Author Fred Chappell to sign Ancestors and Others
“Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories,” by Fred Chappell. St. Martin’s Press. 2009. 304 pp. $27.99.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Book reviewers use the word luminous too much, but Fred Chappell’s new short story collection does, indeed, glow.
Just the first few stories are enough to show the reader what a gem Chappell is, how beautifully he uses words, painting pictures, evoking emotions and inspiring the imagination.
“The Three Boxes” is a treasure of a creation story, a tiny morality drama that will make you look at the world differently.
It begins, “Three men, naked but of indeterminate color, came at last to the edge of a river.”
The men must swim across the river to open three large boxes on the other side. The content of those boxes is most intriguing, as are the men’s reactions. The nuances of the story bring up questions about religion, philosophy, history, race, responsibility.
Then Chappell goes for something completely different.
“Ember” is a spooky ghost story perfect for this time of year. Again, it includes a little morality lesson.
A man runs into the wilds of Ember Mountain after killing his cheating love. But he sees a strange site in a little cabin in those woods: “I decided to take another look, and this time it wasn’t an old woman in her rocking chair, but another kind of thing hard to tell about. All gnarled and rooty like the bottom of a rotted oak stump turned up.”
In “The Overspill,” you can hear the brown water rushing through the tiny creek ó “As the sound got louder, it discomposed into many sounds: lappings, bubblings, rippings, undersucks, and splashovers.” It ruins the special present a boy and his father have made.
“The tear on my mother’s face got larger and larger. It detached from her face and became a shiny globe, widening outward like an inflating balloon. At first the tear floated in the air between them, but as it expanded, it took my mother and father into itself.”
Then Chappell turns to a sort of science fiction genre with “Alma,” a cautionary tale about a drover of women in a weirdly wild West. Think “Planet of the Apes,” but with a twist.
Hold on to your hats for the simply amazing two-pager, “Judas.” Funny, ironic, flippant, this story might take your breath away. And yes, it’s about that Judas, and his reasons for turning Jesus in.
“Mankind Journeys Through Forests of Symbols,” will raise yet more philosophical, metaphysical questions. It seems that a rather large dream is “blocking Highway 51 between Turkey Knob and Ember Forks.”
This one’s so funny: “Sheriff Balsam observed that it would be a problem. No dream of such scale and density had been reported before in North Carolina, and this one looked to be difficult.”
But an expert comes in and gives the sheriff bad news: This is not a dream at all, but a Symbolist poem, far more serious.
Chappell’s milieu is poetry, and his prose reflects that, with turns of phrase that can be savored for a long time. His descriptions are crystalline, whether of something beautiful or something ugly.
He sets a tone in each story, carrying readers from place to fantastic place.
Most of the stories have been published before, some as long as 20 years ago. But the collection is wonderfully eclectic.Don’t miss out on this superb selection. Read it in your book club or with a friend, and discuss, discuss, discuss.
Fred Chappell will be at Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St., Friday, 7-9 p.m., for a reception and signing. He will also read from his stories.