Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Ron Block

THE DIRTY SHAME HOTEL
DISMAL RIVER



The Dirty Shame Hotel
Copyright © 1998
by Ron Block
New Rivers Press

A collection of short fiction by Ron Block of Nebraska that focuses on quirky characters from the Midwest. The title story is loosely based on a man the author interviewed who ran "the most organized junk yard I have ever seen," and who had constructed an elaborate theory of the universe based on the principle of suction. Other stories are similarly whimsical and grim, and all of the stories in The Dirty Shame Hotel twine together outlandish imagination and lived experience. — from the jacket
Ron Block is a writer with nerve and verve, a high wire artist whose stunning leaps of fancy balance us on the thin edge where the fantastic and the ordinary meet. Dark, funny, horrific, magical, tender: these stories expose the wide expanse of our living, our precarious steps through the world. Like Block's characters, we long for someone to steady us. We wonder, given the chance, how much we would risk for love. We contemplate "the physics of desire." — Lee Martin
A man witnesses the aftermath of animal slaughter while taking his daughter pumpkin-picking on a farm; two men plot the death of a Hank Williams wannabe; a lonely young man develops roundworm from exposure to old books — these are some of the stories in Ron Block's original and hilarious debut collection of stories. Block has a fierce range as a writer, the stories riding the spectrum from quiet poignancy to the bizarre and raucous. The Dirty Shame Hotel is a darkly comic, unflinching, and unsettling account of the lives of the disenfranchised. — Laurie Foos
Poet Block's story debut is a find: droll tales full of real, rumpled, irony-laden life. Even the weaker links here — the more linear stories — offer their passing if humbler pleasures, as in the tales of a high-school band whose leader marches it actually out to pasture ("The Gothenburg Marching Band"), a farmer who keeps a chimpanzee ("A Bed-Time Story"), or two toughs so jealous of a local boy made good that they want to murder him ("The Stanley Andrews Story"). When a nun, though, runs out of gas outside a farmer's house ("St Anthony and the Fish"), then moves in and transforms his life, the result deepens gracefully into real seriousness ("At night, sometimes, Ned could feel...nothing creep right up to the house and almost stare in the windows"). Though Garrison Keillor is better on the air than on the page, Block can catch the tone and pace of an oral Keillor and tack it down for keeps, as in "Land of the Midnight Blonde," about life in the Fargo of today. And at his very best, Block turns the dreariness of existence in Nebraska or the Dakotas into something approaching musical hymns to humanity... — Kirkus Reviews Block's mastery of the well-turned phrase proves an alluring bait in the 13 stories of his first collection. He captures his Midwestern characters with wonderful comic economy. ... This volume demonstrate an original talent waiting to be honed. — Publishers' Weekly
... wildly imaginative ... dreamlike and darkly humorous ..." — Minneapolis Star Tribune
Risking both humor and pathos, Ron Block's first collection of stories provides welcome evidence that minimalism is finally losing its grip on American fiction. ... The depth and humor of Block's writing — and his whimsically passionate view of the human condition — make for pleasurable and satisfying reading. — Foreword Magazine
Ron Block's stories are eerie black comedies set in a surreal Midwestern landscape. His first book collects 13 of them; each one a rough gem. ... Block does what few writers can: he's playfully experimental and emotionally rich all in one gasp. — Minnesota Monthly
The quality of these short stories far exceeds that of many short story collections — even "best of" compilations by preeminent authors. ... Don't wait for an excuse to treat yourself. — Bloomsbury Review
Striking regional details which clearly show the everyday lives of more or less ordinary people who, like us, have their moments (sometimes hours and days) of good and bad, of mute serendipity and even magical achievements. — Bill Cosgrove, Nebraska Territory


Dismal River
Copyright © 1990
by Ron Block
New Rivers Press

The power of Ron Block's mythic vision and many voices makes them essential elements in the new literature of the west. Along with Jim Harrison, Ray Carver, Evan Connell, and a few others, Block is exploring the values — and disvalues — of the frontier in a thoroughly contemporary context. This book, written in the humility of the lone artist-adventurer, is at the same time crucial to the nation's self-understanding. A remarkable and glorious book. — Hayden Carruth
In these muscular poems, Ron Block reminds us how deeply the lives here have been stung by the bare fact of their being lived. With a sure hand, he turns the language of these poems toward experience — which is at once the experience of telling and the telling of experience — to show how men who farm the lie have to live between either side: male legends reveal as much about the powerlessness of life, as about its powers. — Jay Meek
Ron Block sent me his manuscript Dismal River. I put it at the bottom of a stack of fifty-seven galleys, then changed my mind and took it to my cabin, mostly because I love the actual Dismal River. I'm not sure what to say except that it is a wonderful and totally successful long poem. I was absolutely engrossed by the texture and sense of detail and for Mr Block's informed passion for the landscape. — Jim Harrison


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