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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Tale of Ononis

The Tale of Ononis by Rob Neufeld Part 1: The Making of a Celebrity ❧  Hare Begins His Tale  Ononis was my region’s name.People now call it Never-the-same.I’ll start with the day a delivery came. The package I got was a devil’s dare,Swaddled and knotted in Swamp Bloat hairAnd bearing, in red, one word: “Beware!” Bloats are creatures from the Land of Mud Pies,Wallowing in waste with tightly closed eyesUntil fears bring tears and the bleary bloats rise.   ❧  Hare’s Colleagues  I asked my boss,…See More
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Connie Regan-Blake posted an event

Drop Your Troubles: A Solo Storytelling Performance with Connie Regan-Blake at Black Mountain Center for the Arts

December 1, 2018 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Join this internationally renowned storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, as she transforms a packed theater into an intimate circle of friends with old-timey charm, wisdom, and humor. We’ll also welcome the Singer of  Stories, Donna Marie Todd, who will perform her original story, “The Amazing Zicafoose Sisters.” Connie’s last two shows at BMCA have sold…See More
Nov 6
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Explore the Landscapes of Story and Telling at Lenoir-Rhyne Center for Graduate Studies

January 23, 2019 at 10am to February 27, 2019 at 12pm
A Storytelling Offering in Asheville, NCWednesday Mornings 10am-12pmJanuary 23 – February 27, 2019 This winter Connie is excited to offer a learning opportunity to warm-up your storytelling voice and creativity!  Join her in Asheville, NC at Lenoir-Rhyne University for six story-work sessions with a weekly format that allows for skills to grow over time while encouraging a consistency in discovering, revisiting and refining your stories. During these weekly sessions participants are invited…See More
Nov 6
Connie Regan-Blake posted an event
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Explore the Landscapes of Story & Telling at Lenoir-Rhyne Center for Graduate Studies

January 23, 2019 at 10am to February 27, 2019 at 12pm
A Storytelling Offering in Asheville, NCWednesday Mornings 10am-12pmJanuary 23 – February 27, 2019 This winter Connie is excited to offer a learning opportunity to warm-up your storytelling voice and creativity!  Join her in Asheville, NC at Lenoir-Rhyne University for six story-work sessions with a weekly format that allows for skills to grow over time while encouraging a consistency in discovering, revisiting and refining your stories. During these weekly sessions participants are invited…See More
Oct 28
Connie Regan-Blake updated an event
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Connie Regan-Blake presents A Slice of Life: An Evening of Stories at Black Mountain Center for the Arts

April 6, 2019 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Join nationally celebrated storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, as she hosts her workshop participants in an enchanting evening of storytelling in “A Slice of Life: An Evening of Stories.” The event will be hosted by the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, just a short drive from Asheville nestled in the picturesque mountains surrounding the area. Call the Center for advance tickets (828) 669-0930 or order…See More
Oct 28
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Connie Regan-Blake's Taking Your Story to the Stage Workshop at StoryWindow Productions

April 5, 2019 to April 7, 2019
The focus of this “Taking Your Story to the Stage” 3-day workshop is on storytelling performance. Each participant is asked to come with a story that is almost “stage-ready.” Set in Connie’s home tucked in the beautiful mountains surrounding Asheville, NC, this workshop provides a supportive, affirming…See More
Oct 28
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Let’s say every word is precious

Let’s say every word is precious (Part of Living Poem) Let’s say every word is precious.Say every word is precious.Every word is precious.Every word precious.Every word.Word.--Rob Neufeld, Oct. 16, 2018See More
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Nancy Sutton replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Metamorphoses
"Poignant in so many ways!   "
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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses (Part of Living Poem)Hear audio: Metamorphoses%20181004_0192.MP3 So Apollo committed the first rape.He’d come back from exterminating Python,The Bane of Humanity, now his arrow-victim,And stopped to mock…See More
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Joan Henehan replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Fantastic, that will be very helpful."
Sep 22
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

First Drumbeat

First Drumbeat(Part of Living Poem) The time has come.Call it a drum,Or a crumb,What’s left of life. I used to tell a jokeWhen my life was wide,And I was a stud,And not a dud—I knowI’m not a dud.  I’m a dude,A dad.  But everyone mustRebut the dud chargeAt summing up time. Oh yeah, the joke,A trademark one for meIn that it’s not funny. I used to say I’ll never retireFrom writingBecause if I’m ever…See More
Sep 22
Rob Neufeld replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Thanks for the prompt, Joan!  I have attached the whole work in progress as a doc at the bottom of the table of contents page: http://thereadonwnc.ning.com/special/living-poem"
Sep 22
Joan Henehan replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Is there a way from this website to print everything or might you send me such a document to bayjh@icloud.com?"
Sep 22
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event
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Julia Nunnally Duncan at Marion Branch McDowell County Public Library

October 24, 2018 from 4pm to 5pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be launching her new poetry collection A Neighborhood Changes (Finishing Line Press, 2018) at a book presentation and signing to be held at the McDowell County Public Library in Marion on October 24.See More
Sep 21
Rob Neufeld replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"This could be interesting--thanks!  I'm at 828-505-1973 (my home business office).  And RNeufeld@charter.net."
Sep 20

Ron Rash's haunting dream-of-guilt novel

A review and an interview

by Rob Neufeld

(This article appeared in slightly shorter form, with a different author photo, in the print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sept. 18, 2016)

 

RON RASH EVENTS: Ron Rash talks about his new novel, “The Risen," at:

UNC Asheville’s Humanities Lecture Hall, 7 p.m., Wed., Sept. 21 (call Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 828-254-6734 about the ticketed event)

Jackson County Public Library, 310 Keener St, Sylva, 1 p.m., Sun., Oct. 1 (call City Lights Bookstore at 828-586-9499)  

*   

     Ron Rash’s new novel, “The Risen,” features some seriously troubled people engaged in the question of whether redemption is achievable. 

            The title, “The Risen,” may refer to a corpse, a repressed memory, or an uplifted person, so the issue of the outcome is always in doubt. 

            It’s the seventh novel and 19th book for the author who grew up around here and who now teaches creative writing at Western Carolina University.

 

Unsolved murder

 

            “How did you get the idea for this novel?” I asked Ron in a recent interview.

            “There’d been a murder about 20 years ago, near where I was living, where two men were accused of killing a young woman,” he said.  “The thing that struck me, almost immediately, when it became clear that no one was going to be arrested, was what if those two men did do it and got away with it?  What would it be like to live knowing you got away with this, if you had some kind of conscience?  Not only to live with it but also to know that there was another person who knew and might at any time, for whatever reason, decide to confess.” 

“The Risen” opens with Eugene Matney, a 62-year-old alcoholic, reading a news item about the discovery of a skeleton of a woman he’d met while fishing, with his older brother, Bill, 46 years before.  He had thought the woman—who had called herself Ligeia—had taken a bus to get out of town.

Eugene is the narrator, and it’s his mind and memory that begins to fill the interim with two parallel narratives that run as smooth and deep as a stream.

            “Did you find this novel easier to write than other novels?” I asked Ron.

            “In some ways it was,” he said.  “I’ll tell you why.  Once that happened 20 years ago to that young woman, I knew I’d eventually write something about it.”

            “You knew that 20 years ago?”

“Yeah, about a year after, when it became clear that no one was going to be charged, I knew I’d be writing about it...But what struck me, about two-and-a-half years ago, was I thought, what if (the two men involved) were brothers.  And during those 20 years, about every four to six months, I’d dream I killed somebody.”

“What does that mean?”

“I think it means my subconscious was working on the book, telling me, ‘You’re going to write about this.’  It wasn’t that (in the dream) I killed that particular young woman.  It was just that, years ago, when I was pretty young, I’d killed somebody and gotten away with it, and I was just remembering it.  It was a really disturbing dream, and I kept having it.  But once I started the book, I haven’t had it since.”

            It isn’t unusual for Rash to live in his dream world and his professional world at the same time.  His first novel, “One Foot in Eden,” had grown out of a dream of a farmer standing in his field in which his crops were dying.

            Despite the fact that some of Rash’s press photos make him look like a character in “Deadwood,” Ron’s a guy who has a lot in common with John Keats.

            “As my colleagues and family will surely tell you,” he says, “I spend a lot of time daydreaming... walking around in a daze.  People are used to it by now.”

 

Summer of Love

 

            Eugene Matney had been the first one to spot Ligeia in what Rash names Panther Creek in 1969.  She’d been nude, and had appeared to be a hallucination when Bill had followed up with a futile search.

“From the beginning,” Chapter One opens, “Ligeia’s ability to appear or disappear seemed magical.” 

Rash is tapping the myth of Ligeia, the siren; as well as of Edgar Allen Poe’s refusing-to-die beauty of that name.

When Bill and Eugene returned to their fishing spot a week after Eugene’s vision, they discovered the real girl, clothed in a bikini this time.  Her given name was Jane Mosely.  Her Daytona parents had sent her to the North Carolina mountains to live with her uncle, a preacher, and his family.

            Though the fantasy proved, in reality, to be as mundane as an A-frame and an addicted teen, the enchantment doesn’t end for Eugene, who claims Ligeia as his “mermaid.”

            One of the fascinating aspects of “The Risen” is that the narrator is such a doofus; and that’s a kind word. 

            Eugene is foolishly susceptible to Ligeia’s opportunistic charms; succumbs to brother-envy; and unsuccessfully nurses the soul of a Thomas Wolfe wannabe.  (His mother had named him Eugene because she had loved “Look Homeward, Angel.”)

            You can understand, though not condone, Eugene’s plunge into licentiousness because it had been the Summer of Love, about which he’d known nothing, for it had come to such places as Sylva, North Carolina a couple of years late.  On top of that, he’d lost his father long ago, and was disparagingly compared, by his brutal grandfather, to his all-star brother.

            “What,” I asked Ron, “did the late 60s mean to places such as Boiling Springs [where Rash had been at 16] and Sylva?”

“What I remember,” he said, “was the sense of all sorts of things going on in the country—good and bad—yet feeling, except for Vietnam, insulated from it; and not necessarily wanting to be insulated from it.  The newspaper in Shelby actually printed where they had sighted a hippie on Highway 74.  They had seen this guy with long hair in a minivan.”

“Were there no long-hairs in your high school in 1969?”

“I think it was the next year that the first guy wore his hair long.  These things happened, but it was tape delay.”

“The murder that inspired you took place 20 years ago,” I said.  “How did you decide to put it in 1969?”

“It was such an interesting time.  It was one of those last moments where someone could feel outside of the United States while being inside of it.  What I was attempting to do was put the 60s—everything from Manson’s murders to the love child—in one summer.  I wanted it all to come to Eugene in this one summer.”

“There are such things as watershed years and watershed events, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.  I remember the excitement of that year vividly.  I was sixteen—and wow, there were no more rules. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted, if you weren’t in Boiling Springs.  It’s like a big party you weren’t invited to... I’d listen to the radio at night, and it was like messages in bottles.  I’d pick up WLS in Chicago, so I’d hear Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and a lot of those West Coast bands.  It was great music.  There was a sense of limitlessness, that everything could change, seemingly in good ways; but then, that same summer, with Manson and Altamont, I started seeing the darker side.”

It should be noted that at age 15, Rash was reading Dostoevsky.  In fact, the epigraph to “The Risen” is from “The Brothers Karamazov”: “And after that the punishment began.”

 

Haunted souls

 

            The Dostoevsky quote spotlights Rash’s interest in how conscience works, without copping out with the police show’s pat resolution of a forced confession.

            “The Risen” also looks at other aspects of human psychology: how people’s true selves sometimes come out in moments of unguarded grace; how power can become an evil force; and how people respond to abuse.

            The latter two subjects relate to the Matney boys’ grandfather, the long-time general doctor and controlling boss in small-town Sylva.

            Once, when Eugene had gotten an inch-long shard of wood in his foot while exploring a haunted house with Bill, Grandfather ordered Bill, age 13 to Eugene’s 7, to do the surgery, beginning with a painkilling shot.

            “I said I wanted my mother,” Eugene recalled, “and between wiping tears off my face pleaded that the splinter didn’t hurt anymore and I wanted it left in.  Grandfather lifted the steel lance from the tray, nodded at the syringe in Bill’s hand.”

            He said Bill could do the cutting with or without painkiller—which would it be?  Then, in a small act of heroism, Grandfather’s nurse stuck a needle into her own vein to show Bill how it was done.

            People didn’t mess with Dr. Matney.  There had been a soldier whose gas mask tube had been cut in World War I after his inattentiveness had caused Matney to lose parts of two fingers to an enemy grenade.  So, enough said.

            Grandfather was going to make a surgeon of Bill and torment Eugene about his wussiness; and no one was going to gainsay him.

“We don’t see the grandfather redeemed in any way, do we?” I asked Ron.

“No.”

“In fact, not only that, he has a sidekick who’s even more mysteriously evil than he is.”

“That’s true.”

“Was it important to you to represent pure evil as a force?”

“In a way,” Ron explained, “because it has such an impact on the two boys.  This is another interesting part of life.  How is that one person can respond to being abused as a child—in this case, psychological intimidation—and get through it, while another can’t get through it?  That affects the way you view Eugene.  I wanted the grandfather to be a scary character.  The fact that he was a town doctor—I’ve never had a doctor like that, but it struck me one day, the kind of power a small town doctor would have had had he or she chosen to be that way.”

“How do you create villains?” I asked.

“I think one of the most important aspects,” Ron said, “is you don’t over-explain them.  You don’t give the reader a single cause for why they are the way they are because, once you do that, it’s an easy out for the reader.  The most frightening evil is the inexplicable, like Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men.’  We don’t know what his childhood was like.  One thing I learned from Shakespeare is that, with almost all his characters, there’s a part of them we don’t know, we can’t completely understand.” 

“And that applies to the grandfather?”

“I could have said that World War I had changed the grandfather, but I knocked that down.  The grandmother said that he was like that before.  There’s a French philosopher I like a lot, named Gabriel Marcel.  He had this theory that there are some people who will themselves toward evil.  They’re seeking to be that way.  I think Serena had that.  I don’t know.  The grandfather was a scary guy to write.”

The grandfather is responsible for some of the horrifying revelations in the book, but there are others kinds of revelations as well.

Rash’s nearly religious view of nature surfaces at times.

Before Eugene first saw Ligeia at Panther Creek, Eugene relates, “the midday sun fell full on the pool, so we waded in up to our waists, heat and cold balanced as if by a carpenter’s level.  That was the best sensation...Years later at Wake Forest, when I still believed I might create literature, I’d write a mediocre poem about...moments in church and afterward the ‘baptism of nature.’”

Eugene’s unusual casting as a screw-up enables Rash to introduce some comic scenes before things get desperate.

When Eugene had prepared for a second encounter with the comely Ligeia, Bill advised him, “With all that Aqua Velva you splashed on your face, my Aqua Velva, I might add, you could probably get drunk just licking around your lips.”

            Once again, with “The Risen,” Rash shows his ability to extend literary and psychological themes to a wide audience, such as the teenagers at Madison County High School who read “The World Made Straight” (Rash’s third novel) and decide that they’d like to read more.

 

Rob Neufeld writes the weekly book feature for the Sunday Citizen-Times.  He is the author and editor of six books, and the publisher of the website, “The Read on WNC.”   He can be reached at RNeufeld@charter.net and 505-1973.  Follow him @WNC_chronicler.

PHOTO OF RON RASH by Kate Vukovich.

 

 

 

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