So, I do my usual thing when in the Library over a rather protracted heatwave. I look for books that I might enjoy and something that most notably might help me cobble together my thesis for this MFA I’m working on. Such is the case with Alex Taylor’s The Name of the Nearest River: Stories. It was very, very pleasant surprise to come across this collection of some highly engaging and very memorable pieces.
Taylor’s collection comes from a series put out by the Sarabande Publishing house that focuses on Kentucky area writers. Maybe it was this fact that initially drew me to the book (I have a love affair with Louisville and Kentuckiana that is maybe not altogether too healthy), but this regional focus is not something that should take away from the strength of this work. Taylor engages so much of the rural and near-urban spaces of present day and even past vistas of the bluegrass state with memorable characters that both supersede the landscape they come from and feel so rooted in it that they simply have to be alive. There is an enchanted (or perhaps better stated disenchanted) reality of this world that Taylor places his characters in that leaves a burning shadow of these stories in the reader’s mind that lasts weeks after you’ve made your way through them.
There are stories that range here from burning barges to catfish wrestling to crash-up derbies. And in them you can feel that Appalachian heartache that stands in for the pulse of this oft ridiculed region. One of the strongest pieces to me centers around man who participates in amateur crash-up derbies with some buddies and the connected world of his troubled love life. I’m not one to give away stories. Just trying to pass along the love on this given work. So much of Taylor’s prose in this collection is wonderfully poetic and helps to encase this Kentuckian world with an sense of wonder and realism that comes with the gift of storytelling. In short, this is very solid read and comes highly recommended from yours truly.