Is Less More in Ron Rash’s Above the Waterfall?

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

In Above the Waterfall, Les is a sheriff on the eve of retirement just trying to keep the peace…find some peace…in his small North Carolina mountain town. Becky is an environmentalist with the streak of a poet working as a park ranger and taking refuge in the natural beauty of her environs. While high-end resorts push natives (both human and animal) to the fringes, meth poisons the town’s less hardy residents. Ron Rash, while ever vivid in his descriptions of his Appalachian universe, attempts to go poetic minimalist here, alternating POV’s between Les’ fact-based fatalism and Becky’s yearning artistry. This attempt to balance timely sociopolitical commentary (meth came after the 2008 crash) with a timeless aestheticism (one wonders if Rash is working on an Appalachian Poetry side project) threads thin…the polar opposite of the epic gothic complexity of Serena.

Unlike the meth, much of the novel feels undercooked, as if it began as a short story that Rash later fleshed out, and those who enjoy his modern short stories will connect to this more than those who lean towards his period-piece and cross-generational novels (such as Serena, The Cove or his earlier One Foot in Eden). I fall into the latter group, and thus had mixed feelings for this effort, especially as it devolved into a not-so-compelling and seemingly manufactured “who-dun-it” concerning the poisoning of trout.

There were, of course, as is always the case with Rash, moments of genius that leave indelible marks.   Continue reading

Anticipation in Ron Rash’s The Cove

Anticipation.

Our sweet-natured, sad-soul heroine Laurel anticipating her life to begin after a string of bad luck toiling away in the gloaming of the titular cove. Waiting for love to find her.

Hank, Laurel’s brother who has returned home from Europe after losing his hand, newly betrothed and anticipating a fresh life to begin outside of the shadow of his cursed homestead.

The handsome flute-playing mute named Walter who finds his way into the cove and into Laurel’s heart always looking over his shoulder anticipating his good luck to run out and his past (and the authorities) to catch up to him.

A nation anticipating their native sons to return from a war-torn Europe to safer shores.

The reader anticipating something…anything…interesting to happen in Ron Rash’s lukewarm but evocative Southern-spun WWI-era gothic romance. Don’t worry…it does…eventually.

It’s telling that Rash would follow-up his masterpiece, Serena, with a novel drenched in atmosphere and taking place in a gloomy hollow, eternally in the shadows of the Appalachian mountains (the same mountains where in Serena the Pemberton timber empire loomed ominously and supreme) which cast darkness on the hearts of the inhabitants there. It’s almost as if Serena Pemberton is casting the greatest shadow, as Rash will never be able to conjure a character to match her nor can one imagine a follow-up novel that could scale the same mythic heights. Continue reading

A Review of Ron Rash’s “Serena”

With his ambitious novel, Serena, Ron Rash creates a new American legend.

The Great Depression enshrouds the nation.  In the Western Carolina highlands, George Pemberton and his indomitable new wife, Serena, are forging a powerful timber empire come hell or high water.  If someone or something gets in their way…there will be blood.  This is the milieu of dread where Ron Rash’s new novel, Serena, lingers.  Three things soon stand in Serena’s path:  her husband’s bastard child, Jacob; the child’s young mother, Rachel Harmon; and a groundswell of conservatism looking to incorporate the Pemberton timber tracts into a national park.  Thus two women come at a crossroads, both empowered by their innate wills to survive:  Serena feasting off her insatiable greed while Rachel is driven by the unstoppable love for her child. Continue reading