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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 ...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Discover Great New Writers

With its recurring characters and variant themes, this striking debut collection of stories about the inhabitants of a single heartland community has captured the imaginations of early readers.


Already a winner of a National Magazine Award in fiction, Heathcock sets his debut collection of edgy, noirish short stories in the fictional town of Krafton, located somewhere in America's heartland. Set against the measureless tableau of the prairie with its wheat and cornfields, his characters encounter the dark, inner impulses of their own hearts.

In these stories, some of which share recurring characters, brokenness and redemption vie with each other and violence simmers menacingly below the surface, erupting in unexpected ways. The title story, "Volt," sees Krafton's female sheriff seeking to apprehend an Iraqi war veteran. In "Peacekeeper," she steps over the line in a missing-person case. The town's Baptist minister attempts to rebuild his marriage after the death of his son in "Lazarus," and in "The Staying Freight" a farmer goes to extremes to deal with his grief and guilt. "Smoke" follows a fifteen-year-old boy who reluctantly helps his father cover up a crime. A group of young teenagers go wild in a deserted town at night, egged on by a collective sense of boredom and alienation in "Fort Apache."

Heathcock's expert storytelling and writing skills invite readers to feel empathy for the characters as they grasp at the deliverance that is sometimes just slightly out of reach. The potent mix of humanity and ominous foreboding throughout Volt will mesmerize readers, keeping them off-kilter and feeling the sharp edge of nervous anticipation.

Publishers Weekly
Heathcock's impressive debut collection pursues modern American prairie characters through some serious Old Testament muck. If it's not flood or fire ravishing the village of Krafton, then it's fratricide, pedocide, or just plain ol' stranger killing. In the National Magazine Award–winning "Peacekeeper," middle-aged grocery store manager Helen Farraley becomes the town's first sheriff and cuts her teeth on a missing-child case. When snow tracks lead her to discover the girl's grim fate, Helen skirts the law so that "the unrighteous cause of her death kept a gracious unknown." In "Smoke," the sins of the father visit 15-year-old Vernon when his war vet father drags him out of bed to cremate the man he's killed. In the suspenseful "The Daughter," we watch the sins drip down the maternal line, as well. Misery is in plentiful supply throughout these dark, thickly atmospheric tales of spiritual desolation and savagery. Fans of William Gay and Daniel Woodrell will savor these stories where sin and suffering shroud the hope of redemption. (Mar.)
Library Journal
This debut collection is a high-voltage reading experience one won't soon forget. The stories are set in an imaginary American town called Krypton that has a prairielike feeling of desolation and high wind. Several are driven by an unnatural death that takes place outside of the narrative frame, and often outside of the law, and the enveloping grief—as unpredictable as the weather—dictates the actions to come. A father sets off on a walk across several states after accidentally mowing down his son with his tractor. A middle-aged woman whose elderly mother has been killed in a hit-and-run accident is possessed of a manic energy that frightens her own daughter. A veteran of a war characterized by great expanses of sand goes AWOL in a cow pasture. VERDICT Heathcock is a writer to watch; each of these subtle stories will thrill readers with an element of surprise that will make them want to go back and see how it happened and what they missed along the way.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
Kirkus Reviews

Raw and rugged, the stories in Heathcock's collection push up against the sharp edge of a world where people live and die, and find any redemption hard-won and sometimes bittersweet.

The book encompasses eight stories, all centered around the fictional town of Krafton and its people, with many of the pieces informing one another. Several characters appear in multiple stories, most notably the town sheriff, Helen Farraley. The collection opens with "The Staying Freight," an affecting tale of guilt and burnt-out acceptance. Winslow Nettles, "as sure a thing as a farmer could be," accidentally kills his young son by running him over with a tiller disk. Nettles walks away from his farm, traveling afoot until he's taken in at a nameless town, only to become part of a freak show. "Smoke" sifts through the aftermath of a killing, one occurring after two trucks meet on an isolated one-lane road and neither driver will give way. "Peacekeeper" follows Sheriff Farraley as she copes with a flood and with the angst of a child-murder. She contrives to make the murder appear to be an accident but then brings vigilante justice to the killer. In "The Daughter," a grieving woman cuts a maze into her corn field, and a little boy goes missing, with guilt enough to cover more than one person involved. Vernon Hamby, a Baptist pastor, appears in several stories, most affectingly in "Lazarus." "Volt," the title story which ends the book, is particularly remarkable for its portrayal of the Delmore clan, a modern family akin to the Snopes of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Heathcock's work is starkly realistic, and his writing is clear and concise and regularly relies on simple declarative sentences. The compendium offers readers a Spoon River Anthology–like sense of place and people, with characters radiating authenticity and coping with fate and folly in an entirely believable manner.

Heathcock has earned a National Magazine Award for his fiction. This book affirms that promise.

Donald Ray Pollock
…impressive…Heathcock's prose, spare and muscular yet poetic, fits the foreboding, God-fearing nature of the stories…Frankly, there is little to fault in any of the eight stories that make up this collection. Undoubtedly, there is much grit and violence in this world, but there is also an abundance of tenderness and compassion. Heathcock displays a generosity of spirit that only those writers who love their characters can summon, and Volt is galvanizing proof of his talent.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975777
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 212
  • Sales rank: 626,339
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

ALAN HEATHCOCK’s work has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, and Best American Mystery Stories, among other places. He is the winner of a National Magazine Award in fiction.

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Read an Excerpt


Dusk burned the ridgeline and dust churned from the tiller discs set a fog over the field. He blinked, could not stop blinking. There was not a clean part on him with which to wipe his eyes. Tomorrow he'd reserved for the sowing of winter wheat and so much was yet to be done. Thirty-eight and well respected, always brought dry grain to store, as sure a thing as a farmer could be. This was Winslow Nettles.

Winslow simply didn't see his boy running across the field. He didn't see Rodney climb onto the back of the tractor, hands filled with meatloaf and sweet corn wrapped in foil. Didn't see Rodney's boot slide off the hitch.

Winslow dabbed his eyes with a filthy handkerchief. The tiller discs hopped. He whirled to see what he'd plowed, and back there lay a boy like something fallen from the sky.

Winslow leapt from the tractor, ran to his son. With his belt, hecinched a gash in the boy's leg. He pressed his palm to Rodney's neck. Blood purled between his fingers. Winslow cradled his son in his lapand watched the tractor roll on, tilling a fading arc of dust toward thefreight rail tracks that marked the northern end of all that was his.

Lights flashed and bells dinged. Winslow stopped his truck at the crossing. A freight engine emerged from the woods, shuddered around the bend. Winslow eyed the train's iron wheels, eyed the hillside beyond the tracks, his old clapboard house, round-roofed barn, grain silos perched above the barley. The train chugged nearer. It'd take twenty minutes to pass. Winslow had thirty-seven acres to swath, had lost so much time with his boy's death, with the funeral and relatives, with long hours holding his wife, Sadie, so many tears she'd cried, so much water in one woman.

The crossing shook. The freight horn shrieked, wailing louder, nearer. Winslow stomped the accelerator. The truck lurched onto the tracks and the engine's nose filled his window. He jerked the wheel and the pickup swerved, rocked, but stayed on the road. He sped up the hill, boxcars flashing in his rearview mirror, train brakes screeching and freight joints howling as the line clawed to a halt.

From high in his combine, Winslow eyed the dormant train, the engine far to the west, the coal cars deep into the eastern woods. An hourhad passed and there it sat. Winslow's nerves were frayed. He turned hisgaze to the reels cutting under the barley. Blackbirds burst from the field. From the corner of his eye, Winslow noticed a flash of white in the crop,then a crouching man sprang and dashed in front of the harrower.

Winslow yanked the brake, struck his head against the back window. His pulse thumped in his throat as he shut down the combine.

Then someone was pounding on the cab, and there stood a man, out of breath, in a white dress shirt under soiled gray coveralls. Winslow threw open the door, hopped down into the field.

"What the hell you doing, mister?" Winslow shouted.

The man pressed nose to nose with Winslow. His eyes wereflushed as if from weeping, his hair white as the moon, and a scar split his lips and curled like a pig's tail onto his cheek.

"Could've killed you," he lisped.

Winslow glanced at the combine. "I could've killed you."

"You son of a bitch," the man barked. "I'm giving you a taste of your own."

"Watch your mouth, mister," Winslow said. "You don't know me from Adam."

The man took Winslow by his overall straps and slung him to the ground. He stood over Winslow, noon sun glinting off sweat in the curl of his scar. "Ain't gonna do it no more," the train man said, pointing down in Winslow's face. "So you just go to hell."

The wind blew the man's hair up into white flames. Winslow set his jaw, thought the man would strike him. Instead, the freight man stood tall, raised the zipper of his coveralls, and took off running.

Winslow watched him sprint up the slope, away from the tracks, away from his train. He ran high-kneed through the barley, past Winslow's house, past the barn and silos, never stopping, never looking back. Soon he was a speck on the horizon, and, as if slipping through apinhole in the sky, the freight man was over the ridge and gone.

For a long time, Winslow sat in the barley, determined to finish his work. But then, his hands shaking, eyes pulsing, he was overcome by a fever. It'd taken all his will just to return to the house.

Now Winslow gathered himself in the foyer. He slumped against a wall, listening to the squeak of a chair. In the front parlor, a wood-paneled room that was dark despite bay windows, Sadie worked needlepoint, yarn draping the sofa, purples and reds and golds unfurled about her rocking chair.

"Taking a break," Winslow called, and hurried back to the kitchen.His eyes burned. His temples throbbed. He pulled open the freezer door and out tumbled frozen peas. Winslow slid down the fridge to the tile floor. He held the peas to his face.

"Hungry, Win?" Sadie asked from the hall, her footsteps approaching, and then she was in the kitchen. "Win?"

Winslow closed his eyes, could feel her at his side, her hot hand on his neck, the other on his forehead.

"Oh, Win," she said. "You're burning up."

Sadie was a furnace blasted over him. Her fingers seared his cheeks,his throat. He pleaded, "Leave me be," then "Please, hon," but she wouldn't move, and the heat rose up in him, his shoulders quaking, his arms.

Winslow thrust his hands against Sadie. She tripped, fell hard against the kitchen table, tumbled to the floor. She lay under the table, clutching her skull.

Winslow rushed to her. "Hon," he said, afraid to touch her. "I'm so sorry, hon."

Sadie turned a cheek against the tile, pulled her hand from her hair. Blood streaked her palm.

Winslow lay awake, aware of his muscles, of his heavy breathing, the groan of the bedsprings. The doctor had given Sadie painkillers and she slept soundly beside him. A swath of her hair had been shaved, her stitches stained orange from the iodine.

Now and forever I'll be the man what killed his boy. A man what shoved his wife. Winslow wanted to wake Sadie and apologize again and again. He was so riled. He rolled gently out of bed and fumbled in the darkness with his overalls and boots.

Winslow bumped down the hall to a door they now kept locked. As a drunk warns himself from a tavern, he'd warned himself from this room. He set his forehead against the door, trying to remember Rodney's face. But only the freight man came to mind, that white hair, the man running, receding through the barley.

Sweat beaded upon Winslow's brow. He hurried into the bathroom and splashed cold water over his face. Again he recalled the freight man shrinking on the ridge, vanishing.

Winslow stepped to the doorway. Moonlight from the parlor trailed up the stairs. He crossed the hall, peered down into the glow. Sadie had removed all the photos of Rodney from the stairwell, and as Winslow descended he traced his fingertips over the nails on which they'd hung.

The front parlor was washed in moonlight. Winslow stepped to the bay window. The land outside was bright. He let his eyes drift far down the slope of barley. At the field's base crouched the wall of train, a lampblack silhouette, a driverless freight.

Why hadn't they come for it? Wouldn't someone miss it by now? Blood ticked in Winslow's skull. The train man's scarred cheek bristled in his mind. That man just ran away. He just left.

Winslow hurried to the kitchen and rummaged through drawers for a notepad and pen. He didn't know what to write. He scribbled:Took a walk. Be back soon.

Winslow read it once, considered its meaning. He had no plan. Just to walk. To settle himself a bit. Winslow folded the paper. He held it to his lips then left it on the kitchen table.

Winslow kicked through the barley. Hill after hill he hiked, eyes always on the next knob. At the edge of his field, he allowed himself to glance back over his shoulder. He'd trod a path of shadow through the crop. Only the silver dome of his silo was visible above the ridge.

He hopped a ditch and pushed between rows of chest-high corn. Atop a bald knob, Winslow found the brightest light on the horizon, what he thought was from a radio tower, but was actually Venus low in the night, and decided he'd only rest when it burned directly overhead.

He crossed a reeking field of mint, a cow pasture, slogged through a muddy pea field. Hours of steady travel found him passing homes of people he'd never met.

On and on he went until, walking through the ropy branchesin a grove of willow trees, speckles of dawn's half-light warmed his face. Winslow rubbed his thighs, considered turning back. But I'll snap, he thought. Hurt Sadie again. I'll just take a day to get my head right. Sadie'll understand. It's for her. For us.

Winslow needed wilderness, needed solitude. But wherever he turned there was a dirt road, the whir of a sewage treatment plant, a bait store's roof winking in the sun. By noon he stood on a bluffabove the wide river that marked the state line. He sidetracked an hour before a rusty trestle gave passage to the other side. Winslow peered between rotting ties as he crossed over the churning brown water, clutching girders until safely aground again.

His ankles were swollen, the balls of his feet blistered. He rested beneath the bridge, stuffed grass into his boot heels and tightened his laces. He hobbled along the berm until pawpaw smothered the shore and the hills seemed untouched. Winslow bulled through overgrowth, limbs scraping his cheeks, burrs biting his socks, his neck and forearms barked by brambles.

Deep in the interior, he rested atop a hardwood knob overlooking a thread of brook. Sunlight bucked on the water. Though his body was still, his mind reeled in flashes: a child's boot upright in a rut; a nurse cutting away Sadie's bloody hair; a man's crooked finger in his face.

Dusk descended and the moon crawled into the trees. Winslow crouched in nightshade, his pocketknife drawn. He figured Sadie had called the neighbors looking for him, possibly called the police, and imagined her working needlepoint and listening for footsteps on the porch. He wept and listened to the woods come to life and didn't sleep.

Dawn bloomed gray green, thunderheads shrouding the hills. It was time to go home, but Winslow's feet were very sore, the walk back so far.

What'll I tell Sadie? he wondered. That I didn't trust you to understand my tears? That I thought you'd see me as weak for the rest of our goddamn lives if I wept just a little? His tiredness was a ballast around his neck, and Winslow tucked his arms into his bibs, eyes closed, and stood that way atop the wooded hill.

Drizzle tapped his eyelids. The rain quickened to a downpour and Winslow scrambled beneath a sandstone ledge. Rain stung sideways, the hill's grass blown flat. The brook slowly swelled, roiling into whitecaps. Mud crept up the slope. When the sun finally burned through the clouds, Winslow was famished. He searched the woods and found bushes overspread with opal berries. He greedily ate them, couldn't swallow them fast enough.

Soon his stomach seized. He vomited. Once again, he shivered with fever. His skin steamed. Winslow stripped naked and, holding an exposed tree root, allowed his body to drag in the cold brook. The gap was lost in shadow, and clutching the root, brown water rushing about his chin, he saw a figure atop the hill, the train man backlit by dusk.

The man stood away from the tree, held up a hand, and waved down. Winslow felt as if something giving chase had finally caught him. He shut his eyes and waited for a hand to pull him from the water and drag him back home. Winslow refused to open his eyes. On and on he waited, but the expected pull never came.

Winslow woke covered in mud. It was a new morning, the sun scorching, the brook receding into its banks. Winslow climbed the hill, found no footprints, no evidence at all of the train man's visit. But the feeling of being pursued remained. He quickly dressed and fled south. At the base of each ridge he thought of Sadie and felt he should backtrack, should begin the long walk home. But then his weary knees lifted, and he stepped up one rock, and then the next.

Deep in the night, after walking all day and on through the evening without a bite to eat, he came upon a yellow tent beside a white truck. Winslow shooed raccoons from a picnic table, devoured stale hot dog buns. Someone moved in the tent, and Winslow stuffed his pockets with pretzel twists, ran clutching a red box of graham crackers.

He raced without direction through the woods, then the trees opened and he crossed a highway, headlights covering him, brake lights flashing, and the land changed again as he dashed headlong into a dark treeless canyon.

Weeks he wandered, awake day and night, eating berries and cress, beetles and worms, an occasional fish, a groundhog caught with his bare hands. Though Winslow's mind hadn't reconciled, his body had evolved. At first he'd always been tired, but now he walked vigorously, all day and without pain. His limbs grew sleek, stomach ribbed with granite, beard and hair tangled and sunbleached, skin baked into a russet hide.

The first leaves began to turn and Winslow wondered if maybe his grief would fade with the season. Sunburn no longer affected him, and as the autumn air cooled he did not shiver, and therefore believed he'd tapped some vein man had long since lost beneath quilts and down comforters.

Not a day went by he didn't consider going home. Some days he'd backtrack a mile, sometimes longer, before a quake of anguish turned him away again.

One tin-skied day, the rain upon hollyhock conjured the scent of Sadie's perfume. Winslow ran weeping in the direction he believed led home, ran all afternoon and into the night, stopping only when confronted by a wall of peaks. There was no way around; the first time through had taken two full days to scale and descend.

Winslow dropped to his knees. In his periphery he glimpsed a presence, and believed the train man had again found him. But when he turned he saw only a scraggly pine rising from the rock.

Winslow hurled stones at the little tree. Wrung its trunk as if it were a throat. He flailed and throttled the sapling to the ground. Winslow hugged its limbs and tried to weep, but was, at last, dry of tears. Under a pale moon, Winslow knew he no longer belonged to the world of men and would forever roam the woods as a lost son of the civil.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 18, 2011

    Amazing Collection from a powerful New Voice! Highly Recommended!

    This book has been so well reviewed that I'm a little intimidated to add my two cents. I lack eloquence in this area. I will say that reading the opening story "Staying Freight," made me want to just sit and be grateful for family in the same the way that watching a good friend or family member fight and struggle against some terrible circumstance that leaves us all helpless makes me need to sit back and be grateful. These stories reflect back to the reader what it means to be human especially when we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in all the things in this world that would encourage us to forget that. In addition, the writing is beautiful throughout and language makes me ridiculously green with envy. I haven't finished the collection -- in a strange way I am hoarding it, reading it a story at a time only when I have a enough time to properly fall into the book, I am simultaneously dying to find enough time to finish it and lamenting the fact that at some point it will be over.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2011

    Keep Your Eye on Heathcock...

    This book is not for the faint of heart. If you want sappy happy sugary fluffy bunnies, do not buy this book. But if you like your fiction raw and meaty and gritty, and more crafted than merely written, real Volt. It's humanity laid bare, in all the glory and despair of real life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2011

    Stories of redemption

    The author's debut collection of stories displays his courage, integrity, imagination, and empathy for the lowliest characters humanity has to offer. Each story is set in the small town of Krafton. Beyond this, each story takes place under extreme circumstances and displays the authors amazing creativity. The title story stars a drifter father who lost his son in a farming accident. The father's body turns hard as rock and he ends up a side show spectacle in a small town bar where locals pay money to try and knock him out. Another story features a son who helps his father cremate a man the father accidently killed. Other stories have Krafton flooded and the town's sherrif's has to attempt to keep the small town civil; and another with a gang of misplaced teens who destroy a small town with bowling balls. While reading it's easy to imagine each of the eight stories translated into a movie. That's how each of Heathcock's scenes feel, very cinematic. At times I was awed with the believability of outrageous events, such as the town's sherrif thoroughly defeated, sharing a beer and a cigarette with a murderer she intends to let escape.

    In Krafton, Heathcock has created a world where terrible things happen. Murders, deaths, revenge, destruction, and disasters all set a very ominous tone. Each of the central characters have committed unforgivable offenses. Sometimes against law and society, sometimes against those they love. However, this is not Heathcock's greatest accomplishment. This lies in his clear understanding of the nature of life. Heathcock builds suspenseful scenes, then ties them together with one sentence, which will break your heart. Heathcock is teeming with empathy. Hope abounds in this abysmal world. Each character is given the opportunity for redemption to make right their awful wrongs. Redemption, which may or may not be seized. An opportunity for redemption, which some characters never even realize they have. This is the true genius of Heathcock's work. The empathy which the reader feels for these characters displays the true mastery and art of Heathcock's talents and the heart the author has for the dredges of society.

    In the story Lazarus, a couple married thirty years is driven to divorce by the madness created by loosing their son in a war. The reader feels the father, a local priest, has wrongfully taken from his wife the last articles which remains of their son. In an attempt to right his wrong, he returns to his wife, offers her that which he has taken. Which may have worked. However, Heathcock astutely writes:

    "So much of life they'd shared, so many laughs, so many touches. But there were things people should never share, but he and Martha had those things between them, too."

    Somethings can never be undone. Like the love you'll have for Volt, and the greater understanding of life you'll gain.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Every last word is stunning!

    I was unable to put this collection down. From the first page to the last, every word, sentence is thought out and meaningful. Heathcock writes from a place of empathy, he's so in touch with who his characters are, this in turn comes alive on the page as you are reading. Whether it's the grief of a father or the fearless nature of youth, this collection of short stories sort out the absurdity of war and the fragile nature of peace. At a time when these elements are tenuous, delicate themes, Heathcock gives an enlightened perspective-- his voice a light from beyond the darkness.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2013

    These were pretty good stories. Certainly the characters were tr

    These were pretty good stories. Certainly the characters were true to life. I don't condone some of the behavior, which is immoral by most anyone's standards; however, it is very human and realistic. I won't give any spoilers, in case you want to buy this book for yourself, or check it out of a library. At times, these stories reminded me of Flannery O'Connor's writing, and that's about the highest compliment I could give them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012

    Watchers leave.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2012


    Lays next to him and huggles

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2012


    Yawns laying watching tv

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012


    Is tom also keith

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  • Posted August 22, 2012

    What an interesting book Volt is. Alan Heathcock is a teacher o

    What an interesting book Volt is. Alan Heathcock is a teacher of
    fiction writing at an American university. The attributes I imagine
    would go to making a good teacher of fiction are put on display in this
    collection and it is clear that the future of creative writing is safe
    for another generation. That said, I do have a slightly mixed reaction
    to Volt. The first three pages should be enough to convince any reader
    that they’ve made a good decision with their selection. The power of it
    demonstrates just how to open a story. And it moves on from there in a
    way that reeled me in without problem. It tells of how Winslow Nettles
    deals with tragedy in his life in gripping fashion, the man sinking to
    depths most writers wouldn’t be able to imagine and certainly not
    execute in such a skilled fashion. ‘The Staying Freight’, then, is an
    amazing opening. And it gets better. ‘Smoke’ has a father and son
    bonding in a way that most family will hopefully never get to
    experience. ‘Peacekeeper’ is better still, with a time-jumping piece
    that shifts back and forth to reveal the story of a missing girl.
    ‘Furlough’ is the icing on the cake for me. It’s my favourite here and
    is about a modern-day war veteran trying to find his feet. Here’s a
    little of Furlough. Jorgen is telling the girl he’s escorting about his
    pet: “I got a bird,” he said. “A bird?” “A little parakeet.” “What’s
    she called?” Jorgen felt uneasy. “Don’t know,” he said.”Never called it
    nothing.” Mary Ellen smacked his shoulder. Laughed like he’d told a
    joke. He watched her mouth, the white of her teeth, the gap in the
    front. “Tried to set it free today, but it wouldn’t go.” “Bet you treat
    it well.” “It don’t say one way or the other.” “It didn’t fly off,” she
    said. “That’s how it says. “I guess.” “You might be too nice for my
    cousin,” Mary Ellen said. “She’d eat you alive.” “I ain’t that nice.”
    Which is such a fine demonstration of who Jorgen is and adds to the
    sense of building menace of the story. And there’s some beautiful
    description to illuminate the darkness of the work which acts as a
    counterpoint to the blunt overall style. Try this picture of a building
    fire on for size: ‘In the lane, oil lapped tiny spectral flames like a
    riot of hummingbirds.’ Beautiful. When put together with the final
    story, these four make a collection that is just about perfect. In
    between them, however, are a handful of stories which didn’t do it for
    me. All the ingredients seemed to be there – the bleak outlook, the
    potency of individual sentences, the extremely well-written characters
    and the odd angles at which we get to see them – it’s just that I didn’t
    connect to them for some reason. They felt a little long. I didn’t
    quite get the meaning behind them. Felt they ended without the
    emotional kick of the others. I suspect that my issues with these few
    entries might put me in the minority of opinion – you’ll just have to
    read them and find out for yourselves, for read them you must if you are
    on the lookout for really talented authors. For the stories I loved,
    there’s no way I can offer any other review summary other than 5 stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2012

    uggghhh.....each story is just as bad as the next!!!

    struggling to finish these stories simply because of the money I spent for this book!

    hard to follow...difficult to find the point

    save your money!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Linked tales of rural living weave a complicated tapestry of touching stories.

    (This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown.)

    Small town living is always the same, whether it's in Arkansas, Idaho, or Missouri. Built on the backs of linked story collections like Winesboro, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson and Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, Volt (Graywolf Press) by Alan Heathcock follows the lives of a handful of lost souls, tragedy washing over them like a great flood, people with names like Winslow, and Jorgen, and Vernon. In the fictional town of Krafton, we see what people do when living out in the woods, close to nature. When there's nothing to do, they make their own fun, picking fights over nothing, running through cornfields, tipping over cows. In a small town, everybody knows everybody, and gets in their business, sometimes to help, and sometimes to enable their own survival.

    Throughout Volt we witness loss and gain, tragedy and survival, families united and divided. It is a gut wrenching collection, but it speaks the truth, calling to your attention the rich details of the landscape around us-every gnarled knob, desolate hill and crippled creek.

    One of the things that Heathcock does well in this collection is set the stage. You get a strong sense of what it is like to live in Krafton, to struggle there, to survive. In a town like this, you wander the woods. If you don't have a car, you walk across dirt roads, dogs barking, leaping at chain link fences, tied to a post in the ground. Ramshackle huts flank you on either side, held up by grime and sheer will. From "Lazarus":

    "The streets were plowed and salted, filthy banks of snow climbing the poles of lit signs before strips of bright shops. The high walls of the city airport stretched for blocks, a plane lifting off, its lights fading as it passed into the clouds. A day-glo truck pulled beside Vernon, its music thumping. Stoplight after stoplight, so many cars. A line of cars smoked in a chicken restaurant's drive-through. In what looked like an old department store, a church lay between an insurance agency and a florist."

    There is a sense of history in a small town, and a sense of place. Also from "Lazarus":

    "The roads were slick and the one-hour drive from the city took two. At the Krafton exit, daylight flashed off the corrugated walls of the old McCallister mill. Vernon surveyed the sparkling land, playing in his mind the knobs beyond the mill, naming who lived on what road, knowing them by their fields, by their barns and kitchens and drawing rooms, knowing kids from parents, aunts from cousins, naming them each by their pains and praises."

    It can be a comforting presence, this familiarity around you. Or it can be suffocating. You can settle in and stay close to family and friends, or you can run like hell. Most don't get out, unsure of what awaits them in the nearest big city, unable to picture themselves in any other setting, no matter how hard they may want to flee, or how desperate things have gotten. What would they do, who would they turn to? It's the devil you know, versus the devil you don't. And oftentimes, you can deal with the devil you know.

    (For the rest of this review please go to The Nervous Breakdown.)

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  • Posted April 19, 2011

    A Beautiful Debut Collection

    Alan Heathcock's debut is a collection of eight short stories set in and around a small fictional town called Krafton. From the first story, The Staying Freight, to the last, Volt, Heathcock is a master at developing multi-layered characters within a handful of pages. One of the stories, Furlough, is barely eleven pages, and yet the character of Jorgen is marvelously complex and conflicted. The result is a haunting story that builds with each step the characters take into the dark night, into the dark fields, and it is one that will stay with me for a long time. Other characters in the longer works are equally complex, such as Sheriff Helen Farraley who appears in Peacekeeper, The Daughter, and Volt. And Krafton, central to all of these stories, a town that could be any small town in the United States, is not merely a backdrop. The town is as much a character as the people who live within it. The stories also raise big questions, questions about faith, about morality. Each story acknowledges that darkness is an inevitable part of life--sometimes hidden just beneath the surface, sometimes out there for the world to see, but the darkness is there, as much a part of humanity as is hope or salvation. Heathcock's style is one of quiet intensity, each word carefully chosen, each sentence precise. It takes skill, a bit of poetry, and a solid, strong voice to deliver a powerful short story. Heathcock delivers eight of them. I can't wait to see what he does next.

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  • Posted April 5, 2011

    Super-charged fiction--a must read

    Alan Heathcock's VOLT is super-charged from beginning to end. These related short stories, centered around a fictional (should I say mythical?) midwestern, American town called Krafton, dig and pick into death, love, hate, revenge, guilt--all the major emotions and passions...as seen and endured through the lives and actions of the various characters. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy and Richard Ford and Annie Proulx' brick-fisted Wyoming tales. Redemption is gained one drip of pain and agony at a time. A must read for the short story fan.

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