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Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Sheilah Jastrzebski May 16.

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Family of Earth by Wilma Dykeman

Wilma Dykeman’s discovered memoir is essentialby Rob Neufeld             Fresh insight into the power and pertinence of the writing of Wilma Dykeman, Southern Appalachia’s preeminent spokesperson, comes to us through her posthumously published memoir, “Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood” (UNC…See More
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The Sinister Smile, A Sequel to A haven for Willa Mae by William Roy Pipes

THE SINISTER SMILE, an adult fiction thriller complete at 63,500 words and featuring William and Willa Mae Lawrence, and Howard Thomas. Howard, the affluent son of a wealthy and influential family, who is suspected of feigning insanity to avoid capital punishment for murdering Willa Mae’s mother plus three others.The novel begins with William and Willa Mae visiting Howard Thomas, a patient who had been in a mental hospital for almost thirteen years. His psychiatrist thought him to be…See More
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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Award-winning novelist captures fleeting youthby Rob NeufeldAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad: HarperCollins, Aug. 9, 2016)            The amazing, unusual thing about Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel, “Another Brooklyn,” I realize as it sinks in, is that the initial mystery—that is, why the narrator can’t…See More
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A rare interview, a story about an acid plant

A worker’s view of tannery work in Rosmanby Rob Neufeld             Haskell Luker was 11 when the Flood of 1916 caused his dad, Americus Alfred Luker, to leave the farm where he worked and take a job with an acid (tannin) plant in Pisgah Forest.             “Daddy was going down there to make big…See More
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A talk with Chitra about her benediction of a novelby Rob Neufeld             Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, one of our country’s most engaging and inventive novelists, first came to this region six years ago for Western Carolina University’s Spring Literary Festival.  That’s when I got to know her and began…See More
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Gary Carden's Outlander--about Kephart--at UNCA July 31--with author

Is Carden's Kephart play controversial?Gary Carden's play, "Outlander," receives a "staged reading" in the Reuter Center, UNC Asheville, 2 p.m., Sun., July 31.  Carden will be on hand to discuss the play with the audience.  It is a controversial play in that it has been criticized by the descendants of Horace Kephart who felt that the play "demeaned" Kephart.  "Ironically," Carden says, "my original purpose in writing the play was to 'redeem' Kephart. who has often been denounced by the…See More
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Bring Back the Game

BRING BACK THE GAME     Anna and I basically spent a month in Asheville, NC this summer. We returned to Georgia a few days ago, and while we were glad to get home, as we got out of the car, we were met with the suffocating heat that I still have not become acclimated to even though we have lived in Middle Georgia for over 30 years. Every plant in our backyard had dried up and only the belligerent squirrels had survived the summer’s inferno.      We had a great time in Asheville. We visited our…See More
Jul 20

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.”

 

Fairyland

 

            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.

 

Undercurrents

 

            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.

 

BOOK REVIEWED

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

 

SEE THE AUTHOR

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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