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
A major new Southern voice emerges in this novel about a town divided by the aftermath of a tragic accident-and the woman caught in the middle
When a twelve-year-old girl drowns in the Tamassee River and her body is trapped in a deep eddy, the people of the small South Carolina town that bears the river's name are thrown into the national spotlight. The girl's parents want to attempt a rescue of the body; environmentalists are convinced the rescue operation will cause permanent damage to the river and set a dangerous precedent. Torn between the two sides is Maggie Glenn, a twenty-eight-year-old newspaper photographer who grew up in the town and has been sent to document the incident. Since leaving home almost ten years ago, Maggie has done her best to avoid her father, but now, as the town's conflict opens old wounds, she finds herself revisiting the past she's fought so hard to leave behind. Meanwhile, the reporter who's accompanied her to cover the story turns out to have a painful past of his own, and one that might stand in the way of their romance.
Drawing on the same lyrical prose and strong sense of place that distinguished his award-winning first novel, One Foot in Eden, Ron Rash has written a book about the deepest human themes: the love of the land, the hold of the dead on the living, and the need to dive beneath the surface to arrive at a deeper truth. Saints at the River confirms the arrival of one of today's most gifted storytellers.
Book Review #1:
"Rash's second novel begins with a...death-by-water, but soon evolves into a scandal fraught with moral ambiguity....Rash writes no-nonsense prose that can seem more expedient than artful. Still, Saints at the River is a carefully spun tale, both beautiful and mysterious. It reveals a deep understanding of nature as it clashes with that equally potent force, human emotion." Anna Godberson, Esquire
Book Review #2:
When the 12-year-old daughter of a wealthy banker drowns in South Carolina's Tamassee River, her death sets off an emotionally charged battle between the grieving parents, who want to put up a dam to recover her body, and the local environmentalists, who will risk everything to defend the pristine state of their river. Rash pens his novel in clear, unadorned prose appropriate to its ripped-from-the-headlines premise; only the lyrical opening passage, which recounts the girl's death, reflects his skill as a poet (Among the Believers; Raising the Dead). But the book is rich with nuance, mostly because Rash selects Maggie Glenn as his first-person narrator. A Tamassee native who now works as a news photographer in the state capital, Columbia, Maggie has deep ties to the town, but she's detached from the main fray. As a result, her news angles and her romantic attachments keep shifting. Maggie's rage against her father isn't sufficiently explored to carry the weight it bears in the plot, but Rash compensates for this weakness by creating detailed, highly particular characters. A professor of Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University and author of a previous Southern novel, One Foot in Eden, Rash clearly knows the people and places he writes about, and that authenticity pays off in a conclusion that packs an unexpected and powerful punch. Publishers Weekly
Book Review #3:
From the first page to the last, the author's down-to-earth characters and rich descriptions of the backwoods carry readers through this emotionally charged story. Library Journal Spare, resonant, unputdownable. Kirkus Reviews Appalachian dialects and Rash's lyrical description of this small Appalachian town create a strong sense of place, adding to his well-spoken plea against the devastation caused by damming the nation's rivers. Booklist
One Foot in Eden: a Novel
Will Alexander is the sheriff in a small town in southern Appalachia, and he knows that the local thug Holland Winchester has been murdered. The only thing is, the sheriff can find neither the body nor someone to attest to the killing. Simply, almost elementally told through the voices of the sheriff, a local farmer, his beautiful wife, their son, and the sheriff's deputy, One Foot in Eden signals the bellwether arrival of one the most mature and distinctive voices in southern literature.
Book Review #1:
Rash's moody, potent slice of Southern gothic fiction centers on a murder and its devastating effect on a small Appalachian town in the 1950s. When Holland Winchester, local troublemaker in tiny Seneca, S.C., vanishes without a trace, it's up to town sheriff and WWII veteran Will Alexander to search for answers. Holland's mother claims to have heard a gunshot, and she insists that neighbor Billy Holcombe killed her son. Events unfurl slowly and methodically, and it's soon revealed that Billy's pregnant wife, Amy, had been having an affair with Holland. Shifting from Sheriff Alexander's narration, the story continues in Amy's voice as she recounts her frustration with Billy's sterility and her increasingly desperate need to bear a child. An impulsive visit to a spell-weaving widow for advice proves to be Amy's downfall when she's told that if her husband can't give her a child, she should "lay down with a man who can." The ensuing drama of infidelity, jealousy and betrayal is told by a chorus of characters with distinctive Appalachian voices: chief among them are Amy, Billy and Amy's young son, Isaac, whose discovery of the identity of his real father is both heartbreaking and liberating. As the valley is flooded to make room for a power company's land takeover, further tragedies unfold. Poet and short story writer Rash writes lyrically while maintaining the suspense of the central mystery. As each character reveals his or her secrets, the tale builds into a quiet storm-and a terrific first novel. Publishers Weekly
Book Review #2:
Ron Rash writes like a prince! Pat Conroy
Book Review #3:
One Foot In Eden is a story of wild, almost primitive force and yet it is neatly and ingeniously put together. Ron Rash knows to the core the ways of those who yearn for what is just beyond their grasp. Here is a lasting experience. Fred Chappell, Poet Laureate of North Carolina