REVIEW: The Cove by Ron Rash
I learn a lot about myself as a reader by jumping in feet first to read a new-to-me author without first investigating what I’m getting myself into. This book is Southern Gothic fiction, a new-to-me term I’m beginning to understand.
The Cove by Ron Rash
Category: Historical Southern Gothic Fiction
Publisher: Ecco – an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Rating 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Format read: paperback
I chose this novel to read because it takes place in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains during World War I. I love Appalachian history and reading about those living a simpler life, working the land. These tight-knit communities always have secrets. I expected a love story, a mystery or suspense, as well as superstitions of the people who lived there, but there is so much more to this novel that I didn’t expect by reading the blurb as my guide. I should have paid closer attention to the prologue. Had I remembered the last few words of the prologue, I might have been better prepared for the unexpected.
Not always a patient reader, I rushed on with anticipation but without trepidation. I will learn to pace myself next time I read something by Ron Rash.
Laurel Shelton has lived her life as the brunt of her neighbors’ superstitions. Expecting their sidestepping and living through it every time she goes into town are two different things. Their fear of her birthmark and the things they suspect about her, lead to ridicule and disdain. That’s why the beautiful music coming from the land near her home, amidst the dark quietude of the cove, is so unexpected. Most never dare to set foot on or near their land. At first, Laurel believes it’s the North Carolina parakeets coming back home. But a stranger is here, camped just beyond their farm along the river, playing a flute as if he has nowhere better to be. Laurel observes him unseen and decides to keep his existence secret from her brother.
Laurel’s brother, Hank, is planning to marry soon, so Laurel wonders how she will get along with his fiancée when she joins them at their farm. She’s certain it will be hard at first, but Laurel will be glad for the company as well as someone to share the workload. Their neighbor Slidell is up in age but he’s the only person brave enough to come into the cove to help them. Hank lost one hand in the war so he appreciates Slidell’s assistance when more than one hand is needed. Most of the young men are away at war and those who are left won’t cross the warning symbolism on the road leading into the cove. Items left there warn of hexes and dangerous, mysterious happenings beyond that point.
When the flute-playing stranger gets stung by a nest full of hornets, Laurel brings him to their cabin to heal. The stranger cannot speak and they soon realize he’s mute and cannot read or write. Through gestures, they begin to communicate by Laurel speaking and the stranger, known as Walter, nodding. He turns out to be a good helper for Hank and stays on to assist them in getting the farm fixed up.
THE COVE starts out slow, meandering along the pages, building atmosphere and allowing us to get to know the characters. Through subtle layering, pieces of the characters’ history unfold, hinting that this lingering pace is the calm before the storm.
The first half of the novel was a difficult read for me, yet, when I went back to re-read the first few chapters, I was much more enamored. Now I realize the pacing is perfect for what is to come but it felt over-descriptive the first time through. This is a short novel so I expected more action in the beginning when the author was lulling me, which makes his surprises all the more effective.
Halfway through the novel I knew I was hooked when a simple, sentimental gesture brought tears to my eyes. Laurel’s life, even though she always had her brother for company, has been so very isolated and empty until she meets Walter. She begins to see a future for herself unlike any other time in her life.
Some books, just like real life, are full of twists and turns…
I enjoy reading all types of fiction, including thrillers, some mild horror, straight historicals without a romantic element, women’s fiction, etc…, but the mainstay of my reading is romance. When I think I’m reading romance, I have certain expectations. I don’t make the rules, it’s the way it is—romance readers have expectations and when they’re not met, we’re liable to hurl the book across the room. I’m not saying I’m prone to hissy fits but I need to know what I’m reading before I start page one. Mood readers are like that.
That said, I will forewarn that THE COVE is fiction with a romantic element that includes a thriller/horror bent that’s not to be mistaken as romance. I now know THE COVE is Southern Gothic fiction, thanks to other reviewers, and more about what that signifies.
I didn’t know this or understand it until my emotions were well-invested into the story and the characters. I did spend some time yelling at the book and at author Ron Rash. THE COVE is sneaky. Yes, Mr. Rash, you fooled me and I didn’t know whether to pitch the book across the room, or laugh like a crazy lunatic because I had been so easily hoodwinked. I will now expect the unforeseen when reading my next Ron Rash novel.
There are so many things I love about the way this book is written. The birds. Birds are sometimes creepy in a Hitchcock sort of way, but these birds. Hmmm. Very telling if you’re paying attention, but still creepy. Water is also very significant. Sight and sound is relevant. I don’t think I caught all the nuances the first time through and I will have to read it again to see what else I missed. This book was not damaged while reading, or in the making of this review. I only visualized giving it a good slam a time or two. Great fictional tales do tick me off sometimes.
THE COVE is a good piece of literary fiction, but romance readers, this book isn’t for you unless you enjoy taking a walk along a cliff littered with the macabre. If you love creative, unexpected thriller fiction, then jump on in…the water’s fine or maybe not. This book isn’t to be rushed through. Sip it like fine wine to follow the clues. There will be plenty of time to scream at the author at the end.
Reviewed by Dorine, courtesy of Romance Junkies.
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