The following is a guest blog written for Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in advance of an author’s event–a reading and signing with Ron Rash, North Carolina native and author of several novels including One Foot in Eden, Serena (now a motion picture starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), and The Cove.
I have been a fan of Ron Rash since reading his novel One Foot in Eden, and if there was any reserve in my adoration, his novel Serena banished it entirely. Although this blog is mostly about his newest novel, The Cove, I must in all good conscience say to you that if you haven’t read One Foot in Eden and Serena please run, don’t walk, to Lemuria right now for all three!
Ron Rash is undoubtedly one of the best writers of literary fiction publishing today. I know, I know–you read and/or hear this constantly. It seems that every debut novelist these days almost gratuitously earns the moniker “the most astonishing/vibrant/important new voice in fiction today,” and every published author’s next work is evidence of “a master at the height of his powers.” The phrases may be hackneyed, but in the case of Ron Rash, they are both fit and truthful.
Rash writes in a voice that is astonishing and vibrant, and because he is a master and one of the best contemporary talents in Southern fiction, we need to read his work! One of the things I respect most about his writing is the sheer consistency of its quality. His novels, The Cove most recently, demonstrate more than a gift for great story–telling. His narrative style is lyric and poetic, hardly surprising given that Rash is also a published poet. He is also a teacher of writing, and this experience shows in his attention to detail, his careful crafting of character and situation, and his use of setting.
In each of his novels, Rash paints a rich and living portrait of his beloved Appalachia. In The Cove, as in One Foot in Eden and Serena, landscape provides more than setting, giving to the novel both rooting in time and place and somehow a mysterious atmosphere. The cove itself plays like a character, haunting Rash’s protagonists and pushing them to act and react according to their own and others’ beliefs about its other–worldliness.
Laurel and Hank Shelton are brother and sister, bound by ties of blood and a shared identity as outsiders. They have grown up in the cove and on the outskirts of a small Appalachian community steeped in tradition and superstition. As the novel opens, Hank is recently returned from the trenches of World War I. A veteran soldier, wounded in the line of duty, Hank has lost the shroud of suspicion and fear that encircles both the cove and those who live in it. His acceptance by the community and impending marriage introduce a new dimension of loneliness to Laurel’s existence. The appearance of a stranger, himself an outsider and shrouded in mystery, opens for Laurel the possibility of understanding, love, and happiness–experiences she has too rarely encountered in the cove or the little she has seen of the world beyond it.
Rash’s picture of this insular community, its ignorance and fearfulness, resonates deeply with our world today, probing the causes that lead one man to despise another. Laurel’s “birth stain” destines her for isolation and the contempt of her community, but Rash moves quickly beyond surface issues. His tale reveals an intimate portrait of human loneliness and the great, heart-breaking tragedy that arises from those moments when we are unable to accept understanding and compassion for ourselves or to offer it to those around us. These are timely themes for a digital world that moves with lightening speed from one meaningless Twitter–bite to the next, often at the cost of real human connection.
Add to the poignancy of his themes the abject beauty of his language. As in his use of setting, Rash’s narrative voice seems richly evocative of time and place. Laurel’s speech runs with lyric grace through the shadows and spots of sunlight in the cove like the music of the stranger’s flute. It sings with the musical cadence of the Blue Ridge, with turns of phrase like “before full dark” and “kindly of you”– phrases like those a dear friend (another unabashed lover of all things Ron Rash) hears still spoken through childhood memories of her grandparents’ speech “away home” in Tennessee.
Stunning–this is the best word I can imagine to describe these novels. I invite you to experience the magic of Ron Rash and his artistry. Read The Cove–read One Foot in Eden and Serena––and we’ll wait together, impatiently, for his next work of art!