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Midnight Grinding / Ronald Kelly

Cemetery Dance / March 2009
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

Growing up in the Deep South, Ronald Kelly was surrounded by storytellers. Not writers, mind you - natural-born storytellers, people for whom sharing tales came as naturally as breathing air. Kelly spent his formative years soaking in the tall tales and legends of his Middle Tennessee homeland, along with a steady diet of EC Comics, "Creature Feature" movie marathons, and classic works by masters like Matheson and King. Each and every one of these influences can be felt in his new short story collection from Cemetery Dance, Midnight Grinding.

Southern atmosphere practically seeps from the pages of Grinding. As a Southern boy myself, I recognize the landscapes and real-life characters that Kelly was drawing from when writing these stories; I could practically see the kudzu and smell the honeysuckle while working through the collection. There's an authenticity here that can't be faked. That real sense of place, along with Kelly's genuine style and voice, elevates the material in this book.

The stories in Grinding are presented in mostly chronological order, which gives readers a real sense of the growth of Kelly's abilities as the collection progresses. In the early stories, Kelly is really wearing his EC Comics influences on his sleeve - the stories are short, lean on characterization but packing a gut punch. Parasitic creatures crawl from hiding places deep in kudzu; serial killers stalk the highways and backroads; and man meets wild with horrifying results. Later on, the stories become more complex and Kelly's voice becomes more assured. He's still telling monster stories, but he's also taking the time to explore more complex themes within the framework.

But simple or complex, the reality is the stories are good. They are the kinds of stories that invite retelling, and that have plenty of nooks and crannies for the storytellers to add their own embellishments. Like any good legend, these are the kinds of stories that take on a life of their own. They are the kinds of stories that demand to be retold around campfires, or perhaps by candlelight during one of those violent thunderstorms that rage across the South in springtime.

Kelly's been away from the writing business for ten years. Let's hope this collection, along with his forthcoming novel (also due from Cemetery Dance), is a permanent reintroduction. Storytelling is one of our most treasured traits, and Kelly is too strong a practitioner to slip away again.

Purchase Midnight Grinding by Ronald Kelly.

Posted on Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 08:08AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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