One of the perks of this gig is the ability to track an author’s career. I’ve been reading Scott Alexander Hess since Skyscraper (2017) and River Runs Red (2019), so I’m well acquainted with his output and was delighted to receive this release of two of his novellas from Rebel Satori Press. One of the two pieces is in his River Runs Red vein, having some similarities with that book, but both are engaging and highly enjoyable.
“The Root of Everything” is the longest and the closest to River Runs Red. Alternating time periods, this piece of historical fiction follows a German immigrant family through three generations, beginning with Richard and his brother, Rolf, and their journey to America. The second generation is represented by Richard’s son, Cal, and Cal’s wife, Josie, the daughter of a prominent lumber merchant who brings Cal into the family business. The third generation segments explore the life of Cal’s son, Stanford, and his relationship with his friend and sometimes lover, Bo, as well as his husband, Sam.
“Lightning” is far shorter but no less involving. It’s set in Arkansas in 1918, and deals with a twelve-year-old boy named Bud, who falls in love with a horse named Lightning. Lightning sees Bud through good times with his best friend, Jerky, for whom Bud has some feelings he doesn’t yet understand, as well as the bad times, such as the death of his father. That event throws the whole family into disarray, but Bud’s aunt Gert comes to the rescue, taking the boy under her wing as she offers him a job with her breeding race horses.
Both novellas are well done, conjuring far different moods and creating excellent characters, and both of them simultaneously stand on their own yet leave you wanting more of the story. The latter is especially true of “Lightning,” which features an interesting and unique voice in Bud. I really wanted to find out what happened to him when he moved up to the city with Gert, and perhaps Hess intends to write that eventually. For now, it ends where it should.
I got a similar sense from “The Root of Everything,” but since all three stories are closely intertwined and feature some of the same characters, Hess provides more of a sense of closure at the switch of a generation. For example, when we encounter Stanford, we understand that not only has Cal inherited his father-in-law’s business, but he’s made quite a success of it, which resolves some issues brought up in Cal’s storyline.
Closure and resolution notwithstanding, these are fine novellas in their own right–full of sumptuous writing, lively characters, and a deep-rooted sense of family and connection to the land. If you haven’t read Hess yet, these provide great examples of his work and are a wonderful starting point.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler