Forest fires, a rotting bear carcass, polluted water and industrial farming are both the settings and the main characters in "F*ckface: And Other Stories" (Henry Holt & Co/2020). Leah Hampton’s new collection is a kaleidoscope picture of the many ways land is expressed through human stories.
The short stories show tenuous social bonds and human life cycles set in contrast to the stubborn landscape. In "Boomer," a park ranger fights a wildfire as his wife pilfers the home. "Meat" casts the memory of a slaughterhouse burning down within a sickening frame narrative of a family funeral prior to cremation. While the people’s livelihoods scar the Appalachian Mountains, Hampton wants readers to know that the people are equally scarred by the land.
The blood bond between people and place is a familiar theme in regional literature, however in "F*ckface," the Appalachian author insists that even transient residents are subject. Hampton sets aside the romance of multi-generational farming families to focus on millennial gig workers, students and the like. They too are pulled by the seasonal rhythms and geologic truths of the region.
The mountainous landscape expresses itself in culturally distinct notions of gender, sexuality and race that hold no regard for coastal stereotypes. Host Frank Stasio asks Hampton how to collaborate with the land and what it would take to heal the trauma of Appalachia.