Book Review: The Cove
By: Ron Rash
Published By: Ecco
Publication Date: April 2012
Page Count: 255
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
My initial impulse to pick this one up was the setting. Since taking an Appalachian Literature class in college, I have always loved reading about the people and culture of the region. My family is also deeply connected to the mountains of western North Carolina and I attended college in the small town of Mars Hill, the setting of The Cove. This was my first experience reading Ron Rash's work and I was impressed by how he brings the heartbreak, poverty, joy, and simplicity of mountain life in the early 1900's off the page and into the reader's consciousness. I was mesmerized and immersed from the opening chapter. I should warn you that while I loved this one, it wasn't a happy and uplifting tale. There is a lot of sorrow and tragedy buried within these pages. There were several moments that were difficult for me to read and a few tears were shed. Prepare your heart and mind before embarking on this journey.
Mountain people are a superstitious lot - even in modern times - so I felt like the beliefs surrounding the cove seemed authentic. The people of Mars Hill and the surrounding areas believe that nothing can prosper in the cove. Hank and Laurel, a brother and sister, live within the dark confines of the cove. Both have lived through more tragedy than anyone deserves by the time they have reached their twenties. To make matters worse, Laurel has a large purple birthmark which has townspeople labeling her as a witch. Hank has a better experience with the town after coming home a wounded war hero. As WWI continues to rage, Hank and Laurel try to survive the prejudices and superstitions of their small mountain town.
Things begin to change for Laurel when Walter, a mute young man, arrives in the cove. Walter is handsome and helpful, but he is hiding a dark secret that would see him at the end of a rope or bullet if anyone in town knew the truth. By staying with Hank and Laurel, Walter puts a target on their backs, but circumstances and his growing feelings for Laurel keep him in the cove.
I don't want to say anything more about the plot for fear that I spoil the read for someone. I will say it was tragically beautiful and one that still haunts me.
I highly recommend this one to fans of Historical Fiction and Appalachian Literature. The Cove will also appeal to those who are interested in the homefront experience in WWI. I purchased Serena as soon as I finished this one; I'm impressed by the historical and cultural components of Rash's writing.
One Last Gripe: It bothered me how horribly Laurel was treated by the people in her community. It broke my heart.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the moments at the college. It was fun to try to visualize how things that are so familiar to me may have looked in the WWI era.
First Sentence: The truck's government tag always tipped them off before his Kansas accent could.
Favorite Character: Walter
Least Favorite Character: Chauncey
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.
This lyrical, heart-rending tale, as mesmerizing as its award-winning predecessor Serena, shows once again this masterful novelist at the height of his powers.