In 1995, Chris Holbrook burst onto the southern literary scene with Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia, stories that Robert Morgan described as "elegies for land and lives disappearing under mudslides from strip mines and new trailer parks and highways." Now, with the publication of Upheaval, Holbrook more than answers the promise of that auspicious debut. In eight interrelated stories set in Eastern Kentucky, Holbrook again captures a region and its people as they struggle in the face of poverty, isolation, change, and the devastation of land and resources at the hands of the coal and timber industries. In the title story, Haskell sees signs of disaster all around him, from the dangers inherent in the strip-mining machinery he and his coworkers operate to the accident waiting to happen when his son plays with a socket wrench. Holbrook employs a native's ear for dialect and turns of phrase to reveal his characters' complex interior lives. In "The Timber Deal," two brothers—Russell, a recovering addict recently released from prison, and Dwight, who hasn't worked since being injured in a coal truck accident—try to convince their upwardly mobile sister, Helen, to agree to lease out timber rights to the family land. Dwight is unable to communicate his feelings, even as he seethes with rage: "Helen can't see past herself, is what it is. If John James had fractured his back in two places, it'd be a different story. If he'd broke his neck, it'd be a different story told." Written with a gritty, unflinching realism reminiscent of the work of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, the stories in Upheaval prove that Holbrook is not only a faithful chronicler and champion of Appalachia's working poor but also one of the most gifted writers of his generation.
"What Edith Wharton called 'the hard considerations of the poor' are at the troubled heart of these excellent stories. Holbrook's Appalachia is neither the sentimentalized Appalachia of Dollywood nor the demonized Appalachia of Deliverance; instead these stories do what the best regional literature has always done—find in one particular place what is true of all places... Despite his characters' economic status and Eastern Kentucky locale, they are true to all people in their humanity and complexity.... I have long considered Chris Holbrook to be the most underrated writer in Appalachia... These new stories convince me even more that he is in the top tier of not just Appalachian short story writers, but that he is also in the top tier of story writers in the United States."—Ron Rash, author of Saints at the River
"Readers throughout the Appalachian region and beyond will be delighted by Holbrook's stories."—Tim Gautreaux, author of The Missing
"The characters in UPHEAVAL, living their lives of "quiet desperation", remind me of Raymond Carver's stories. Chris Holbrook's perfect pitch for the dialect of the southern mountains delineates lonely, isolated people for whom ancestral traditions are dead, the future appears hopeless, and the desolate present, as their mountains are destroyed all around them, feels unbearable. This unique blend of bleak stoicism, sardonic humor, and menacing claustrophobia make this book a masterpiece for me"—Lisa Alther
"Ever since the release of Chris Holbrook's HELL AND OHIO, many of us have been impatiently awaiting another collection by this master of the short story. UPHEAVAL is well worth the fourteen year wait. There is not one false note in this entire book, where Holbrook explores all the joys and faults and complexities of the place he knows and loves and understands so well. Each sentence is a tight and taunt poem, each story an intimate, perfect epic. Holbrook is one of our best writers, and UPHEAVAL immediately takes its place as one of the essential Appalachian books." —Silas House
"With an unsparing voice, Holbrook reveals universal, sometimes bruising truths about his characters, making this collection linger in the reader's mind long after the last page has been turned."—Okra Picks
"Holbrook's imagery is so visceral that you can almost feel the grit of coal dust, the vibrations of enormous earth-moving vehicles, and the oppressive heat of the day."—Booklist
"The stories contain an undercurrent of anger and protest, yet leave the reader with the sense that these strong characters will persevere. Holbrook is a major talent."—Bookclub@KET
"Written with a gritty, unflinching realism reminiscent of the work of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, the stories in Upheaval prove that Holbrook is not only a faithful chronicler and champion of Appalachia's working poor, but also one of the most gifted writers of his generation." —Joseph-Beth Booksellers Newsletter
"These eight stories are as finely shaped, and deceptively intricate, as a piece of Shaker furniture...What smolders beneath the surface of these stories is a sea of anxiety and anger, suppressed until the point of, well, upheaval." —Louisville Courier-Journal"
"Plain spun and to the point, [Holbrook] shares these stories in a blend that brings together the uncertain future and the very real present of Appalachian life."—Chattanooga Free Press
"The work of a master: raw in the situations and emotions that Chris Holbrook presents, visceral and resonant in the characters through which he speaks."—Free Word Magazine
"I have long considered Chris Holbrook to be the most underrated writer in Appalachia.... These new stories convince me even more that he is in the top tier of not just Appalachian short story writers, but that he is also in the top tier of story writers in the United States." —Ron Rash, author of Serena: A Novel
"The stories of Upheaval thrill with the strangeness of the real, the intensity of human connections. They are narratives of upheavals that leave us with new insights and perspectives. In this age of wonderful storytellers, Holbrook is one of our very best." —Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage
"Holbrook is not confined by his Appalachian roots, but rather relates that world with all working-class people and writing. Reading these stories is as though we've hung around the local diner in Hazard, Kentucky, watching and listening to the locals, then followed each of them home with these tales of their lives. Holbrook's style is painfully close and real, its beauty grabs you like the face of a child or an old person. This book wins our total attention and brings our mind and heart into a new understanding of what it means to exist in a specific and well-drawn time and place."—New York Journal of Books