Even though it hasn’t happened yet, you get a sense after reading In the Season of Blood & Gold that Taylor Brown has seen the end of the world and when he saw the end of the world, he wrote down everything that happened. In his debut story collection, the Montana Prize for Fiction-winning author offers readers twelve bleak, but beautiful stories that reek of pain and loss, love and lust in the best way possible.
The collection opens with his Montana Prize for Fiction-winning piece “The Rider.” In it, a poacher is forced to make a series decisions that, ultimately, lead to more than just dead animals. In this story there is a moment of beauty early on that sets up much of the rest of the collection. After spending a night with a woman accused of being a witch and leaving his poached goose outside, the man begins his journey to deliver his kill. As he walks, the poached goose begins to thaw leaving “tell-tale rivulets of thaw blood, red on the white road, maddeningly red, a bright ribbon tethering him to the wrong side of the river as surely as a noose of rope or chain.” This image, with the bright red blood an indictment of the man’s crime, shows that he cannot escape his actions. Authorities stop him soon after and confiscate his kill. The trail is bright and unforgiving and it ties the man inextricably to his crimes, just as many of Browns other characters are tied to their offenses. You get a sense reading through the stories that Brown enjoys watching his characters dig their own graves and enjoys even more not handing them a ladder to get out of the hole.
With so much despair strewn throughout his stories, it would be easy to forget other emotions, but Brown does not do that in the least. “The Vizsla” is a bloody and brutal story and tugs at every string that could possibly be connected to the heart. A boy, Whit witnesses his father beaten within an inch of his life for defending a hunting dog that he sold. After watching the beat down, Whit’s father crawls in to lie with the dog, his and the dog’s blood mixing together below them. In this moment, everything crystalizes for Whit. “The old man’s face was monstrous, misshapen, a storm of bruise and blood. But his eyes, they rose wide-welled and quivering from the damaged flesh. Hoping. Pleading. Not for help. For something else. Something harder to give.” Despite any feelings readers may have towards the father—who only garners slight sympathy for much of the story—you feel for him here. You feel for him because, in the moment that counts, he finally stands up for good. He pays for it dearly, but he proves to his son that love does exist inside him.
Brown seems to have a knack for creating these kinds of moments that stick with the reader long after finishing a story. One of the most poignant and heartbreaking moments occurs in the final scene of the story “Covered Bridge.” After a young boy named Baker is chased from his family’s former land while trying to honor his dead mother with flowers, he decides to enact a certain amount of revenge courtesy of his father’s dynamite, leftover from a career as a dynamiter. His father warns against recourse, Baker ignores the warnings and, the next day while his father is busy trying to sell off trout he obtained by using the explosives he was once known for, a blast from up the mountain sends the father to his knees:
No one else in the county had the explosives for that kind of blast. No one … [Senior] was still on his knees, his hands gripping the deck railing, his eyes set stinging on the water, watching for debris, for blood, when the flowers came cascading down the dark shoots of water in bright flurries, wheeling and fresh, the petals like frozen outbursts of color … He closed his eyes to the blossoming flood, the terrible hemorrhage of beauty in the river, and crumpled fully to the deck, hearing only the river run onward, so jagged-toothed and sweet.
It is easy to see why Brown’s work has commanded renown already. The prose is economical and stark, pulsing with vibrancy as often as a heartbeat. Brown is able to highlight the chaos and pain in the world while also ensuring that his characters are fully-realized in the process. They breathe and hurt, it seems, as much as any reader could.
In the Season of Blood & Gold, on the whole, does not read like a debut collection of stories and that is what makes this collection so important. Brown has put his command of the English language on display here, forcing readers to confront not only the humanity of his characters, but often their own as well. What is the most exciting thing about, Season, really, is that it is only the beginning.
In the Season of Blood and Gold, by Taylor Brown. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Press 53. 175 pages. $14.95, paper.
Sam Slaughter brews beer and teaches college English.