I remember reading a couple stories from Benjamin Percy in Esquire awhile back, and each of them was haunting, the type of short story that stayed with you long after you finished reading. For my money, at least, that’s the sort of story that I love: the kind that is not easily dismissed, that kind that might seem simple or innocent or easy on the surface, but that…just…won’t…go away.
So when I found Percy’s collection, Refresh, Refresh, while on a several-hour-long tour of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I decided to give it a shot. Usually, though, I don’t buy very many short story collections by authors with whom I’m not too familiar; I tend to stick with The Best American Short Stories or just read the full collections of authors whose novels I’ve already conquered (or I’ll borrow the collection from a friend, take it on a test drive). Same goes for albums. The more I hear and the more I like, the better the chance that I’ll buy an album from a new artist, but I’m not the type that wanders record stores searching for something I’ve never heard. So I’ve got to tell you: I was extremely happy that I took a chance with Refresh, Refresh.
The stories here are dark, many of them horror-influenced:we’ve got stories about bear attacks, stories about a potential Big Foot stalking an Oregon forest, stories about undiscovered caves expanding below ordinary residential houses, stories about post-apocalyptic landscapes…Refresh, Refresh has all the creepiness of House of Leaves, but all the sparing poetry of Cormac McCarthy and all the empathy and patience of an Andre Dubose collection. The title story seemed to be the piece that garnered Percy the most attention (it was collected in a Best American anthology, and won a Paris Review prize), but there were several others in this book that proved even more resonant, including one short story about a married couple stranded in a gas station during a hail storm. Some of the images from that story…wow.
And after reading, I actually think Percy will become one of the more respected voices of Millennial/ Gen-X literature. He’s actually doing the same work as Michael Chabon, attempting to mix “genre fiction” with “literary fiction,” taking the horror genre and imbuing it with the thematic complexity of true literature. But Percy is doing it better. With Chabon, his attempts at “mystery novel” and “adventure novel” seem to be mere curiosities, side projects. With Percy, we get the sense that he’s on a mission to carve out a real place for horror literature. He’s got a novel on the shelves now (The Wilding), and another in the works, so this is definitely an author we’ll have to watch. In ten years, he might be the next Jonathan Franzen or Michael Chabon, the voice of a generation.
Stories/Essays Available Online: