Books & Essays
The World Made Straight
In a rural Appalachian community haunted by the legacy of a Civil War massacre, a rebellious young man struggles to escape the violence that would bind him to the past.
Travis Shelton is seventeen the summer he wanders onto a neighbor?s property in the woods, discovers a crop of marijuana large enough to make him some serious money, and steps into the jaws of a bear trap. After hours of passing in and out of consciousness, Travis is discovered by Carlton Toomey, the wise and vicious farmer who set the trap to protect his plants, and Travis?s confrontation with the subtle evils within his rural world has begun.
Before long, Travis has moved out of his parents? home to live with Leonard Shuler, a one-time schoolteacher who lost his job and custody of his daughter years ago, when he was framed by a vindictive student. Now Leonard lives with his dogs and his sometime girlfriend in a run-down trailer outside town, deals a few drugs and studies journals from the Civil War. Travis becomes his student, of sorts, and the fate of these two outsiders becomes increasingly entwined as the community?s terrible past and corrupt present bear down on each of them from every direction, leading to a violent reckoning?not only with Toomey, but with the legacy of the Civil War massacre that, even after a century, continues to divide an Appalachian community.
Vivid, harrowing yet ultimately hopeful, THE WORLD MADE STRAIGHT offers a powerful exploration of the painful conflict between the bonds of home and the desire for independence.
Book Review #1:
Rash's finely wrought third novel (after Saints at the River) follows the wayward trajectory of high school dropout Travis Shelton, who stumbles on a neighbor's crop of marijuana while out fishing in Madison County, N.C. He steals a few plants to sell to Leonard Shuler, a divorced and disgraced former high school teacher, who is living in a trailer and selling drugs. Travis has a violent run-in with the father-and-son Toomeys, who own the crop, and is left hospitalized and homeless. He moves in with Leonard and his pill-popping girlfriend. There, Travis and Leonard study the Civil War ledgers and journals of a Dr. Candler, and learn of the county's seismic upheaval during the Shelton Laurel Massacre and its aftermath. Meanwhile, the Toomeys, who do business with Leonard, are not finished exacting their pound of flesh, this time from Leonard. Rash's vivid prose depicts his characters' dependence on drugs, alcohol and hell-raising with sympathy, rendering their shared sense of futility and economic entrapment without sentimentality or easy answers. The Civil War sections are less successful, but they convey the past's hold on the present and ground Rash's Appalachian wanderers in a shared vision of American immobility. Publishers Weekly
Book Review #2:
High-schooler Travis Shelton steals one too many marijuana plants from vicious tobacco-farmer-turned-drug-dealer Carlton Toomey and ends up caught in a bear trap, his foot so mangled he needs surgery. Travis' stern father kicks him out, and he ends up bunking at the rundown trailer of bookish Leonard Shuler, a low-level drug dealer and former schoolteacher who lost his job and his family because of false charges. Leonard sees in Travis something of himself in his youth, when he used his intelligence to outrun the fate that lies in store for so many of the region's poverty-stricken residents. He bonds with the boy over their shared fascination with a local Civil War incident, a massacre that divided the town. Just as Leonard starts to get his own life in order and talks Travis into making plans for college, he becomes enmeshed in a confrontation with Toomey. Part melancholy historical novel and part high-voltage thriller, this third novel from the talented Rash will appeal to readers who like their suspense done with literary flair. Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
Saints at the River
One Foot in Eden: a Novel