My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Cove is the second Ron Rash novel I've read and, like One Foot in Eden, it is excellent.
What makes Rash one of the best writers I've ever read is his careful use of language. Here's a paragraph from the first chapter:
She pressed the wicker basket against her belly and made her way down the trail. The air grew dank and dark and even darker as she passed through a stand of hemlocks. Toad stools and witch hazel sprouted on the trail edge, farther down, nightshade and then baneberry whose poisonous fruit looked like a doll's eyes. Two days' rain had made the woods poxy with mushrooms. The gray ones with the slimy feel of slugs were harmless, Laurel knew, but the larger pale mushrooms could kill you, as could the brown-hooded kind that clumped on rotting wood. Chestnut wood, because that was what filled the understory more and more with each passing season. As Laurel approached her parents' graves, she thought of what she'd asked Slidell to do, what he said he'd do, though adding that at his age such a vow was like snow promising to outlast spring.
A writing class could be based on this paragraph alone. The rhythm is perfect. The setting is thoroughly described with careful use of detail he's either researched or lived. The characters of Laurel and Slidell are introduced with both physical details and glimpses of how they think. The paragraph ends with a wonderful simile and the choice of the word “poxy” to describe how the mushrooms fit in the scene changes a simple description to a metaphor with dozens of implications.
Ron Rash's book is about loneliness, hate, and insecurity. Laurel has large, purple birthmarks on her shoulders and back, which the early twentieth century residents of Mars Hill, NC believe mark her as a witch, causing them to avoid her as much as possible. While shopping for fabric she speaks out when she knows she shouldn't, showing us her resentment, but also letting us know she doesn't want to be bitter. Chauncey Feith, a military recruiter based in Mars Hill is always trying to prove himself by demeaning others. World War 1 is going on in Europe, but Chauncey's role in it is an easy one. He tries to prove he's as good a soldier as anyone else, but we can feel his self doubt.
The plot is the one area where I thought The Cove fell a bit short, especially when compared to One Foot in Eden. There are critical elements I had trouble believing. Laurel and her brother, Hank, take in a mute man who helps with work on their farm. They are too accepting of his story given Hank's war experience. Also the ending was too neat and depended on a coincidental event.
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