85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Ron Rash is an author of supernatural perception whose writing can take on the haunting forcefulness of classic gothic storytelling. His power of observation is allied with his talent for translating human emotion into exquisite language. These brilliant stylistic gifts are deployed to full advantage in his latest pointed, tense yet heartfelt novel, The Cove: A Novel.
In THE COVE Rash plunges the reader deeply into a chilling world in which reality is narrow, bitter, and tragic. The setting is rural Appalachia at the height of World War I and though the war is raging far off in distant Europe, the barbarism of that war is close and fierce, right down home in the small mountain town of Mars Hill, North Carolina.
The rich variety of characters who populate Rash's Appalachia and their persuasive authenticity contribute scrupulously to the elemental power of his prose.
The story is centered on Laurel Shelton, a young pretty girl living in a rugged mountain cove which has spooked most of the simple townspeople of Mars Hill. Laurel is ostracized by these backward, ignorant folk, not merely because she lives on a struggling farm in the isolated cove they fear is cursed, but because she has a large purple birthmark on her shoulder which in the eyes of the superstitious is the mark of the devil. With the exception of Hank, her veteran of the war brother, Laurel lives a lonely, almost solitary existence forever shadowed by the foreboding gloom and haunting isolation of the cove. Simple happiness and freedom from loneliness seem destined to elude Laurel until the mysterious appearance of a mute stranger in the cove brings the promise of love for the first time into her lonely, desolate life.
Rash's plotting in THE COVE is subtle, especially in the inevitability of the story's events. But the tension he creates and firmly maintains control of is not. He allows the reader to assume predictability in the plot, only to tighten the tether of suspense in least expected ways, until the full fury of tragedy is unleashed in the novel's dramatic denouement.
THE COVE is first and foremost a love story but one which is blighted by a palpable sense of doom and wrenching heartache. Readers who are fans of the previous works of Ron Rash, particularly of Serena: A Novel (P.S.), should not approach THE COVE expecting another hard-edged SERENA, for THE COVE is a different kind of drama, one with a delicate reach and poignant expression of the human heart.
The Cove: A Novel is Ron Rash at his most affecting best and has convinced this reader of his versatile and enduring talent. It is most highly worthy of five stars.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Laurel has lived her whole life in a gloomy cove with her brother Hank. Shunned by the locals for many reasons (they believe the cove is cursed, they believe Laurel a witch, Laurel has a large birthmark, etc..), and kicked out of school early, Laurel's entire life now centers around farm chores and taking care of Hank. Hank is recently back from World War I (still raging) after losing a hand, and he is working to restore the farm in hopes of marrying a local girl. The loneliness each feels particularly Laurel is oppressive. And then Laurel comes across Walter a musician who cannot speak and needs her help. And of course, everything changes.
Rash delivers simply a brutal read capturing a town gripped by superstition and war hysteria. The pacing is perfect and the entire cast of characters feel real and alive. The ominous cove literally seeps off the pages. Even more surprising, Walter's story is based on historic events. In The Cove, Rash creates a timeless and relevant story which is sure to make December's best of lists.
73 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Ron Rash has a sublime sense of place, atmospheric detail and colloquial manners. The Appalachian landscapes in his novels are vivid, rugged. Colors, smells, and sounds take on a sentient quality, and there's a brutal, timeless delicacy to his terrains. Moment to moment, you move from the crest of creation to the threat of destruction. His stories convey themselves through the power of domain. His latest is a testament to the most fertile aspects of his craft, which shimmer through an otherwise flawed and listless story.
A short, mysterious prologue introduces us to a forbidding, rural North Carolina cove in 1957, and is followed by the main story, which takes place toward the end of WW I on the same rough and haunted turf. Laurel Shelton, an ostracized young woman, believed to be a hexed witch that causes harm and doom to others, lives with her brother, Hank, a disabled soldier recently returned from battle. Hank is engaged to marry a woman whose father needs to be convinced that Hank isn't also possessed. Into their solitary existence comes a mute flautist, Walter, who changes the course of their lives.
The alchemic beauty of the story is largely communed through Rash's formidable powers of description. The cove area, where Laurel and Hank Shelton live, has a supernatural aura. It is evident that the cove's mystical power will impel events along a trenchant course of turmoil and danger. The tension mounts early, with subtle and bold implications of the cove's spectral qualities and the Shelton's cursed history, which are woven inextricably together.
However, there are structural and character-related problems that make this story fall short of the author's intentions. It is difficult to relate them all without giving spoilers, so I will confine them to a few examples. First, the characters are static stereotypes that don't developed beyond what you see on introduction. They are either good and heroic or bad and polluted, and you know on contact. A few, like Walter, have hidden natures that are revealed gradually, but they don't truly evolve.
Secondary characters--Hank's friends, for instance, are stock set pieces. Slidell (Hank's closest friend) and his moonshine distilling behaviors are derivative and prosaic. If you want to be captivated by moonshine madness, read Finn, which places you vividly into the depths of this culture. I got tired of scenes of sittin' on the porch drinking moonshine, or laying about drinking moonshine, or recovering from the effects of moonshine. It added nothing to the significance of story, and seemed more like filler. Moreover, Slidell had minimal dimension beyond the buddy sidekick.
The villain, recruitment officer Chancey Feith, was a thin membrane of a figure. His presence was a platform for Rash to telegraph the theme of ignorant discrimination and flag-waving patriotism. He was a formula jingoist character that we knew to despise, who had no depth beyond pettiness and nationalism (with an obvious wink to today's imperialism). He was a flat, predictable entity designed to manipulate the story in a deterministic direction.
The plot is simple, and for all the meandering that Rash precipitated, it could have been reduced to a short story format. The structure was wobbly; for instance, he built up an imaginary dream world for Laurel to imbibe, where she insisted on knowing and recreating a historical place (that was central to the plot), leading the reader on a launched journey that demanded some kind of realization or corollary. However, Rash just dumped it with a reductive denouement.
As a matter of fact, several mobilized events and ideas were bluntly dispatched in this manner. He rushed the important events, especially as the climax drew nearer. Directions drifted and dropped and the story was sidetracked with spurious shifts, as Rash let the grains of some incipient ideas vanish with an inchoate shrug. It appeared as if he was trying to write two stories, and then eliminated one without properly trimming and removing surplus. Some of the context just shuffled into discarded notions. The myth of the cove was ultimately a tepid trickle, as its meaning wasn't revelatory or fulfilling.
At the end of the day, this is a mixed bag. The book is worth reading simply for the sense of place and time, providing an intimate feeling of color and history through geography and atmosphere. Rash is an author with a subtle and transcendent gift for transporting the reader to the Appalachian wilderness. However, once you get there, you're stuck in a stagnant, lackluster zone.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2012
I'd heard author Ron Rash interviewed on the radio and "The Cove" sounded like just my cup of tea--a very strong regional novel set in a beautiful, isolated mountain hold, with lots of compelling descriptions of the natural world. And "The Cove" does have all these features in abundance. What it doesn't have is a great set of strong characters or narrative. The main characters are swiftly drawn and then seemingly frozen--there's no development during the several months of their lives that the novel covers. At least one of the characters is a caricature who would be laughable if he weren't so despicable.
Much of the novel proceeds at a very leisurely pace, building a sense of foreboding, but then, inexplicably, the author rushes to denouement. In addition, the lead-up could have produced several equally plausible conclusions--there's no "inevitability" to the story line--so I felt a bit manipulated when Rash chose the ending that he did.
And, despite his oftentimes exquisite descriptions, author Rash would do well to banish "muscadine" and "gloaming" from his vocabulary for the remainder of his writing career.
This novel would have made a good short story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Readers who prefer atmosphere over action will savor the first 150 pages of The Cove. It took me days to get through that first 150 pages, then I blew through the final 100 pages all in one day. It's quite a contrast in pacing and tone, and it gets surprisingly suspenseful near the end. So have a little patience and your payoff will come.
After a prologue in which a human skull is found in the cove's well in the 1950s, Ron Rash treats us to a leisurely buildup in which the skull is all but forgotten. He takes us back to the rural North Carolina of 1918, with all its superstitions and prejudices and traditions intact.
Rash's skill in re-creating the atmosphere of the era is formidable. We meet Laurel Shelton, a young woman who has been ostracized all her life because of her port-wine birthmark. Her brother Hank has lost a hand fighting in World War I. They live an isolated life in the cove, a dark and hollow spot where others fear to tread. Until Laurel brings home Walter, a mute flute player who awakens in Laurel the hope that she is lovable despite her physical imperfection. Tensions are high in the neighboring town of Mars Hill, with fear of the "Huns" among us making people jittery. Things take an alarming turn and the story winds down in an unexpected, and yes, tragic, way. It is Ron Rash, after all.
3.5 stars, rounding up to 4 on the strength of the last 100 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
32 of 43 people found the following review helpful
To the fans of Ron Rash: Go ahead and blast away, but this is not a Ron Rash novel at its best. I will ask you to read the book before taking it out on the messenger. I reviewed and rated Serena very high in all categories, but The Cove is a dud. Rash can write. I know that from Serena, not from The Cove. The prose is only adequate, the plot has tremendous potential never realized, the characters are real, but never got into my head or under my skin. Even the antagonist, Sergeant Chauncey Feith, recruiter for the Army - one could argue that there are two antagonists: Chauncey and the Cove, itself - did not move me in the least. I had some empathy for Laurel Shelton, the lonely and lovely protagonist, but not enough to really "feel" her pain.
The execution of the plot fails on multiple levels. In of itself, the potential was there for very interesting and engaging book. But the manner of interaction or lack thereof between the two sides of the story doomed it. I do not like to spoil anything for anyone that still wants to read the book, so I cannot get into more detail on this. But generally, I like to feel that the protagonist and the antagonist are at each other or at least on a collision course.
The character of Walter had so much more to offer, but again, he was stunted in his growth and reach.
Recently I read Nightwoods: A Novel by Charles Frazier - another book that takes place in a similar Appalachian environment. And this book suffers from some of the same problems. The atmosphere that this location could provide is not exploited by the writer. Frazier was much better in his novel than Rash is in this one. The frustrating thing is that we know, from Serena, that Rash can put you into the middle of the story and make you feel everything that the characters are feeling. This time his writing is lazy and so is the effort.
The approach to the climax is also disappointing, but I'll say no more about it.
I cannot recommend this book, especially if you read and enjoyed Serena. This is a straight two star rating
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2014
Very unremarked upon here and elsewhere is that there are two versions of this novel--the hardback and the paperback. The paperback omits two chapters, reducing a character to minor status, along with some other small changes (I could only find the omission of a paragraph)--Ron Rash explains this in an introductory note. My reading group which was accidentally divided between readers of the two versions preferred the paperback revision.
Confusing matters further is that there are also two Kindle versions--the one with the plain cover and the one with the "P.S." in the lower right corner and "New York Times Bestseller" medallion on the left, which correspond to the hardback and paperback editions. Further confusing things is that the hardback non-P.S. Kindle version appeared in my cloud reader with "The Cove (P.S.)" title above each page, though my Kindle did not show this.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2012
Anticipation plays a huge part in Ron Rash's novel, "The Cove." Lovely but cursed Laurel anticipates love to find her, the nation anticipates their sons to return from the theater of war in Europe...and most stubbornly, the reader anticipates some of that Ron Rash mythos and rip-snorting action that dripped so effortlessly from his previous novel and masterpiece, "Serena." We get bits and tastes of it here and there...especially in the closing chapters where violence and heartbreak run amok again in the Carolina mountains, but for the most part this is a tepid, measured affair.
Though it might not be fair to judge it so, one can't help but feel the cold shadow of "Serena" hover over this well written but soggy effort that left this reader and Rash fan wanting a bit more.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
I kept getting e-mails that this book was one of the best of the year so far so decided to give it a try. Although the novel was easy to read and I was invested enough to want to find out what happened to the characters in the end, I do not recommend this book and am confident it does not deserve so much promotion. I did not find the characters at all believable. The heroine, Laurel, is extremely wimpy and not at all a strong, dynamic, or interesting character. Her situation in the novel is one to be pitied; however, she demonstrates very few characteristics besides her pathetic loneliness. Rash's writing is not very compelling or skilled, and the dialogue is not at all believable. The symbolism and bird imagery was extremely obvious and over-done. The one thing I did like about this book was that it began with the knowledge that one of the characters may die, and I was curious to see how that would play out. This book is not worth the time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Cove, the latest novel by Ron Rash is one of those novels the reaches in side the reader and opens a trunk of emotions. That should surprise no one who has read any of Rash's novels. I have long felt that Rash is a rarity; a complete novelist, equally able to develop an intelligent storyline, excelling at character development, and adept describing a scene or emotion. His talent at writing dialog, especially the dialog Southern Appalachia is first rate. It is with no doubt that Rash's comfort with the English language, a result of his first love and art, poetry, is evident on every page.
Set in Mars Hill, North Carolina during the closing months of World War I, The Cove is a story about a brother and sister, Hank and Laurel Shelton who share a farm that if not blighted, at least seems cursed to their neighbors. The Cove is a dark area of the mountains where some sections never see the sun. Yet, despite the lay of the land Hank and Laurel manage to make a life. Hank, a recently returned vet is missing a hand and is engaged to be married. Laurel, an unfortunate who suffers from wine colored birthmarks that set her apart from other residents of the community. Many in the town shun Laurel and consider her unfit to associate with. There are other characters, but none less graciously painted than an Army recruiter that goes after an aging professor at the local college who happens to teach German.
Perhaps because of her situation, Laurel has a special attachment to the country around her, roaming the forest where she is more at home than in town. While out one day she hears an odd sound and follows it to the source. It is this discovery that changes both her and Hank's lives and sets in motion a story that builds to an unexpected and climatic conclusion.
Ron Rash continues his legacy of superbly written novels. One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, The World Made Straight, and Serena provide a wonderful prelude to The Cove.
I highly recommend.