Nothing Gold Can Stay Summary

Ron Rash

Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Nothing Gold Can Stay Summary

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Acclaimed American author Ron Rash published Nothing Gold Can Stay in 2013. The fourteen short stories in this collection look at the complexities of life in the southern United States. Its prevailing themes include the nature of trust and wanderlust. The collection’s title comes from a 1923 Robert Frost poem. Rash has won numerous awards for his fiction, including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2010.

The first story, “Trusty,” follows a man named Sinkler from Raleigh, North Carolina. He meets a young woman, Lucy Sorrels while searching for water to bring back to share with the chain gang. Though part of a chain gang, he is a “trusty,” a prisoner deemed reliable enough to not need a ball and chain. The man, who had been a bank clerk, was thrown into jail after his manager noticed him take a few bills for himself.

Lucy and Sinkler develop a relationship of sorts during his trips to her family’s well to gather drinking water for the chain gang. Lucy asks him why he does not just leave. He says he is waiting for a good traveling partner. He implies that the partner could be her if she does not have a bad conscience about eloping with a “criminal.” As Lucy is in a bad marriage, she considers his joking seriously. Then he, too, considers escaping.

The next morning, they leave the dirt town. Lucy’s husband is a farmer who will not return to notice her absence for hours. They travel to the edge of a nearby town, but Sinkler is stopped by someone holding a rifle. The ending is ambiguous, though it is implied Lucy and her husband plan to kill Sinkler, leave his body to rot and steal the money he claimed to have.

In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” set in the 70s, a young man looks back at an event when he was fifteen that involved an elderly man named Mr. Ponder.

The narrator and his friend Donnie are hired by Mr. Ponder to perform general construction around his property. While looking through his house, they stumble onto several things that stir their curiosity: a Japanese pistol, an old knife, and a confederate flag. They realize that he was part of a war and want to know more, but Mr. Ponder refuses to tell them about it.

Once they finish the repairs for Mr. Ponder, the boys are not satisfied with how much they have been compensated. They know that they have done work comparable to much older men with more experience who would charge more. They decide to take some goods from Mr. Ponder’s home. When they arrive, the narrator learns that Mr. Ponder has died, and Donnie has known this for days. To Donnie, they are in the right to take all of the old man’s money, including a set of gold teeth. The boys buy drugs and alcohol late at night. As the story ends, they are driving around town, the narrator unsure of how to feel about his actions.

“Something Rich and Strange” is the first third-person story in the collection. It describes the murder of a woman in North Carolina, and her body being found by the police.

“Where the Map Ends” follows two slaves journeying to Tennessee during the US Civil War. They have heard that white people in the mountains are Lincoln supporters. Unfortunately, they house with a man who, after his wife committed suicide, went crazy. He is willing to help the older slave, Viticus, but envisions a terrible fate for the younger, whiter looking slave with faintly red hair. The ending is (again) ambiguous, but it is implied that the farmer shoots the younger man, who is likely a product of rape and thus, in his crazed imagination, dangerous.

“A Sort of Miracle” details a bossy man being annoying to his unemployed brothers-in-law.

“A Servant of History” tracks a scholar of British literature who ventures to North Carolina in 1922. The omniscient narrator shows the scholar to be narcissistic yet sympathetic to a degree; he is often a butt of the joke for locals. His goal is to find old songs of England that have vanished from the world except for (possibly) Appalachia. He is pompous and inevitably insults nearly everyone he meets.

“The Magic Bus” looks at a simple country teenager’s first glimpse into the counter-culture movement of the 1960s. The young teenager, Sabra, does not know what to think when a multi-colored bus arrives in town with the banner The Magic Bus. The freedom and self-assuredness possessed by the women stun her. She is taken by their long, flowing gowns and penchant to hold the hands of either gender, a type of intimacy frowned upon by her Christian upbringing. She forms an intense crush on Thomas, one of the men from the Magic Bus. When the Magic Bus leaves, Sabra returns to her life as a farmer’s daughter; it is implied that she will find a way to leave the town and join the hippies.

“The Dowry” is the second story of the collection set during the US Civil War. Eight months after the South’s surrender, a young Union soldier seeks to marry the daughter of a Confederate colonel.

The final story, “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out,” tells the story of an older man, Carson, reliving the life he led with his kids.