For a blog post that I wrote earlier this month, I had the chance to speak with author and current contributor to Shenandoah, Nick Ripatrazone. A professor living in New Jersey with his wife and 5-month-old identical twin girls, Ripatrazone gave me the inside scoop on his newly released novella This Darksome Burn and the process that surrounded the writing of this work in particular. You can read more on that here. Having now had the opportunity to read the novella myself, I feel that I can give Snopes readers a little more insight into This Darksome Burn and the features that make it stand out from anything else you’ll find on the shelves of your local bookstore.
Set in the rural Oregon wilderness, the novella centers around the lives of the three members of the McGovern family: Luke; his daughter, Aurea; and his son, Ford. From the outset of the story, it is apparent that the family has been through hardship. The mother is conspicuously absent, and the McGovern family farm seems far from prospering as it did in past generations. However, the opening chapters work to assert the age-old idiom “when it rains, it pours”; in the first five pages alone, Luke loses the last of his family’s horses and returns home to discover that his daughter has been raped by her ex-boyfriend Baxter. This tragic event throws the family into turmoil as Aurea attempts to make sense of what has happened to her while her father simply seeks revenge. Stuck in the middle, Ford tries to reconcile his family’s troubles, becoming fixated on finding the lost horse as a way to assuage their pain. This Darksome Burn raises questions about family, relationships, the nature of life and how much control we as humans have over it.
Even more significant than that of Baxter or the watchful eye of the local police, the environment is an ever-present threat in the lives of the McGovern family. Attempting to survive in the shadow of Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, the characters battle harsh weather, the rural landscape, and a variety of wildlife throughout the course of the novella. These elements of nature are characters in their own right, especially the stream that curves through the woods surrounding the McGovern property. This small, seemingly insignificant body of water is referred to by multiple characters, and it is described by all with apprehension and a sense of foreboding. Nothing good occurs from interacting with this particular element of nature, a rule that the McGovern family seems to learn the hard way.
When I initially compiled the interview material for use in my first blog post about This Darksome Burn, I was a little thrown off by Ripatrazone’s assertion that film had played a significant role in his writing process. However, after reading the novella and experiencing the short, scene-like chapters, I completely understand how these “snapshots” of life work to create the story’s unique style. Each chapter generally centers around one main subject and uses vivid description and extremely focused language to fully immerse the reader in the scene. The chapters vary in length and when they occur (some jump months ahead while others simply describe the next action), but they all give a “zoomed in” view of the significant events in the story. I would even liken reading This Darksome Burn to watching a film put together by an immensely skilled director, one who, with painstaking detail, captures exactly what he wants the viewer to see in each shot through his lens.
I would recommend Nick Ripatrazone’s This Darksome Burn to any reader who appreciates being fully immersed in fiction. While I have admittedly not read a plethora of novellas, this example of the genre kept me engaged throughout its entirety with its innovative “snapshot” chapters and the raw emotion exhibited by the characters. Of perhaps even greater value, it forced me to think about difficult aspects of the human condition while leaving me with more questions than answers by the end.
Check out Nick Ripatrazone’s new novella This Darksome Burn, which is available from Queen’s Ferry Press.