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Love and Mercy Booksigning

Gaston County Library, Main BranchGastonia, NCDec. 12. 20153:30 - 5:30 pm
10 hours ago
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
Nov 25
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Nov 24
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
Martha Arrowood Pelc posted a photo

Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9

Ron Rash’s novel, “The Cove” goes to a dark place

by Rob Neufeld

See also critique of NY Times and Washington Post reviews


            On page 4 of Ron Rash’s new novel, “The Cove,” one already has to worry about spoiler alerts.

            Rash has never stinted on opening scenes.  His 2004 novel, “Saints at the River,” starts with a drowning girl’s stream-of-consciousness.  “Serena,” his 2008 novel, soon a movie, begins with a knife fight.  “The Cove” also grabs fast.

            A TVA agent, checking out land for a reservoir, enters “the cove” of the title—a dark, accursed place in fictionalized Madison County—and makes a shocking and mysterious discovery. 

The novel then tells the pre-story, which takes place in 1918 and involves the internment of German prisoners at Hot Springs.  Not until the last pages is the opening mystery resolved.


People will talk


            People will talk—not just the characters in the book, who spread fear about the heroine and Germans, but also readers, who’ll imagine alternate endings to Rash’s tale of hate and love.

            In “The Cove,” Rash masterfully poises suspense elements; and gives full reign to other strengths: language; awe; symbolism; cast of characters; and mountain knowledge.

Laurel Shelton, the young woman who lives with her brother on their late parents’ farm, walks through the woods and glimpses Carolina Parakeets, the flocking beauties shot to extinction by farmers.

            Walking to the cornfield, she feels the cliff looming above her.  “There wasn’t a gloamier place in the whole Blue Ridge,” her mother had said.  The cove was “a cursed place…where ghosts and fetches wandered.”

            Shadow-land is a distinctive feature of this region’s literature.  In “Christy,” Catherine Marshall’s 1967 novel, bright-spirited Fairlight Spencer feels oppressed by the darkness of the mountains that enclose her cove in east Tennessee.

            “Christy, holp me,” she cries, as the sun vanishes behind the mountains just as typhoid snuffs her light.  “The shadder’s after me.”




            Laurel follows the parakeets to the discovery of a ragged young flautist camping out on her mountain.  His playing is otherworldly; he’s a mute.  Laurel doesn’t yet know that he has escaped from the prison camp.

            Dreamily, she goes back to the only sunny spot in the cove—a ledge—to retrieve her brother Hank’s shirt, drying on the rock. 

Then, “a purple butterfly lit on the stream edge to sip water.  A pretty hue, most anyone would say…Just not pretty on white skin,” Laurel reflects, thinking about her birthmark, which she had once tried to efface.

            Regarding accursedness, cursors pointed at Laurel in a few ways: her residence in the bad place; a history of calamities happening around her; her birthmark, which made it easy for people to shun her; and, ultimately, exceptional loneliness.

            “Laurel felt she herself might be a ghost.  Did a ghost even know it was a ghost?”

            You would classify Rash’s writing as “realism”—real people, hard times, clearly rendered details—but you could not dismiss the feeling of fairyland.

            Characters pass through the cove and see signs: fallen chestnut trees, blighted like much else; a bottle tree with charms; gravestones; pools.

            The book’s water imagery alone, tugging at many places, indicates how “The Cove” works strongly on two levels.  It fulfills Rash’s interest in sustaining, in a novel, the revelation and sound of his poetry.


World War I


            Hank’s shirt is cut off at one arm to fit his amputation, suffered at war.  Walter’s muteness is another kind of wartime loss.  Other characters, walking the streets of Mars Hill and participating in the drama in the cove, show scars.

            Tilman Estep, a cynical veteran, had lost one eye overseas.  Old Slidell Hampton, the Sheltons’ neighbor and friend, is haunted by a Civil War memory that stands out as a stunning one-page story within the novel.  Sgt. Chauncey Feith, the gung-ho home front recruiter, is branded by his fear of being deemed a coward.

            During a trip to Asheville, Chauncey stops in on the stone cutter, W.O. Wolfe, Thomas’ father, and imagines the unveiling of his own monument.

            At the ceremony, Chauncey would call his future wife to his side, and she “would turn to the crowd and talk about how Senator Chauncey Feith had dedicated his life to serving his country.” 

            Chauncey’s fantasy puts him in a different class from Serena.  The protagonist of “Serena” is a mythological fulfillment of world domination.  Chauncey’s demon is more modest—vanity and meanness disguised as patriotism.




            Laurel’s fantasy life is as pure a romance as you can find.  And she’s smart in many ways—as a student, woodswoman, detective, and strategist.  But her mountain isolation makes her a spirit of nature, and a votary to beauty.

            After taking Walter to her and Hank’s home to heal him from a fever, she returns to the outcrop to get Walter’s haversack, and reconnects with her refuge.

            “Up here,” Rash writes, “the wide shelf of granite gathered the sun’s light and held it, swaddled Laurel in its brightness…Dewdrops on a spider’s web held whole rainbows inside them and a fence lizard’s tail shone blue as indigo glass.”

Laurel’s love scenes are tender and believable.  “The Cove” is Rash’s sexiest book.

            Walter’s feelings and history come out in the novel, but not his fantasies as much as they might if the novel had had space to explore them.  We hear his music, but not his musician’s mind.

            At 255 pages, “The Cove” is a crafted gem.  It’s a book you could read again to savor the writing.  Rash has found a subject that compellingly represents his vision—beauty shadowed by foreboding; and he’s made it symphonic.



The Cove by Ron Rash (HarperCollins: Ecco hardcover, Apr. 2012, 255 pages, $26.99).



Ron Rash’s 29-stop book tour for his new novel, “The Cove,” includes these local stops:


Fri., 7 p.m.
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St. Asheville (254-6734).


Sat., 2 p.m.

Blue Ridge Books, 152 S. Main St., Waynesville (456-6000).


Sun., April 15, 2 p.m.
Jackson County Library Community Room, Sylva (586-9499).


Thurs., May 24, 7 p.m.
Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg County Public Library, 151 N. Church St., Spartanburg.


Thurs. May 24, 12 noon

The Lazy Goat, Greenville, for “Book Your Lunch,” $55 ticket (864-675-0540).

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