Just to get it out of the way: electrifying; a zap of humanity; the voltage dial turned up to 11 (one greater than most fiction!); shock-fucking-therapy.
And, before I don't start, I'll admit my bias: I had the pleasure of studying under/with/around Alan Heathcock as an undergrad (me, not him!) in many of his fiction classes and a few other workshops. He's a sort of god around these parts. Not even for his ability to write, but first for his ability to teach fiction. For lack of a better explanation, the first person I'll thank when accepting my Pulitzer will be Alan Heathcock.
Let's be honest here, it'll probably be a posthumous Pulitzer, at which point I'll have it written into my will that he's to be the one to accept it on my behalf and must first thank himself, since that would be hilariously (for me, at least) vain and inappropriate, and after all, awkwardness is my legacy.
Now, to the actual book. Well, let me just say the story "Smoke" may be one of the best I've ever read; the ending one of the best ever written. Look, I know it's all subjective (it's not, I'm humoring you), but the story is that good. This collection is that good. It's that simple.
And I'm a judgmental asshole (fact!). If this collection sucked, I'd be so pissed to have been listening to Alan Heathcock's lessons all these years that I'd probably make it my mission to expose him as a huge fraud. He's not though. It has got to be hard to live up to the expectations of hundreds of eager students. He talks some pretty damn good talk, and has now proven he walks it all just as well. He's pretty much a bad-ass. (feel free to put that on a book jacket. Alan Heathcock: pretty much a bad-ass)
The stories aren't always 'fun' to read, but always moving and inspiring and insightful. In class he always taught that our job is to reveal the truth of any given moment. Walking the walk, this collection does exactly that. It's full of truth. Tough truths, at times, hard truths, sad truths, sometimes painful and ugly truths. But always truth.
Some reviews I've read only focus on these 'negative' truths. I can see why: Heathcock is holding up a mirror to us all, so it's no surprise when reviews fixate on how dark and foreboding Volt can be; we're dark and foreboding.
But, but, BUT, this collection isn't all a piss-parade-pity-party. It's full of humanity and life and hope and love, as well. You can't have all the depressing shit without the rest of all this to give it context. Can't have dark, without light; hate, without love (which hand will win?). So, sure, the book is dark, but there's more there for us to find.
Pro-tip: if you can't find it, go outside, get some sun, smile at a stranger, hug a bird, then come back inside and read again. It's there, all the hope and love you could ever want, and it's beautiful.
Actually, you might want to go read The Road again, as you might have missed all the love and hope in that one too, you depressing fucks.
So, in conclusion, Alan Heathcock is awesome. Buy his book. And if you've got any balls or smarts, you might actually read it.