Alaska Gets Real In Nothing but the Dead and Dying
Book: Nothing but the Dead and Dying by Ryan W. Bradley
Rating: 5/5 scuffed work boots by the back door
Recommended if you like: Alaska; realism; characters you can practically touch
Published: 2015, CCM Entropy, 272 pages
First line: Even at twenty-five miles an hour the snowfall looks like a TV left on through dawn.
Y’all… this book. This fucking book. I’m not quite sure how to tell you about it. It’s short stories, not a novel — although any of the stories likely could make a great novel. Most of the stories are pretty short. You’re barely in one before you’re coming out the other end, waiting to see what happens next —
And that’s part of the collection’s brilliance. Bradley has a way of leaving stories hanging — not in an unfinished way, but rather, in the moment right BEFORE a character makes a decision that will forever change her life. Or in the absolute climax of the story, it just halts. These stories make you think — what’s going to happen? What is next in these lives?
Because the characters are real. They’re so real. They’re people you’ve known, or people you see in town. They’re working class people. They’re parents, or young people trying to figure out where their lives will go as they navigate their early twenties. Construction workers. People who are struggling with alcoholism, or substance abuse, or coming to terms with being something other than what they thought they’d be. People dealing with molestation, or incest, or other things they bury in the closets of their minds.
I read all of this book in one huge gulp. Each one of the stories left me wanting more, even the one where I had to just lay down the book for a second because it was an intense and disturbing story. It’s a rare day that I pick up and devour a book of short stories. I don’t say this lightly. In theory I like short stories, but I’m much more of a novel person, if I’m honest.
But I still can’t urge you strongly enough to read Nothing but the Dead and Dying. Taken together, the stories paint an incredibly vivid picture of a certain way of life in Alaska — the life you wrestle out of it. While some of the stories are dark, and some of the characters don’t appear to enjoy the Alaska life, Bradley writes about Alaska with the exasperation and love of a native Alaskan.
These stories aren’t denigrating — they’re true to life. All of life, even the ugly, and bitter parts. They feel much more like a celebration of life, even if the celebration is merely a head nod to surviving the shittiness. This isn’t a collection of stories that will leave you depressed, but rather one that will leave you spitting in the face of an uncaring universe and saying “HA!” And what can be better than that?