Today, Brett Beach reviews Matthew Neill Null’s debut short story collection Allegheny Front, out last month from Sarbande books. Beach writes: “Few authors can so impressively give language to the often unspoken friendships of men, or invest such emotional weight to hunting or manual labor. In his clear affection for the land and the people of West Virginia, Null allows his characters a vocabulary both elegant and rough.” This collection, which describes the rural landscape and the animals that inhabit it with the same detail and care it gives its human characters, is the perfect summer read.
In Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null’s first story collection and the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, the author returns to the West Virginia territory he mined so beautifully in his thrilling first novel, Honey from the Lion. “The bolderfields, the spaces empty of people—a lonesomeness city-dwellers could never comprehend,” he writes of the setting. “Sometimes it seems you know animals more intimately than people.” In these nine stories, Null continues the work he began in his first book of unpacking the complicated relationship between man and the natural world. He approaches from alternately sympathetic, adversarial, and prophetic angles the slippery morality that arises when people are forced into the roles of predator and prey. All the while, Null adeptly evokes the West Virginia landscape, both as it is and as it used to be—“The Allegheny Mountains . . . were a series of blue lines on the horizon. This was long before the forests were scoured off the mountains and the coal chipped from their belly, before blight withered the stands of chestnut.” Prodigious in vision, and lushly evocative, Allegheny Front will undoubtedly solidify Matthew Neill Null’s reputation as one of the most ecologically and morally conscious writers working in fiction today. Read more.