Rattlesnakes & The Moon
by Darlin' Neal
Press 53, 2010
New River’s Press MVP Award, Finalist, 2007 BkMk Press GS
Sharat Chandra Prize)
Darlin' Neal is
a native Mississippian who spent her childhood traveling New Mexico and
attending 13 different grade schools. After completing degrees in
Psychology, Journalism and English at New Mexico State, she left Las
Cruces and headed for Tucson. Upon finishing her MFA at the University
of Arizona, she returned to Mississippi in search of her roots. In 2001
she completed a PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center
her awards are a fiction fellowship from the Mississippi Arts
Commission, a Henfield Transatlantic Award, New Mexico State
University’s Frank Waters Fiction Fellowship, and the Joan Johnson Award
from the Center for Writers. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Puerto del Sol, Smokelong Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, The Rio Grande Review, and dozens of other magazines. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous anthologies including the Best of The Web 2009 and Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years. She holds an assistant professorship in the MFA program at The University of Central Florida.
She lives in Orlando and Jensen Beach, Florida with a calico named Maggie, her guy and a dog named Catfish.
with Darlin' Neal.
walked right on in the house, pretending that neither of them saw
that scarf. She never saw it. She never saw him see her seeing it."
Reviewed by Alex Thornber
life. This is that story you heard someone else telling a friend in
a coffee shop. These are people, with all their flaws, imperfections
and emotions. These stories are not simply told, they are felt.
Neal’s stories are sad, lonely, sometimes confusing, but they are
was ever a book which could be judged by its cover, it is Darlin’
Neal’s Rattlesnakes & The Moon.
In the cover picture the moon
hangs low and almost fills the sky; the road is dark, subtly lit with
headlights that trail off into the distance.
could not be a more perfect image for Neal’s stories in this
collection. The people who inhabit the world of this book are in a
darkness of some form or another, just living; surviving may be a
more apt word, just surviving. But in the dark bedrooms, money-filled
suitcases and garages, everyone is on that road, in darkness
still, hoping to someday reach the lighter, happier place.
writing is admittedly a little hard to ease into, she has a strong
connection to the voice, dialect and tone of the land she is writing
about, but no sooner than the end of the first story you will find
first story, Red Brick, sets the tone for the rest of the collection.
Brick is a story about a girl’s dying grandfather and the family that surrounds him. The
significance of this first story in relation to the rest is
staggering. The characters are never named and little detail is
given about any of them but the brief mention of poppies growing on
the lawn outside helps to reveal a little about the grandfather;
perhaps a war veteran, an old man hanging on, a hero.
encroaching moment of the old man’s death has a darkly comic effect
on the girl as she goes outside to fetch something, promptly forgets,
and then in a daze mistakenly walks into a neighbour’s house.
Inside the neighbours are playing cards, joking and having a
generally nice time, and when the girl eventually returns to her grandfather, he has died.
highlights the fleeting, ubiquitous nature of loss and to a certain
extent prepares the reader for the ways characters deal with it in
the rest of the collection.
rest of Neal’s stories don’t all directly deal with death,
its presence is often there in the background, taking loved ones and
shaping the characters' lives.
the rest of the stories, it is not so immediate - almost invariably
the father, sister or friend has died some years in the past - but that
daze and the awkward ways in which those left behind behave is still
Neal’s brilliant writing and ever-interesting characters run
steadily throughout, some of the stories that follow Red
Brick lack the
emotional immediacy and excitement, occasionally even feel rambling.
the other eleven stories in this collection, it is the
shorter pieces Honey, Don’t
alongside Red Brick,
in which Neal’s writing shines. Despite their brevity, they are packed
with more emotion than some novels.
stands out as a desperately sad story
of a woman who still hasn’t accepted her sister’s death. This
has, ironically, led to her accepting the ways of her cheating
husband. Though the whole story is magnificent, its entire emotional
power lies in the bullet of a last sentence:
never saw him see her seeing it.
out of the story and left to stand on its own, this line feels
like it could fit any context with this character. She is so worn
down that she simply chooses not to see things, to ignore their
significance. She has lost a sister and is terrified to lose anyone
the poppies in Red Brick,
this is the kind of writing Neal triumphs at; single lines or phrases
that illuminate the characters and stories so vividly that you cannot
help but be affected by them. These are the moments that remain, the
stories you wont forget in a hurry.