Although I first knew of R.T. Smith as a poet and the editor of Shenandoah, he’s also published numerous short stories, and the stories in this slim collection have appeared in such notable publications as Zoetrope: All Story, Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner and Missouri Review, among others. And this is all finely crafted stuff, ranging from Civil War historical fictions to stories about contemporary Civil War reenactments, and along the way exploring Southern culture in a, let’s say “colorful” way. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that “Docent” from this collection was in Best American Short Stories and both “Docent” and “I Have Lost My Right” were in New Stories from the South. And if that weren’t enough recognition, “Jesus Wept” won a Pushcart Prize.)
And I would have to say that those three honored stories are my favorite stories from this collection. “Docent” is told from the point of view of a guide at the Robert E. Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University (home of Shenandoah), and is rightly praised for its distinct voice.
“And please do not hesitate to touch the pews or try them out. If you’ll kindly look at the wall to your left, you will see the engraved plaque testifying that the General, whom some students wanted to call President Lee, which you must admit has a nice ring to it, sat here during services, though he often napped, accustomed as he was to catching a few winks on campaign.”
I’ve heard Rod Smith read from this story and it is a bit hard to reconcile his voice with that of his character’s, but that’s what makes fiction fun. “Jesus Wept” on the other hand is in the point of view of the son of a preacher who is fond of his liquor and who treats his sons like slaves.
Because I am a prose reader for Shenandoah and frequently attend literary events at Washington & Lee, I see Rod frequently. It was therefore especially enjoyable for me to read these stories with his voice in my head.