in various ways. My thanks to Richard for recommending this one.

The first story, "Staying Freight", features the aftermath of a terrible farming accident that kills a young boy. His father struggles to accept it, and in doing so. at one point finds himself in a nearby town taking punches for betting money. Escape, and the inability to really do so, is a theme of a number of the stories. These stories are often grim in their details, but true to life, and they demonstrate the resiliency the town's citizens have even in dark circumstances.

Krafton is not a home for celebrities or displays of wealth. Every penny and bit of happiness is hard-earned and precious. As one character, Jorgen Denmore, describes it, a sergeant urged him and his fellow soldiers in an overseas war to protect the world "back home, where folks ate cheeseburgers and kids had sleepovers and ballgames and people went to work and got angry over stupid shit that didn't matter. Like their TV ain't no good, or they ain't got the right sneakers. Some shit like that." While it was "supposed to rally us, I guess", all Jorgen, whose family is on the bottom rung of the town's ladder, can think is "how I ain't never had no sleepovers or ball games or none of that shit, and didn't none of it make a damn lick of sense."

In one story, faced with someone who committed a horrific act, Helen wreaks justice that is in the community's best interest, even though she knows community members wouldn't approve the means she uses. In another, she treats the criminal with compassion, as she knows he has a good heart and remembers him from when they were kids. Another woman explains how some go wrong, like her son: "You think some are bad or evil or whatnot, but somewhere along the way they were someone's baby, suckling the teat like anybody. Then something puts a volt in 'em and they ain't the same no more. You might think a man like Harlan don't care much what his mama thinks. But I shunned him and he couldn't ever shake it." Helen's view, expressed elsewhere: "Some are guilty the moment you lay eyes on them, and what the law ought to do is stop 'em 'fore they can do what they're born to do."

Heathcock obviously has deep feelings for his characters and their circumstances, and admires them for the way they handle the cards they've been dealt. It's a tough world, and there's room for compassion and kindness, but you better be ready to rise up to meet it when the time comes. ( )
4 vote jnwelch | Feb 12, 2013 |
Thanks to Richard for bringing this amazing collection of short stories to my attention. I say amazing because these stories are dark and disparaging, and yet it is not depressing to read them. They capture so exquisitely those moments of tragedy that are part of every community. I used to live in a small town that was mostly farms, and these stories that are anchored by their location, the fictional city of Krafton, ring true. It is important, I think, to read them in the order in which they are presented, some characters appear in more than one story and sequence becomes valid here, adding depth to their presence. All eight stories are good, but The Daughter was my favorite, and Lazarus was my least favorite. Dig in - I do not think you will be disappointed, and you will have food for thought long after you have closed the pages.

"'I wish I could take my brain and put it inside your head,' Winslow said. 'Just for a moment. Then you'd know what all I can't find how to say.'" - from The Staying Freight

"'Ever feel like your mind's set funny?' Hep said. 'Like ain't a person in the world could understand you? I think I'm crazy. I really think I must be.' Walt watched Hep's face, flushed in the mercurial light. 'Sometimes I wish I was in the movies,' he said. 'Not to be famous or nothing. I just wish I was made of light. Then nobody'd know me except for what they saw up on that screen. I'd just be light up on the silver screen, and not at all a man.'" - from Fort Apache

"The crop whispered, the corn swaying.... The sky hung a black cloth sprinkled with luminous dust." - from The Daughter

"Things vanished. People vanished. Clouds gave way to sun gave way to night. Only feelings, like spirits, endured, branded to the back of our eyes, laced into our marrow. Miriam lifted a sweater to her face, blue and soft and threadbare at the elbows, still holding a hint of her mother's scent. Try as she might, she couldn't imagine her mother on streets of gold, washed in ethereal light, couldn't even imagine her wearing this sweater, which had been her favorite. Miriam could only recall her mother as she'd seen her that day at the morgue, a sheet to her chin...She considered this life and the next, decided Heaven and Hell were just where the living chose to put you once you passed..." - from The Daughter ( )
3 vote Crazymamie | Jan 22, 2013 |
I so wanted to like this... but I just didn't, really. The writing, in many parts, was technically very good, and it had several very insightful moments, but it left me cold. ( )
  Heduanna | Jan 12, 2013 |
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Book Description: A blistering collection of stories from an exhilarating new voice

One man kills another after neither will move his pickup truck from the road. A female sheriff in a flooded town attempts to cover up a murder. When a farmer harvesting a field accidentally runs over his son, his grief sets him off walking, mile after mile. A band of teens bent on destruction runs amok in a deserted town at night. As these men and women lash out at the inscrutable churn of the world around them, they find a grim measure of peace in their solitude.

Throughout Volt, Alan Heathcock’s stark realism is leavened by a lyric energy that matches the brutality of the surface. And as you move through the wind-lashed landscape of these stories, faint signs of hope appear underfoot. In Volt, the work of a writer who’s hell-bent on wrenching out whatever beauty this savage world has to offer, Heathcock’s tales of lives set afire light up the sky like signal flares touched off in a moment of desperation.

My Review: When reviewing collections, it's hard to know what to say about them whole and entire unless they're linked stories. With a group of stories like this book is, it's easiest and, IMO, best to adopt what I've called “The Bryce Method” in honor of an online friend who introduced me to the technique: A summary opinion, plus a short line or a quote from each story, together with a rating for the story. So as my summary opinion, I offer this: Bleak is not always to be avoided. Sometimes art needs shadows to prove there's light. These stories aren't feel-gooders, and shouldn't be attempted by those in need of uplift. There is none here, but not one of these tough, scrappy folks is gonna lie down and die any time soon. They're too scared of the God they're sure they'll meet on the Other Side.

The stories in book order:

“The Staying Freight” gives new and chilling meaning to “Took a walk, Be back soon.” Why? Coming back is going backwards. Winslow Nettles needs, and needs badly, to go forwards.

“Smoke” is a horrible moment in a no-better-than-you man's life, one that changes him forever and not for better. How can one human bear a burden of sin alone? Better, when you're afraid of the god that you've invented, to load some onto an innocent other. Horrifying, and just beautiful.

“Peacekeeper” brings justice to a world where there isn't any, courtesy of the local grocery-store manager turned Sheriff. Is lying always wrong? After reading this, you won't think so. A beautiful and thought-provoking modern morality tale, complete with purifying flood.

“Furlough” couldn't be more horrible: A man, not a dumb kid, leads a young woman to the kind of rough justice that makes a civilized person's stomach churn. That he hates it, that it is vile and cruel in his eyes, is probably worse than the resulting nightmare. Spare, elegant, and horrifying.

“Fort Apache” sets the purposeless present and the vacant future against the void inside adolescent souls and the results explode into fire, chaos, and that angst of inchoate longing that humans will do anything to escape.

“The Daughter” sets a mother lost to random accident, a daughter whose grief severs her ties to reality wile making the whole world painfully abrasive, and a mother-of-all-storms loose in a cornfield maze. Returning to life, such as it is, is always painful, but it takes the pain of a neighbor's child to turn the daughter's rage outward again.

“Lazarus” is the least successful story, to my mind anyway, but it's still head and shoulders above most anything else I've read this century. When a man is wreathed in the smoke of sacrifices to his vicious god, how can he offer moral guidance? By remaining empty. Then what's needed most, right then and there, can fill you up and come out for who needs it. “It's your song, son...It's not for me to name.” (p179)

“Volt” sets the Sheriff, sworn officer of the court, against everything her hometown's about, and against her own ideas of justice instead of the law, as she cooperates with the city cops in bringing a convicted felon/Iraq war veteran in for a court date.
...”One world was like it was back home, where folks ate cheeseburgers and kids had sleepovers and ball games and people went to work and got angry over stupid shit that didn't matter. Like their TV ain't no good, or they ain't got the right sneakers. Some shit like that.… But then there's another world, where folks ain't got a goddamn thing, and these motherfuckers'll try any damn thing to blow your ass to dust. Sarge says it was up to us to keep them worlds apart, and if we thought that shit that happened over there wouldn't make it back to some little girl's sleepover then we had our heads full-way up our asses. ...Supposed to rally us, I guess. ...But then I had to go back out that next day and the next and all I come to think on was how I ain't never had no sleepovers or ball games or none of that shit, and didn't none of it make a damn lick of sense.”p204

Well. There it is. The people who fight for the rights of us all don't have the privileges of us few. And we wonder how come there are so many walking wounded out there screaming their pain with their guns and dancing to the tune of radio mullahs whose hate and bile spewing nonsense feels just like their listeners do inside.

These are beautiful and brave and sad and wrenching demands for anyone with fifteen dollars to spend on a frippery like a book, or with enough luck to live where there's a library, to pay attention.

Ours is not the only world. No oceans separate us from the enemies we've made within. ( )
13 vote richardderus | Jan 8, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Heatchcock’s language is direct, immediate. He doesn’t traffic in fluff, but he does aim right for the heart. The first page will cut you short; and, I’m betting, rouse you to tears.
Each interconnected story is equally devastating and I had to take small breaks in-between them to catch my breath. Heathcock’s prose possesses a plain spoken lyricism much in the same vein as Kyle Minor and Pollack. His descriptions of small town existence are vivid and painstakingly detailed, but not so much that the reader becomes lost in exposition.

Would it be fair for me to say that Volt heralds the arrival of a new major American voice? Yes, I would say so. Heathcock’s gifts are undeniable.
Volt sets a new standard to which all other fiction collections must now measure themselves. I sense it will be a long time before readers find anything worthy of close comparison, unless Alan Heathcock decides to publish another book, and soon.
Eight stories, by native Chicagoan Alan Heathcock, who lives and works in Idaho, where he seems to have found in that mostly rural state great inspiration in the pathetic and maniacal denizens of small towns around him - or in memories of rural Illinois, also, perhaps: several of these stories celebrating such country matters stand as tall as most of the best stories by many of our most accomplished writers.
“…The sensitivity to spiritual pain and healing reminded me plenty of Flannery O’Connor. The language took me to Faulkner and McCarthy. That the stories all take place in one fictional town, Krafton, reminded me of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. That it is a debut collection I think should find its way into the American canon…”
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A blistering collection of stories, in which the hard lives of Heathcock's characters try-- and sometimes fail-- to deal with the choices they have made.

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