Publication: March 1, 2021
Tucked away in a remote hollow of West Virgnia’s Coal River Valley, lies the town of Black Bear Creek, well past its glory days, and ravaged by the mining industry on which its people depend. The characters in Joshua Cross’s debut story collection struggle to survive against rampant poverty while their drinking water is poisoned and the mountains around them are stripped away. Spanning decades, these are stories of couples who marry too young because they have no other choice. Of life shattering injuries inflicted by the dangers of working in the mines. Of wounded men and women forced to be so hard they are frequently surprised by their own vulnerability. And despite the bleak backdrop of the only home many of these characters will ever know, these are stories about how they find ways to love and hope and fight.
The nine stories in Joshua Cross’s Black Bear Creek pulsate with astonishing power and precision. His voice is mordant and gritty like the mines his characters exist in, steeped in the confines of domestic dysfunction, alienation, and struggle. His stories—all of them—are haunting, yet they reverberate with a message of hope in the mind long after you finish reading them. Cross is a great storyteller. —Brandon Hobson, National Book Award Finalist and author of The Removed
In Joshua Cross’ West Virginia, coal dust coats the playgrounds, the rivers smell like metal, and two-lane Route 3 is hardly a way out. His is an Appalachia of unromantic nouns: feral dogs, miscarriages, fire ants, divorces, drownings, black lung and kettle bottoms, ghost mines, and pumping hearts. Cross is a virtuoso with point-of-view—his characters are so varied in vision, voice, and spirit, birthed in a singular homeground of subterranean malaise. But it’s also a place of hope, where dreams hang aboveground, like low clouds, and just over the next ridgetop. Black Bear Creek has reclaimed my conviction in contemporary southern fiction and I’ve put it on my arms-reach shelf next to TR Pearson, Alyson Hagy, Rick Bass, Ron Rash, and Breece D’J Pancake. –Jon Billman, Author of When We Were Wolves and The Cold Vanish
Black Bear Creek is a brawling study in the gravity of kinship. Decades of blood and bone trapped in the coal mines cannot be ignored. Wielding honesty sharp as an axe, Cross descends, cuts through dark substrata, cleaves common ore, and returns with something fiery and soulful. —Ron A. Austin, author of Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar
Trade Paper, $18.00