Dan Leach’s Floods and Fires (book discussion)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: “Families will not be broken. Curse and expel them, send their children wandering, drown them in floods and fires, and old women will makes songs of all these sorrows and sit on the porch and sing them in mild evenings.” –Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

It’s tough to come up with original accolades for Dan Leach’s Floods and Fires, the highly acclaimed short story collection printed by the University of North Georgia University Press, 2017. Praise flows from editors and writers alike. George Singleton calls the book a “…beautifully written, soul-shaking collection… proves without a doubt that the best stories in America emerge from the universe of literary magazines.” We strongly agree with Singleton’s love of Leach’s writing. High praise indeed!

The Dead Mule published Leach’s What Happened to My Brother in 2016 and we knew it was one of the finest stories to grace our journal in many a year. Well, we are modest, we’ve been online for over 21 years, many many a year, eh? We believe in our writers (obviously) and we’re mighty proud to watch Dan Leach’s star rise in the literary firmament.

Reading Leach’s reviews creates a longing, a yearning to read his stories, to know more and to lap up his prose.

Dale Ray Phillips (My People’s Waltz) writes:

“Dan Leach’s debut collection of stories, Floods and Fires, heralds an exciting new voice in Southern fiction. Everything a reader could ask — fine writing, zany plots, and characters strut off the page — is given generously in this collection.”

These stories may be “Southern in nature” but that doesn’t take away from their universality. As Terry L. Kennedy writes that the collection is:

“… populated with people living on the unheralded edges of society; people whose lives have take a wrong turn down that gravel road (you know the road I’m talking about) on the outskirts of town. In this gritty world one can see the influence of our contemporary southern masters — William Gay, Tom Franklin, Brad Watson — but the people who populate Leach’ South Caroline are his own, as are the disappointing, sometimes cruel, lives they inhabit.”

These stories revel in the human condition. Read the first story, “Floods and Fires” and you’ll be hooked, ready to jump in and swim down Leach’s literary river of humanity. You’ll find that Leach has all the necessary skills to navigate the waters. (Admit it, you love it when I write all descriptive like that, don’t you?)

Want a sample? Read this, the description of Sheriff Huntley and see if you don’t recognize him:

“The Sheriff made a show of clearing the phlegm from his throat and hocked a massive ball of it onto the pavement in front of Hap’s boots. He punctuated this gesture by pushing the brim of his hat forward and whipping around on his heels like one of those boys from the Citadel. It was an impressive imitation given the fact that Huntley, like the rest of the Pinkerton Sheriff’s Department, had attended community college.”

How perfect is that? And we’ve only just started on the collection.  Later on, in “Some Sins They Don’t Fade Away” a son returns home, seeking, perhaps, redemption, from his mother. When she asks “Why did you come here?” the response:

“And then I did a strange thing. With so much blame and hatred, right there on my tongue, I stepped out into the rain, outstretched both hands into the air, and letting the boyish tone overtake my voice, I said, “I was just passing through, Mom. I was just passing through and wanted to say “Hi.”

And then I walked out into the warm summer rain, towards the sound of a train cutting through the night, its ghostly distant wail the only form of forgiveness still accessible to me.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Most of Leach’s stories resonate with characters putting the past in the past, trying to figure out how to survive in the future. The people in his stories are so true to life, (to use a cliche’) they jump off the page.

Grab your copy of Dan Leach’s Floods and Fires by going here. You can read a sample chapter, while you’re at it. There’s a spectacular interview with Leach in Deep South Magazine. 

Valerie MacEwan
Editor/Publisher, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

*Opening quote from Dan Leach, Floods and Fires.

Author: Dead Mule Staff