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Upheaval: Stories

Chris Holbrook
Series: Kentucky Voices
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 1995, Chris Holbrook burst onto the southern literary scene with Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia, stories that Robert Morgan described as "elegies for land and lives disappearing under mudslides from strip mines and new trailer parks and highways." Now, with the publication of Upheaval, Holbrook more than answers the promise of that auspicious debut. In eight interrelated stories set in Eastern Kentucky, Holbrook again captures a region and its people as they struggle in the face of poverty, isolation, change, and the devastation of land and resources at the hands of the coal and timber industries. In the title story, Haskell sees signs of disaster all around him, from the dangers inherent in the strip-mining machinery he and his coworkers operate to the accident waiting to happen when his son plays with a socket wrench. Holbrook employs a native's ear for dialect and turns of phrase to reveal his characters' complex interior lives. In "The Timber Deal," two brothers -- Russell, a recovering addict recently released from prison, and Dwight, who hasn't worked since being injured in a coal truck accident -- try to convince their upwardly mobile sister, Helen, to agree to lease out timber rights to the family land. Dwight is unable to communicate his feelings, even as he seethes with rage: "Helen can't see past herself, is what it is. If John James had fractured his back in two places, it'd be a different story. If he'd broke his neck, it'd be a different story told." Written with a gritty, unflinching realism reminiscent of the work of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, the stories in Upheaval prove that Holbrook is not only a faithful chronicler and champion of Appalachia's working poor but also one of the most gifted writers of his generation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7350-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
    (pp. 1-16)

    WHEN SOMEBODY WENT INTO Ruby Hall’s house and tied her up and stole the shoe-box full of cash and savings bonds she’d kept hid behind a bag of quilt pieces in her closet and the cameo brooch she’d kept wrapped in an old duster in the middle drawer of her bureau and the silver-plated pocket watch of her late husband’s she’d kept in a candy dish on her night table, everybody said it must have been somebody who knew her, knew she was an old widow woman living by herself that they could just go in on and have their...

    (pp. 17-30)

    IT WAS THE MIDDLE of the day before they crossed into Kentucky. Wayne was less tense now, though he’d been so agitated in the morning that Kharmin had made him go wait in the car until she could get herself and Ashton packed and out the door. For the first hour of the trip he’d grieved over how much time they were losing by not beating the morning traffic out of town. He’d complained about how congested a town Dayton was and how dirty it looked with the streets covered in frozen sludge and the plowed snow drifts polluted with...

    (pp. 31-46)

    THE SIDEWALK IN FRONT of the Hazard Regional Hospital is strewn with cigarette butts. Some of the smokers are visitors, I grant you. But some wear gowns and robes. Some have drip bags hooked to their arms. They lean against those hat rack–looking carts, puffing away. The air is too still to clear the smoke. It hangs a few feet above their heads in a darksome cloud. What people won’t do to theirselves.

    They stand off a hair when I walk by. They nod and blow their smoke and watch me with side-turned eyes. The thought of their staring...

    (pp. 47-62)

    MARK’S MOTHER AND SISTER sat bowed over the sewing machine in the corner furthest from the TV, his mother speaking softly while his sister aligned the edges of two pieces of scrap cloth beneath the machine needle. The baby sat beneath their chairs, pulling dress material and folded patterns from the bags of sewing his mother had taken in. When the scrap cloth was in place, Mark’s mother lowered the needle and pressed the foot pedal that his sister’s legs were too short to reach still. The little motor whirred, drowning the sound of the TV and turning the picture...

    (pp. 63-78)

    THE CAB OF THE TRUCK feels hot already, and already Haskell can feel the film of coal and dirt gomming his skin. Clouds of dust rise high enough to pebble his windshield, so thick the roadway edge is barely seeable. He wonders who it is driving the spray truck and why they’re not doing their job.

    As he passes the raw coal bins, he meets George Turner flying toward him on his road grader, the machine bouncing so high on its tires that Haskell feels a gut-clench of fear. He thinks to himself, That’s too fast. He’s going too fast....

    (pp. 79-102)

    IT WAS MOSTLY WOMEN ganged about the front doors, sitting on the concrete steps or leaning on the handrail or standing with their backs pressed against the brick exterior wall. Some held cigarettes hidden at their sides and kept a lookout over their shoulders. They took quick puffs, turning their faces toward dark corners to let out the smoke. Others seemed to make a show of their smoking. They waved lit cigarettes around as they talked, the glowing embers making trails in the gloom.

    Trina looked to go in another way, but there were no other lighted entrances to be...

    (pp. 103-124)

    SHE JUST TOOK OFF walking, not even a coat on, not even her head covered up. It was like she couldn’t walk fast enough. Shondra’s legs and even her arms and hands trembled with needing to move, her heart beating so fast it seemed like to lurch from her chest. The hell with them, she thought; the hell with them, the hell with them. She made fists and swung wildly, left after right after left, making the rainfall spatter, getting satisfaction from that slight violence. The hell, she thought and swung, with them.

    The road dipped her sideways. Shondra didn’t...

    (pp. 125-152)

    DWIGHT HAS BEEN NEEDING to stand to get his back in a different position for twenty minutes now. It feels like somebody jabbing the point of a needle into the back of his neck, the pain shooting from his head down deep into his hips. What he needs is to get his neck into the traction harness for a while. Or else he needs to stretch out, have his wife pull on his legs until he’s less jammed up. If he could just stand and lean on the table for a while. They’ll all look at him, though, if he...