Review: The Cove by Ron Rash

The Cove “The New York Times bestselling author of Serena returns to Appalachia, this time at the height of World War I, with the story of a blazing but doomed love affair caught in the turmoil of a nation at war
Deep in the rugged Appalachians of North Carolina lies the cove, a dark, forbidding place where spirits and fetches wander, and even the light fears to travel. Or so the townsfolk of Mars Hill believe-just as they know that Laurel Shelton, the lonely young woman who lives within its shadows, is a witch. Alone except for her brother, Hank, newly returned from the trenches of France, she aches for her life to begin.
Then it happens-a stranger appears, carrying nothing but a beautiful silver flute and a note explaining that his name is Walter, he is mute, and is bound for New York. Laurel finds him in the woods, nearly stung to death by yellow jackets, and nurses him back to health. As the days pass, Walter slips easily into life in the cove and into Laurel’s heart, bringing her the only real happiness she has ever known.
But Walter harbors a secret that could destroy everything-and danger is closer than they know. Though the war in Europe is near its end, patriotic fervor flourishes thanks to the likes of Chauncey Feith, an ambitious young army recruiter who stokes fear and outrage throughout the county. In a time of uncertainty, when fear and ignorance reign, Laurel and Walter will discover that love may not be enough to protect them.” –

Deep in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina lies The Cove, a dark and gloomy place, one which – according to nearby Mars Hill residents – is also cursed. Inside The Cove live Laurel Shelton and her brother, Hank. Laurel has long been ostracized by the community of Mars Hill – both because of the supposed curse of The Cove and because people believe that a prominent port wine birthmark marks her as a witch. Hank also was shunned as a young boy, but after fighting and being wounded in the still-raging World War I, he has returned home to friendlier faces – and even a future bride. Laurel, however, continues her lonely and solitary life as she is excluded from the community.

On a sunny day as she is washing clothes in the creek, Laurel hears a beautiful song, much like that of a parakeet once native to The Cove that is now extinct. She follows the music and spies a man in tattered clothing playing a flute under a tree. She quietly returns home and moves on with her day, but days later finds the man covered in yellow jacket stings and close to death. She brings him to her cabin and enlists Hank in helping to save the man’s life. In his pants pocket, she finds a note:

The bearer of this note is Walter Smith.

A childhood affliction has made him not able to speak.

He wishes to buy a train ticket to New York City.

After nursing Walter back to health, Hank and Laurel convince him to stay temporarily to help on the farm. Laurel and Walter grow closer, despite the language (or lack thereof) barrier. And it is a good thing that Walter cannot speak, because he bears a secret that Hank and others in Mars Hill would not be pleased to know.

I truly enjoyed reading The Cove by Ron Rash. I appreciated the way this story gives itself over to the reader, slowly revealing itself layer, by layer, by layer. His descriptions of The Cove and the surrounding community of Mars Hill are portrayed in such vivid detail. His use of language in this novel is haunting and lyrical. Rash writes magnificently and brings to life the loneliness of Laurel’s solitary life in The Cove and the tenderness of her timid hopes of future happiness with Walter. He expertly captures the ignorance, hatred and judgment of the townsfolk and their condemnation of not only Laurel, but of others as well.

One thing that disappointed me was that I felt Rash did not develop some of the novel’s characters as fully as he could have. Laurel was beautifully characterized, and another character, Chauncey Feith, was somewhat unnecessarily extensively portrayed. The remaining characters were more vaguely outlined. I particularly would have appreciated a more detailed insight into Hank and Walter. These are my only complaints, however. The Cove is a haunting and stunning story of loneliness, love, judgment, and loss that will leave you pondering it’s melancholy beauty long after you have completed the novel. You definitely want to add this to the top of your To-Read list.

4 stars, my friend.

Source: Lincoln City Libraries Digital Downloads

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