Book Review: The Cove by Ron Rash

This is the first Ron Rash novel I’ve read and I’ll certainly get ahold of more. My only complaint is a compliment to the writing, which is that I had a weight of foreboding hanging over my head the entire time I was reading. This is partly as a result of the time, place and writing style. I just knew something bad was going to happen. Without giving anything away Mr. Rash gave a pretty blatant hint in the beginning. I think that was part of the effect though. I knew this wasn’t going to end well.

The novel is the story of Laurel, her brother Hank, and a stranger who Laurel finds stung almost to death by bees in the woods in the cove where she and Hank live. The cove is a bad luck place, and the local people believe Laurel and Hank are cursed. Hank is starting to win a more normal place in local society, but not Laurel. Her birthmark seems to be enough to convince the locals, with a few notable exceptions, that she is a witch. She is shunned and treated abysmally.

The best thing about the novel is the writing. The prose is good, which nowadays is much more the exception than the rule. The townspeople are not admirable but are completely believable. Laurel and her brother Hank are extremely well drawn. For the most part Laurel draws on our sympathy, but she is not a perfect, one-dimensional, Disney type character. She makes mistakes and reacts in ways that make you shake your head. Hank left me with ambivalent feelings. I don’t want to give away what went on between them, but I will say that, while I sympathized with him, I couldn’t feel completely good about him.

I won’t tell you about the stranger, because I think an important part of the novel is discovering what is going on with him as the novel proceeds. Suffice it to say that they nurse him back to health and he ends up having a profound influence on their lives. I didn’t like the ending. Not because it wasn’t realistic, but because it was all too believable. As with much that is realistic, it struck me as anticlimactic and unsatisfying. It was completely in line with the overall realism of the novel though so there’s no legitimate complaint. I think it is a clear sign that Mr. Rash cares more about the literary nature of his work than popular success.

As I said, I will be looking for more of Mr. Rash’s work. The writing is good, the characters are interesting, and he brings you to a world that is at the same time completely different and depressingly similar to our own.


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