SPR RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Richard Snodgrass seamlessly plunges readers back in time with his latest collection, ReddingUp, unveiling more incredible stories from the fictional mill town of Furnass.
Rich characterizations and powerful (yet broken) figures populate these stories, particularly in “Remaindered,” one of the strongest in the collection. In this hard-edged snapshot of life, a local woman named Carl Brossick confronts a disgraced ex-minister about a horrific sin of his past, even as she tries to overcome her own demons, and keep her aging head above water.
“Her Father’s Daughter” starts readers off with a story of homecoming, of a prodigal daughter whose presence stirs up dark feelings in a town already drained of its glory. With touches of Thomas Wolfe, she undergoes the struggle of saying goodbye to memories, and trying to leave regrets behind. Old family secrets come to light, and Jennifer is reminded of the importance of roots, legacy, and having control over your own story.
The undeniable writing skill and the blunt brilliance of description continue from the author’s other work, sneaking up on complacent readers with lines that absolutely sink the stomach. The best of Snodgrass’ stories are raw in their detail and vulnerability, capturing the suffering of an era not so long ago, in the kind of town many readers may recognize with a grimace or shudder of memory.
As is true in all of Snodgrass’ Furnass writings, the prose is an honest lament for a time long past – a regional saga detailing the painful process of having its heart abruptly torn out. After ten books in this series, there still seems more to tell, as tragic tales of this kind number in the thousands, while the author’s on-the-ground experience gives some sense of the sprawl of this industrial dry-out. The small mill town of Furnass has transformed before readers’ eyes throughout this extended body of work, and it summons thoughts of our new generation of industrial turnover. The same battles are being waged on small-town streets across America to this day, as the world changes at the speed of light, making the book timely in any era.
The stark and well-curated photography that accompanies this collection sets a powerful mood, even before the first story begins. The interludes of “When There Was Steel” are a potent palate cleanser, re-immersing readers in the aesthetic of the collection, making it easier to slip into each new vignette. The simple framing, caption-less presentation, and broad variety make for an ominous but thought-provoking experience, from religious iconography and empty bedrooms to industrial landscapes and home portraits hinting at the coming ruin. When combined with the gritty nuance of the prose, these photographic pairings are amplified even more.
There are very few technical concerns, though some of the extended sections of exposition can slow the pace, as there are occasional moments of rambling or unfocused prose. As always, however, Snodgrass effortlessly transports readers into the longing hearts of a blasted town, for a powerfully written addition to this now-epic series of quintessentially American writing.