Reviews for Cove


Booklist Reviews 2012 February #1
*Starred Review* In the Appalachians of North Carolina near the end of WWI, lonely Laurel Shelton lives with her brother, newly returned from the war, in a forbidding place known as the cove. Shunned all of her life by the townsfolk of Mars Hill because they believe she is a witch, Laurel despairs of ever making a life for herself. But one day a stranger appears carrying a silver flute and a note explaining that his name is Walter and that he is mute. But Walter is hiding his true identity, for he is well aware that it would place their lives in grave danger. Meanwhile, Chauncey Feith, a dimwitted and ambitious army recruiter, stokes the locals' hatred and fear of "the enemy," while Laurel's brother and others who actually served in the war regard his posturing with great contempt. Poet and literary novelist Rash effortlessly summons the rugged Appalachian landscape as well as the small-mindedness and xenophobia of a country in the grip of patriotic fervor, drawing striking parallels to the heated political rhetoric of today. A powerful novel that skillfully overlays its tragic love story with pointed social commentary. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

----------------------
BookPage Reviews 2012 April
Shaped by the land, torn apart by intolerance

Ron Rash believes that “almost all of the great books are regional books.” What, he asks, “could be more regional than James Joyce’s Ulysses,” which unfolds during a 24-hour ramble through Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904?

So Rash bristles—in a modest, gentlemanly sort of way—when people use the word regional to pigeonhole, diminish or dismiss fiction like his, which roots itself in a particular place—Appalachia, and especially western North Carolina, where his family has lived since the 1700s.

“It’s an important issue to me because I think there’s a difference between regional and local color,” Rash says during a call to his office at Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, North Carolina. “Local color is writing that is only about difference—what makes this particular place exotic. Regional writing is writing that shows what is distinct about a place—its language, culture and all of that—yet at the same time says something universal. Eudora Welty says it better than I can. She says that one place understood helps us understand all other places better. That’s been a credo for me. I think that if you go deep enough into one place, you hit the universal.”

A point in his argument’s favor? Ron Rash’s novels, especially his recent bestseller Serena, are popular in France. He’s been invited to read his fiction in places as far away as Australia and New Zealand. His books sell well in China. And his short stories and novels have been nominated for national, not just regional, awards.

Still, there is his sense of loyalty to his place of origin. On a 10-city book tour in France, for example, Rash, a charming storyteller with a strong regional accent, remembers that “they had me go to a local high school, I think partly [so students] could hear an American speaker. The first thing I told them was not to imitate me; they certainly would not be understood in New York City if they sounded like me!”

"Landscape is destiny. The environment you grow up in has to have some kind of effect on how you perceive the world."

A regional setting and universal themes are definitely hallmarks of Rash’s atmospheric new novel, The Cove. Set in the fictional western North Carolina town of Mars Hill at the end of the First World War, The Cove uses a little-known historical incident as a stepping-off point for a haunting narrative about intolerance and redemptive but illicit love.

“Obviously I love to read about the region’s history,” says Rash, who is the first person to hold the endowed Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies Chair at WCU. “But a few years ago I was doing some research and I was amazed to find that [there had been] a German internment camp near where I live in western North Carolina during [World War I]. And this camp was not for POWs. It was for German civilians who happened to be marooned in the United States when the United States entered the war. That was fascinating to me. And it became even more fascinating to me when I started reading about the Vaterland, which was the biggest ship in the world at that time and was much more elegant than the Titanic, and these guys who ended up in Hot Springs [North Carolina] had been on the Vaterland.”

Then Rash read an account of the internment camp that mentioned in passing the fact that one and only one German prisoner had ever escaped. “Wow! I thought, boy, what I can do with that. To me there was just this incredible story here that even a lot of people in the region did not know about. At the same time, because of some things that were happening in the United States, contemporary issues, I thought there were interesting connections.”

But Rash, who customarily writes between 12 and 14 drafts before completing a novel—usually while sitting in front of his fireplace with his two dogs at his feet—could not get his story of a German escapee to fly. Not, that is, until he realized that the real emotional center of his book was Laurel Shelton, a young woman who has lived all her life in a sheltered cove near Mars Hill and who longs to escape from a life blighted by the superstitious beliefs and confining scorn of most of her neighbors. Her dilemma threatens to split her apart from her brother Hank, who has returned to the family’s hardscrabble farm in the deep shadows of the Appalachian mountains after being wounded in the war.

“To me,” Rash says, explaining his intense interest in describing the ghostly place in which his characters rise and fall, “landscape is always a character. And I would say the cove itself, the landscape, is in some ways as dominant a character as any other character. . . . It’s hard for me to completely articulate but to me it’s like landscape is destiny. The environment you grow up in has to have some kind of effect on how you perceive the world. I would argue that The Great Gatsby could only have been written by a Midwesterner because the kind of expansiveness Gatsby could imagine fits a Midwestern sensibility; looking out on this endless expanse gives you a sense of endless possibility. The same might be true of someone who was born at the ocean. But if you live in mountains—I’ve seen this in my own family—two things can happen. One is that you feel protected by the mountains, almost like it’s a womb that protects you from the outside world. But the other thing that can happen is that the lack of light does something physically to people who live in a cove. There’s always a sense of your smallness, your puniness and insignificance compared to these mountains that have been here millions of years and loom over you. The result can be the kind of fatalism I saw even in my own family. I think The Cove is my strongest attempt to show that.”

Though based on historical research and set almost 100 years ago, The Cove is artfully layered with Rash’s concerns about the present. One of his most persistent concerns is how easily we turn other people into enemies and go to war against them. In a remarkable way, The Cove dramatizes a hope that loving, reasonable sensibilities will prevail—and a fear of the tragic consequences if they do not.

“I don’t want to be a propagandist, but I hope the reader senses that this is in the story. Certainly there are questions of what it really means to be patriotic, what it means to go to war. You kind of lay it out there and let the reader make the connections or not.”

Then Rash returns the conversation to his interest in discovering the continuities of past, present and future. While researching his previous novel, he reports with delight, he discovered that the house he owns about three miles from the WCU campus had been in his family roughly 230 years ago. And the future? Well, he says with some pride, like his wife and himself, his 24-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son have chosen to become teachers. “At least we didn’t run them off from the profession.”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2012 March #2
Lonely young woman meets mysterious stranger. What might have been trite and formulaic is anything but in Rash's fifth novel, a dark tale of Appalachian superstition and jingoism so good it gives you chills. Three miles out of town, in the North Carolina mountains, a massive cliff rears up. Beneath it is a cove, gloom-shrouded and cursed, so the locals believe, though all the out-of-state Sheltons knew was that the farmland was cheap. The story takes place in 1918. Both parents have died and their grown children, Hank and Laurel, are trying to cope. Hank is back from the war, missing one hand. Laurel has a purple birthmark; she has been ostracized by the townsfolk of Mars Hill as a witch. Rash's immersion in country ways and idioms gives his work a rare integrity. One day Laurel hears a stranger playing his flute in the woods; the sound is mournful but mesmerizing. The next time she finds him prone, stung by hornets, and nurses him back to health at the cabin. (What the reader knows, but Laurel doesn't, is that he's on the run from a barracks.) A note in his pocket tells her his name is Walter and he's mute. Laurel can live with that. She has low expectations, but maybe her life is about to begin. Hank hires Walter to help him fence the pasture; he proves an excellent worker. Laurel confesses her "heart feelings:" Walter is encouraging; Laurel cries tears of joy. Meanwhile in town Sgt. Chauncey Feith, a bombastic, deeply insecure army recruiter and faux patriot, is stoking fear of spies in their midst as local boys return from the front, some in terrible shape. Eventually Laurel learns Walter's identity; his back story is fascinating, but only a spoiler would reveal more. Let's just say the heartbreaking climax involves a lynch mob led by Feith; perhaps the cove really is cursed. Even better than the bestselling Serena (2008), for here Rash has elevated melodrama to tragedy. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews 2011 October #2

In this haunting, powerfully moving novel, set in the rural backwoods of North Carolina near the end of World War I, Rash returns to the Appalachian byways that figure in much of his highly acclaimed fiction (e.g., Serena; One Foot in Eden). At the center of this novel is an isolated piece of farmland that everyone in town believes is cursed. The pain and violence evident here are caused not by a curse, however, but by human cruelty. Ostracized and lonely, Laurel Shelton lives on the farm with her brother, newly returned from war. Then a stranger appears, mute but carrying a silver flute, and Laurel seems finally to have found love. But their happiness is tragically short-lived. VERDICT Rash develops his story masterfully; the large cast of characters is superbly realized, as is the xenophobia that accompanies the war, and Rash brings the various narrative threads together at the conclusion of the novel with formidable strength and pathos. Essential for fans of literary fiction.--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

[Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #1

In the rural North Carolina mountains, Laurel, an outcast and supposed witch, lives with her brother, maimed during World War I, in a cove the townspeople believe is haunted. She comes upon a mute stranger in the woods playing a silver flute. Their meeting changes the lives of these three protagonists in unexpected and glorious ways. VERDICT Haunting, poetic and wise, Rash's (Serena) latest novel is a book to savor on long summer days.

[Page 97]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
In the rural North Carolina mountains, Laurel, an outcast and supposed witch, lives with her brother, maimed during World War I, in a cove the townspeople believe is haunted. She comes upon a mute stranger in the woods playing a silver flute. Their meeting changes the lives of these three protagonists in unexpected and glorious ways. VERDICT Haunting, poetic and wise, Rash's (Serena) latest novel is a book to savor on long summer days. -- "Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy" LJ Reviews 6/7/12 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 January #2

Veteran novelist Rash (Serena) knits his newest rustic yarn in North Carolina during WWI. Located near the hardscrabble village of Mars Hill, the cove is shrouded in superstition, "a place where ghosts and fetches wandered." Nearby, the alienated Laurel Shelton lives with her wounded war veteran brother in an isolated cabin. While out doing laundry by the creek one day, Laurel discovers Walter Smith, an illiterate, mute flutist en route to New York City, who has been incapacitated by hornet stings. As she nurses the mysterious Walter back to health, Laurel begins to fall in love. "Waiting for her life to begin," she clings to Walter and the future he represents. However, local Army recruiter Chauncey Feith threatens to ruin all that Laurel and Walter hope for. A rabid anti-German agitator, he begins to suspect that Walter is not who he claims to be. Driven by fear, patriotism, and bloodlust, Chauncey progresses from arrogant drunk to a craven yet dangerous force. The gripping plot, gothic atmosphere, and striking descriptions, in particular of the dismal cove, make this a top-notch story of an unusual place and its fated and fearful denizens. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff & Associates Inc. (Apr.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

----------------------