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

Eat Explore Gamble

While Cooperstown has become a second home to me, I thought it was about time to explore other areas of Upstate New York.  As a last-minute autumnal getaway, I ventured up to the Adirondacks as far north as Lake George while also stopping in Glens Falls — home to the Hyde Collection — and Saratoga Springs — home to one of the friendliest casinos I have ever been to.  There’s something inherently adventurous when driving up a highway that has signs for Montreal — less than two-hundred miles away — and this civilized wilderness boasts some of the oldest settlements of both Native American and European origin.  The drive up marked the first time I was ever able to leave New Jersey without paying a toll — quick, someone fact check this…is the 287 the only way to get out the Garden State by car for free? — and the Catskills and Adirondacks unfold in gently rolling forms on the horizon as one heads up I-87N.  It’s astounding to think these now weather-worn and inviting mountains were at one time higher than the Himalayas.  Taking in all the gorgeous lakes and interconnecting canals and creeks flowing into the Hudson and eventually down to NYC, it’s no wonder the French, English and Indians all wanted to not only live here, but also control it.  Archaeological sites like Forts William Henry, Ticonderoga and Edward beckon us to stare into our Pre-Revolutionary past and see why this land…this wilderness was the first to be conquered. 

The fresh air is meant to be drunk…the humble expanse breathed in…the fall colors tasted…. Continue reading