Before we get to the review, below is a picture of an ashtray...Enjoy.
A Review of Sheldon Lee Compton’s The Same Terrible Storm (Foxhead Books, 2012)
In his first short story collection The Same Terrible Storm, writer Sheldon Lee Compton delivers prose pieces that are powerful and steeped in authentic Appalachia, in its poverty, desolation, faith, and hope. The characters in Compton’s 22 stories are often surviving bleak circumstances, and he paints these characters, flaws and all, in a way that is honest and unembellished. There is nothing heavy handed in the story-telling. Therein lies the magic of Compton’s style—his ability to show plainly characters who are standing in the storm of life or personal turmoil and the way they hold tight to something that allows them to keep standing. Somehow there’s an undercurrent of hope even after all hope has been depleted.
In “Purpose,” for example, Brown Bottle teaches his nephew how to fight and tells him of his wartime days: “We were fighting for our lives, and that’s the best thing to ever fight for, ever” (13). This bit of dialogue represents a theme carried throughout the book. Characters—some combating addiction and poverty—cling to religion or family relations, even when those connections are strained. There’s a palpable refrain of fighting-to-survive.
What adds beauty to this collection is Compton’s lyrical style. Consider the concluding lines of the title story, “The Same Terrible Storm”: “When his mother stirs away from the kitchen window, like a shadow moving with a bank of clouds, Man spreads his hand out again on the rail. When the vibration moves from his hand into his elbow he keeps his eyes on the moon, keeps his hand on the rail, keeps it there for as long as he can” (45). In juxtaposition to the violence and tension, there are quiet moments and lovely landscape.
Sheldon Lee Compton’s The Same Terrible Storm is an impressive debut for any writer of any region. These stories—with their fierceness and quiet —solidifies Compton’s place as one of Kentucky’s great contemporary writers.