BASS 2010: Ron Rash, “The Ascent”

I’m going to get myself in trouble here. Because I didn’t think much of this story, and I seem to be the only person on the planet – including the Tin House editors, Richard Russo, and whoever it is that decides who wins the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award – who felt it was manipulative and trite. But come on – Lyndee doesn’t like Jared, our ten-year-old narrator, because his clothes smell bad, so he fantasizes about protecting her from imaginary bears, Mom and Dad are crackheads (or whatever the drug is, meth I’m told) and Mom’s making a Christmas tree by draping tin foil over logs in the fire, and Dad swipes the ring ten-year-old Jared swiped off a dead body and buys more crack (plus a box of Lucky Charms and a beat-up old bike). And Jared would rather spend time in a plane with two dead bodies than with the dying bodies he lives with. What, no “Please, sir, I want some more”?

Maybe I’ve become hardened. But I don’t think so. I’ve read stories about children in tough situations that broke my heart – “Summer, Boys” and “All Boy” to name two very recent ones. Maybe I’m just not up to unrelenting misery and injustice, a la “Rollingwood”. Maybe I’m just read out. Maybe if I read it again in a few months I’ll feel differently. But it just felt like overkill.

Originally published in Tin House, this story is included in the collection Burning Bright which won the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award in 2010. So I’m a little nervous posting this. But I swore I’d be honest in these comments, and I felt jerked around, with every possible woe heaped on this kid. And of course, it’s Christmas. Maybe that was the tipping point. I’m not naïve; I know there are kids who live this kind of life. I didn’t feel compassion or empathy with this kid. I just got annoyed at the author standing over my shoulder saying “Look how bad it is!” every three paragraphs.

I guess I still have a lot to learn.

7 responses to “BASS 2010: Ron Rash, “The Ascent”

    • I can go for horrible childhoods if there’s something else there – I just didn’t see anything else there, here. No unusual imagery. Symbolism so blatant even I could see it. Writing appropriate for the setting, sort of, though sometimes a little too high-flown, I think. But I’m sure I’ll find out how stupid I am, and what I missed, when the BASS office gets to it. 😉

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  4. I think you missed the point. The story describes how escapism, through drugs or daydream, can lead to a person’s downfall, equal in their effects. Remember at the end of the story where Jared goes back to the plane before the snowstorm? That airplane is his escape, his narcotic, his fantasy realm where his reality cannot reach him. Inside he becomes cold, shivering until he no longer feels anything; he becomes numb, much like his parents on drugs. It’s a play on the “vehicle of escape.” For his parents, its getting high; for Jared, it’s a physical vehicle that has the same effect, becoming numb to outside stressors, easing the pain of his own troubled childhood.

    • Hi, Phil. Thanks for your comment and I agree that’s an element of the story – I didn’t so much miss the point as I didn’t care about the point by the time the story was done with me. I wonder, if I read this story again today, or in ten years, would it have fallen so flat for me? No way to tell, I can’t un-remember it (though if I wait long enough, that might happen). For sure, I would’ve written better comments.
      Wait, Phil Lesh? No way. What would Phil Lesh be doing with an aol account. 😉

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