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Tipper posted a blog post

When You Get in the Habit of Saying the Same Thing

Have you ever been around someone who used the same word or words in every sentence? Years ago, I was introduced to a man who at the end of every sentence said and what not. I remember being obsessed with listening to him. I wanted to see if just once he wouldn't say and what not. It never happened. He said the phrase at the end of every sentence just like clock work.A few other habitual sayings I've…See More
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Feb 17
Ann Miller Woodford posted an event
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Ann Miller Woodford at Gospel Singing program: Liberty Baptist Church, Sylva, NC & Exhibit; WCU Mountain Heritage Center

February 19, 2017 from 3pm to 5pm
WCU's Mountain Heritage Center and curator, Ann Miller Woodford, will present an exhibit on African-American far western NC community, music, and history, based on Ann’s book, When All God's Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina.The exhibit is based upon Woodford’s book of the same name, which examines musical traditions of the African-Americans as practiced at home, work, churches and schools.The exhibit examines…See More
Feb 16
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
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Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Feb 15
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Rytson

Tyson’s Emmett Till book probes darknessby Rob NeufeldEVENT: Timothy Tyson discusses his book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, 6 p.m., Wed., Feb. 15.  828-254-6734.             The headline about the publication of Timothy Tyson’s new book, “The Blood of Emmett…See More
Feb 13
Tipper posted a video

Kudzu Kickers - Waltz Clog

In case you didn't know-we dance too! Our clogging team is called the Kudzu Kickers. In this video we were practicing for an upcoming festival. The Pressley ...
Feb 11
Tipper posted a blog post

Memories and Food

Each of us have memories that are connected to food. Typically those remembrances are directly related to our childhood, you know the things we ate around the family table like the chocolate gravy I told you about earlier this week.A few years ago I…See More
Feb 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
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Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Jewish Studies special events March 23-26

Center for Jewish Studies 35th Anniversary Events from press releaseUNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a series of special events on and off campus March 23-26. Rick Chess talk and readingUNC Asheville Professor of English Richard Chess has been director of the CJS for the past 25 years and will deliver the 2017 Phyllis Freed Sollod Memorial Lecture on the celebration’s opening night. A poet and essayist, Chess will offer a vision of Jewish…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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David Joy Presents His Second Novel at Jackson County Public Library

March 3, 2017 from 6:30pm to 8pm
The Jackson County Public Library and City Lights Bookstore are co-hosting an event with David Joy on Friday, March 3rd at 6:30 p.m. He will present his second novel, The Weight of This World, in the Community Room of the Jackson County Public Library. Set in the Little Canada community of Jackson County, The Weight of This World is a story of three people haunted by their past. A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he…See More
Feb 4
Tipper posted a blog post

Hiccup Cures

Do you ever get the hiccups? Every once in a while I do. If I have them once during a day-I always have them again before the day is over. My record is 5 different times in one day.We've all heard drinking water or holding your breath is the remedy to stop hiccups. According to John Parris saying this tongue twister will cure them:Hickup, snicup, rise up, right up! Three drops in the cup are good for…See More
Feb 4
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The German experience settling WNC

The German migration to Western North Carolinaby Rob Neufeld PICTURE CAPTION: An immigrant family comes down the Philadelphia Wagon Road in the mid-18th century, as had the George Schuck family done, and as this Scots-Irish family is doing in an 1872 “Harper’s Weekly” illustration, titled, “The…See More
Feb 3

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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