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The Cove: A Novel by Ron Rash

The Cove: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Ron Rash

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373None29,044 (3.66)9
nfmgirl2's review
There is an ethereal feel to this story, as if the Cove was part of another world. I found myself drawn in by Laurel, a sad and lonely young woman lost to the Cove. Laurel is rather a mix of simple and complex. She speaks simply, she lives simply, she loves simply. However she is not simple-minded. Intelligent and strong, life in the Cove has not broken her. Devoted to a brother that is her world and ostracized by her community, she clings every day to every minute glimpse of beauty that she can find, few as they are in such a desolate landscape.

Her brother Hank is an honorable man who was horribly wounded in the war against the Germans. He and his sister are both viewed as outsiders, living in a Cove that most feel is cursed. However while Hank returns from the war a hero and sees a better life in his future, his sister Laurel will never be anything but cursed, marked at birth as a witch.

The Cove is viewed by the town as cursed, but in seeing the Cove through Laurel’s eyes I came to love it. Quiet and peaceful, it is free of people, since everyone fears it. There are some areas completely in shadow where light never falls, but there are also pockets of beauty where butterflies flit and colorful parakeets skirt across the sky as sunlight glistens in a hidden copse. There is always beauty in life. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it.

This is a story of judgement-- people passing judgement that they have no right to pass-- and the story slowly reveals itself, like the peeling of an onion, layer by layer.

I would consider this story to have a didactic theme, with a moral lesson hiding in the story. However there is also something cautionary about it. This story left me feeling melancholic yet hopeful.

My final word: As the title would indicate, the setting in this story is everything. The ethereal feel of the Cove, the darkness, dankness, with pockets of beauty, is haunting. Laurel is one of these hidden beautiful bits. Unfortunately few could see the beauty of the Cove, nor that of Laurel. But I definitely felt the beautiful spirit of this story. I loved it! ( )
  nfmgirl2 | Apr 18, 2012 |
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I have never read Ron Rash before but I read this one because I am from the town of Mars Hill and I went to Mars Hill College so I was incredibly interested. I thought it was good but not great. One other reviewer who is also from Madison County said they do not talk like they do in the book there in real life and I have to say I agree although people who are from back in the mountains, live in the coves, and that are not main stream Madison Countiers might. I had somewhat of a hard time picturing the town of Mars Hill in my head as it is portrayed in the book because the layout he describes is not how the town looks today. I know the magic part was a major plot point but again people from Madison County and especially Mars Hill are not as judgmental as he made them out to be. In fact, because of the college I think they are more open-minded than some that live in the little mountain communities that surround that area.
  Swade0710 | Mar 20, 2014 |
Another winner. No one captures southern culture better than Ron Rash. ( )
  stevewhite71 | Mar 19, 2014 |
  tangledthread | Dec 1, 2013 |
The small, isolated community of Mars Hill, North Carolina, continues to cling to the prejudices and Appalachian superstitions of another century in the wake of World War I. Its men have been to fight in foreign lands, encountered the awesome terror of modernized warfare, and yet still harbor a profound fear of a young woman who lives sadly and quietly in a place simply known as "The Cove." Laurel Shelton's life, thanks to the people of Mars Hill, has not been an easy one. Marked by the port-wine stain on her shoulder and by the misfortune of living on land that is believed to be the home of some nebulous evil, Laurel is labeled a witch and ostracized from the community--banned from the school, humiliated by the local boys, and shunned by the proprietors of local businesses. It doesn't help that The Cove seems to consume everything with which it comes into contact; Laurel's parents both die under unfortunate and unexpected circumstances, the blighted chestnut trees begin to die off, and there are fewer Carolina parakeets with every passing year.

When her brother and protector, Hank, leaves for war, Laurel is left alone to fend for herself on the farm and it seems as though happiness will forever remain out of her reach. But Hank returns, having lost a hand to the war, and it seems as though things might finally get better. Hank is getting married, the farm responds to his hard work, and a stranger in the woods may offer Laurel an escape from The Cove's clutches.

Ultimately, The Cove is about the danger of instinctively hating that which we don't understand. Ignorance and intolerance make Laurel an outcast and The Cove itself becomes the physical manifestation of the community's rejection of her for the crime of being "different." Just as the darkness of The Cove absorbs and destroys the beauty of its inhabitants, the human capacity for hatred destroys the most fragile and beautiful among us. To watch as Laurel slowly becomes hopeful that life will hold something better than she's been allowed to expect--to come to believe that she deserves to be allowed this hope--is painfully heart-wrenching. However, there are no happily ever afters here. Just as the cliff looms ominously over The Cove, the foreboding that something will crush this nascent hope pervades the narrative.

Rash's writing is lyrical and simple in the best possible sense; there's no poetic posturing or pretentiousness. To capture such bruised lives in straightforward, lovely language imbues his characters with a genuine and honest dignity.

Two factors prevented me from giving it a 4 star. The first is that I kept measuring this book against Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. While Rash does a fine job of capturing the atmosphere of the place, he lacks the lush detail of Frazier's work that truly brought the land alive for me as a reader. Frazier's portrayal of two damaged characters, Ada and Inman, is also more nuanced and three dimensional. While Rash's portrayal of Laurel and Chauncey Feith (the villain of the tale, which is made clear from the introduction of this selfish, pompous bastard) is inspired, many of his other characters are little more than well-written stereotypes. The second is that the denouement seems too abrupt in its execution and, while brutal and violent, the emotional punch is lessened by how swiftly events are brought to a close.

Despite these factors, The Cove is a much finer piece of writing than much of what is out there and I look forward to reading Rash's Serena.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder ( )
1 vote snat | Nov 30, 2013 |
This wonderful book is a combination of Appalachian history, an unexpected romance, and the tragedy of World War I. It is woven with lush descriptions of the setting and with believable portrayals of the characters in the story. I can't recommend this book highly enough--read it! ( )
  debherter | Aug 19, 2013 |
A superbly written story...for analysis and discussion,see http://awayofwriting.blogspot.co.nz/ ( )
  michalsuz | May 15, 2013 |
Laurel Shelton is considered a witch by some in Mars Hill, North Carolina because of a large birthmark. As WWI winds down Laurel lives at the family farm with her wounded veteran brother, Hank, who’s recently returned from France minus an arm. They live at The Cove, a dark spot by a river dominated by a sun-blocking cliff. It’s a feared place, seen as sinister by some, another reason Laurel is shunned.

When Laurel finds a mute man, Walter, in the woods after he’s attacked by bees, she nurses him back to health and he stays at The Cove for a while to help Hank bring the farm back to working shape. Laurel and Walter come to love each other.

The ignorance and fear that have made Laurel’s life lonely extends to anything remotely German. Chauncey Feith, a banker turned army recruiter has avoided the fighting due to his father’s influence. He stirs up “hun” hatred in Mars Hill, to the point of harassing a professor who reviewed postcards in German at the local internment camp for security issues. When a German internee, a civilian and musician – not a soldier, escapes the camp, Feith and the other local xenophobes make several fateful decisions.

The parallels in The Cove to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWI and the current lasting and corrosive results of the war on terror are plain. Ron Rash’s writing is clean and beautiful. The Cove is a major accomplishment of writing. ( )
  Hagelstein | Apr 13, 2013 |
The worst ending to a book EVER. ( )
  TWS | Apr 7, 2013 |
An atmospheric, finely detailed novel set in Appalachia during World War I. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Beautifully written heart wrenching story. ( )
  bksgoddess | Apr 3, 2013 |
A good little outsider tale. Review is up here. ( )
  lisapeet | Apr 2, 2013 |
Read this not too long again, but have had about a dozen novels and a non-fiction book or two float through my head since then. Ron Rash has a gift for words and stories, both of which I respect, but have come to expect as well from his works. This book did not disappoint, though some of the characters in it did. Some nice integration of history, and a sad reminder that we humans are prone to be really stupid at times. I really loved the weaving of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet into the story. I've only seen ones that have been preserved via taxidermy. What a sight that must have been to see flocks of them.

Plot summary available elsewhere. ( )
  bookczuk | Mar 6, 2013 |
In the book THE COVE, the cove is a place where nothing good has ever happened to anyone who lived there. At this point in history, the end of World War I, can that be changed?

THE COVE begins with a mystery in the prologue, then soon after another mystery makes you forget about the first one.

Allow yourself to discover this mysterous story as it was meant to be discovered: as you read it. Don't read reviews. Don't even read the book flap or the back of the book until after you've read it.

And now my rant: most book reviewers spoil books. Most book reviews tell the story before readers gets a chance to read the book and discover the story themselves. Most book reviewers thereby steal the pleasure of reading.

THE COVE is an exceptionallly good book because it is mysterious. But I made the mistake of reading reviews of this book before I read it, and most of them revealed the solution to one of the mysteries. So I was deprived of the pleasure of slowly discovering the story as it was revealed. I might have given THE COVE five stars otherwise.

If you don't make that mistake, you'll love THE COVE.

Thanks to Vera at luxuryreading.com for this book. ( )
  techeditor | Feb 5, 2013 |
Lovely story, sad and reminded me of The Orchardist. ( )
  wbwilburn5 | Jan 28, 2013 |
Laurel Shelton lives with her brother on a small rural farm in the mountains of North Carolina. World War I is winding down and Laurel is shunned by the local townspeople who, in their ignorance have labeled her a witch. A stranger comes to the cove and into Laurel's life. He is unable to speak or write and can give no account of himself but, in spite of these handicaps, he and Laurel form a bond.

The story gently and sympathetically explores human emotions, both good and bad, and the sweet stirrings of hope in even the most hopeless lives. The mystery buried within the story keeps the reader engaged and, ultimately, brings a surprising closure to the story.

Rash clearly knows the area. Given his references to County and State lines, I would judge this hypothetical location to be within half an hour's drive of my home. I wondered whether the name of his heroine, Laurel Shelton, was drawn from the Shelton Laurel massacre a locally known Civil War tragedy. His descriptions of the landscape, of the plantsand animals were accurate and evocative. All in all, an easy, engaging book. ( )
  turtlesleap | Jan 14, 2013 |
Set in the southern Appalachians during WWI, this compelling story defies categorization: southern lit, historical fiction, a war story, a love story, something mysterious and eerie...all descriptions fit, yet none fits perfectly; THE COVE is one-of-a-kind.

Ron Rash writes short books, filled with simple sentences and basic language. Yet there is great magic in his storytelling. He creates a sense of place that is much as I imagine this area would have been in the early 20th century. A strong fear of the unknown permeates his characters, whether that's fear of strangers, fear of Germans, fear of a woman's birthmark, fear of a haunted cove where Laurel lives in isolation with her war-damaged brother. Characters are drawn clearly with little wasted language, and are distinct in their views of life and their treatment of others.

The story drew me along, coaxed me to put off asking a few questions that turned out to be important. This is a very subtle and effective form of foreshadowing, and when secrets were revealed near the end of the story, I said to myself "I should have known." (Not "I knew it!")

Rash's ONE FOOT IN EDEN is one of my favorites of the past decade, and THE COVE will join it on my "keep and read again" shelf. ( )
  SharronA | Jan 8, 2013 |
89 Commendable

Easily one of the finest works of fiction in 2012, The Cove is yet another fantastic Appalachian foray into Ron Rash's regional consciousness. There are tinges of many mountaineer archetypes-the dark cove witch, the wayfaring yankee stranger, war betwixt lovers-but overall this narrative remains stunningly unique by its personal breadth and introspective wit. Gone, unfortunately, are the many moments of thunderous clout that Rash's other novels, like One Foot in Eden, struck in resonating accord. Still, living through the eyes of Laurel, Hank, Walter, and Chauncey, what is seemingly a long-sung Appalachian folk song turns into a poignant battle between love, landscape, and cowardice. ( )
  mattchisholm | Jan 1, 2013 |
In reviews I do my best not to just give my reactions, but the reasons for my reaction, so someone who might like or doesn't care about the things that bother me might still think despite a low rating that the book might be something worth trying, and despite a high rating might think, well, that doesn't really sound like a book for me. The reasons I merely liked, rather than loved this book eludes me. It's well-written, a fast read, rather simple but evocative prose with a good sense of time and place--Appalachia during World War I. How accurate I'm not qualified to judge, but it certainly never jarred me into thinking, no this isn't right. The central characters, Laurel and her brother Hank and the the man who comes into their lives, Walter, are interesting and likable characters--each with their own problems. Laurel, for one, is ostracized by the inhabitants of the nearby college town because she's reputed to be a witch--mostly because of a birthmark. Hank lost an arm in the war. And Walter? Well, that's initially a mystery, although I did guess very early on the nature of it.

And that might be part of why this didn't enrapture me. I didn't feel there were any surprises in this, not even the ending, which I hated, but in the interests of not spoiling the story for others I'll keep to myself the reasons why. It was a pleasant read--but not the kind of novel I expect will stay with me. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Dec 30, 2012 |
The setting is during WWI in a rural, mountain community in NC that is full of superstition and prejudice. Hank and Laurel Shelton work the land and nurse the physical deformities that each contains. Hank has lost a hand to the war and Laurel has birthmarks that the community believes to be the markings of a witch. Only one old man of the community befriends this brother and sister, until a mute stranger appears. Of course, the reader is given a little insight into the stranger to know that he is hiding something. The language is poetic like the running of a mountain spring, but as with the mountains, the ending is difficult to swallow. ( )
  delphimo | Nov 4, 2012 |
This is a beautiful and heartbreaking book. Set in the Appalachians during WWI and hate towards Germans is running rampant with the help of one fervent recruiter Chauncey who is on a witch hunt for anything German. At the same time on a farm in the cove lives Laurel a young woman with a wine splotch birthmark that people in town say is a curse and call her a witch and the townspeople won’t let her go to school because she may harm their children. A superstitious lot they are, that makes for a lonely life for Laurel, she does have her brother Jack who is back from the war missing a hand but alive. When one day she hears the most beautiful flute music and sees a raggedy man a few days later she finds him covered in bee stings and brings him home. Walter recovers but seems to be a mute but that doesn’t stop sparks from flying between him and Laurel.

I cared so much about these characters that towards the end my stomach was knotted with worry and when events played out I was bawling (should not have been listening to this at work!). This book evokes the times and the place I felt like I was there. It is a love story but so much more it is about the human condition and how people can be so incredibly hurtful towards others. I loved Laurel and felt so bad for the way she was treated and even though I figured out certain things about Walter, it didn’t matter, he was one of the few people to show a kindness towards laurel and I think it was what they both needed.

Merritt Hicks’ narration was spot on her southern accent was great and her characters were all very distinct I always knew who was talking. I will definitely listen to this narrator again!

As I said this novel is beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time, this is my first book by this author and will not be my last! I think fans of southern fiction and historical fiction will like this one.

4 ½ Stars ( )
1 vote susiesharp | Sep 4, 2012 |
Living deep within a cove in the Appalachians of North Carolina during World War I, Laurel Shelton finally finds the happiness she deserves in Walter, a mysterious stranger who is mute, but their love cannot protect them from a devastating secret. Summary BPL

" Cove: A small sheltered bay in the shoreline of a sea, river, or lake."

Both Walter and Laurel need sheltering. They find it together in the "gloamy", secluded cove. The story pulls you into an isolated rural community at the time of World War I. Local boys have died at the Front or returned home sick and disabled. Hatred for the "Huns" and fear of potential spies is just the next level of xenophobia for people who abhor anyone/anything different. Townspeople have long believed that Laurel is a witch because she has a large purple birthmark. Feared, ignored and abused in town, she is deeply lonely, a prisoner of the home she shares with her brother in the cove. Until she discovers Walter.

What Willa Cather did for the Great Plains, Ron Rash does for the Appalachian region of North Carolina. Geography is important to both; it shapes their characters and narratives, becomes an actor in the drama.

I loved the Appalachian dialect; it never seemed staged or forced but rather brought me closer to the character's mindset.

8 out of 10. For fans of rural fiction, Ron Rash and fine writing. ( )
  julie10reads | Aug 10, 2012 |
Couldn't get into it. ( )
  zoomball | Aug 7, 2012 |
A story of small minded mountain prejudice reveals war and peace in a cove out past the back of beyond. The heroine, Laurel Shelton, is shunned by many in the fine, God fearing communities of Mars Hill College and Madison County, North Carolina.

Laurel’s unjustified crime is being born under a bad sign with a mark so unsightly she is branded a witch. Laurel’s other unpardonable crime is being born deep within a dark and remote holler, a place so dark the sunlight don’t shine but in the middle of the day. Crops wither. Chestnut trees blight. Eventually, the community will drown the whole Cove and their communal memories will not be missed. Before that, the combination of isolation, physical and communal, reveal Laurel’s troubles run far below the surface.

Still, there is peace in the cove. WW I is nearing an end. Ron Rash, introduces unexpected textures by weaving the little known history of Southern Appalachia’s German internment camps. Further intrigue comes ashore via New York City with the marooned crew of the world’s largest ocean passenger vessels, the Vaterland -- German-built vessel that was larger and more luxurious than the Titanic. Rash brings facts to the fiction and the result is a bewitching story. Don’t expect potions or spells, but do expect to wonder if the same human natures exist less than 100 years later. ( )
  bikesandbooks | Jul 10, 2012 |
Laurel Shelton is a lonely young woman. Living alone save for her brother Hank in an isolated, deeply shadowed cove in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, she is shunned by the townspeople of nearby Mars Hill and feared as a witch because of a large purple birthmark on her shoulders. Hank has only recently returned from WWI missing one hand and he is fixing up the farm with the help of a neighbor, intending, Laurel believes, to propose to a local girl and bring her to live with them. Living in darkness and shadow and loneliness as she does, Laurel still dreams of sunlight and beauty, having had ambitions to become a teacher and move away from the cove—ambitions thwarted by her mother’s death and father’s long depression and illness. But when she finds a strange man in the cove, sick and feverish with hornet stings, and nurses him back to health, Laurel begins to dream once more—of love, and a life outside the cove. The man, Walter, plays flute like an angel but is otherwise mute, a note in his pocket claiming childhood illness. He falls into step with the siblings, helping Hank about the farm and playing his flute and falling in love with Laurel as she has fallen for him. However, Walter is not all he seems and harbors secrets of his own—secrets that could prove explosively dangerous to his new friends. Meanwhile, a cowardly and bombastic recruiter in town, Chauncey Feith, tries to prove his true worth by exposing supposed “Hun” spies in their midst. When the fires of xenophobia he has stoked collide with cursed Laurel, disabled Hank, and silent Walter, tragedy can be the only result.

Atmospheric, taut, and expertly realized, The Cove is a tale of passion, fear, and superstition with clear parallels to the overheated political rhetoric of today. ( )
1 vote kmaziarz | Jun 23, 2012 |
A love story, an adventure and a mystery, set in the Appalachians in North Carolina during the end of World War l. This book is beautifully written and though the setting is gloomy his descriptions come to life and you are immersed in the story. You are sorry when the two hundred and fifty pages come to an end. ( )
  JOANNEE | Jun 2, 2012 |
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