four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
By: 
Ron Rash
user_rating: 
0

748255.pngRon Rash’s novel Serena (4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2009) was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. He is also the author of several other novels and short story collections.

The Story: On the American home front during World War I, suspicion of foreigners and immigrants runs high. But the people of rural Mars Hill, North Carolina, don’t need a war to distrust Laurel Shelton. She and her brother Hank live in a cove outside town that is rumored to be cursed. She bears a large purple birthmark that some say marks her as a witch. Laurel grew accustomed to solitude following the death of her parents and Hank’s departure for the war. But his return and the arrival of a mysterious stranger soon draw her into a plot that proves that wars don’t always remain distant.
Ecco. 272 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780061804199

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Since the cover compares Ron Rash to John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy and includes high praise from Daniel Woodrell, you’d think this book ranks among the best backwoods fiction since 2006’s Winter’s Bone. You wouldn’t be wrong." Melissa Maerz

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[I]f parts of The Cove suggest an overextended novella more than a full-bodied book, the final pages dispel any doubts. Resolution, when it arrives, is swift, brutal and unexpected. A breathless sequence of events lead the book to its devastating final sentence." Janet Maslin

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Rash, a native of Appalachia, has written a southern tragedy, with a self-consciously Shakespearean structure and economy. … The Cove is … a powerful novel, with some of the mysterious moral weight of Carson McCullers, along with a musical voice that belongs to Rash alone." Charles Finch

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The characters in The Cove hold a mirror up to our modern world, reminding us that we often condemn certain people when we’re actually scared of something bigger in the world. … Though there are points in the novel where the characters seem less believable than those in his previous books—as though they’re serving some purpose other than being themselves—the story moves at a tense pace, with the best elements of both mystery and historical fiction." David Doody

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Cove is never less than a pleasure to read because of Rash’s rhythmic, sharply observed prose. … The complexity that made the title character in Serena so memorable is missing from anyone in The Cove, a flaw that prevents it from taking an equal position with Rash’s best work." Jeff Baker

Critical Summary

Reviewers found much to love in The Cove, but much of their praise seemed to attach itself to the author rather than the work. They deeply admired the way Rash uses the verbal and visual vocabulary of Appalachia to evoke universal emotions, as well as the way he uses details from the past to create a setting in which the reader feels completely present. Yet when addressing the actual characters or story of the novel, critics tended to note that The Cove seems shallow, its characters less than fully realized. On the whole, they strongly recommended the work but undoubtedly preferred Rash’s previous works. Start with Serena.

Also by the Author

748780.pngSerena (2008): Returning to North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains with his new wife, Serena, in 1929, George Pemberton prepares to build a logging empire, but he is met at the train station by Rachel Harmon, a servant pregnant with his child, and her outraged, drunken father. Serena Pemberton, however, is no blushing bride. The daughter of a Colorado timber baron, she goads George into fighting, and killing, Mr. Harmon. Soon, she is personally overseeing crews of burly, bad-tempered loggers, who are ruthlessly determined to clear the Pembertons’ land by any means necessary before the federal government can seize it for a popular national park project.