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The Cove

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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.

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.

255 pages, Hardcover

First published February 22, 2012

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About the author

Ron Rash

70 books1,670 followers
Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Finalist and New York Times bestselling novel, Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O.Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
January 12, 2023
Brightness never stayed long here. Laurel had learned the true of that as a child. The parakeets had flown over the cove like a dense green cloud, but they'd never paused in their passing, never circled or landed. Instead the birds went over the cove the same way they would a deep murky pond. But one time it was full moon, the few minutes when enough light sifted in for the parakeets to see the orchard and its shriveled fruit. The flock curved back, low enough that Laurel could hear them calling we we we as they bunched above the orchard and began swirling downward. One by one the birds sleeved the orchard limbs in green and orange and yellow. Laurel had been in the cornfield with Hank. She should have run into the orchard right then and chased them away. But she'd just stood watching as two dozen birds pecked and hopped and preened among the branches. It was like their bodies had knit together and lifted the whole cove skyward into the sun's full light.
The Cove, a remote locale in North Carolina, is a cursed place, or so everyone seems to think. The story opens in the 1950s when a man from the TVA comes by, preparing the area for flooding as part of a dam project. That the elders he encounters think burying the cove under tons of water is a good idea offers a first indication of trouble. When the man, trying for a drink in a well near some abandoned buildings at the site, brings up murky water covering a skull, we have our ending point. How we get there is the tale.

Ron Rash - image from HarperCollins

Rash is a master at setting a mood, a rather dark one here, and he keeps the wires of tension zinging, so you know something bad is gonna go down, but the green light of possibility keeps flapping by, keeping hope alive. That makes The Cove, incredibly rich with imagery and atmosphere, a page-turner of a different sort. This is clearly not an action adventure thriller where the fate of the planet is at stake, but Rash’s ability to portray place and to offer characters that are so richly drawn, so engaging, is such that we keep flying through his tale in order to see whether their world can be saved, or is doomed by a faceless fate.

World War I is almost done. Twenty-something Laurel and her brother, Hank, have survived their parents and are trying to make a living on the troubled property the locals call “The Cove.”
The air grew dank and dark and even darker as she passed through a stand of hemlocks. Toadstools and witch hazel sprouted on the trail edge, farther down nightshade and then baneberry whose poisonous fruit looked like doll's eyes.
Uh oh. Hank had served in WW I, but left a hand behind. Still, he is hale and hearty otherwise, works very hard on their farm and plans to marry. Laurel is doing her washing when she hears the song of a single parakeet. The cove may be the last habitat of this now-extinct bird. What is unusual about what Laurel hears is that parakeets do not appear individually, but only in flocks. She follows the sound and spies a bedraggled young man, calmly making remarkably avian music on his flute.

Birds figure prominently in Rash’s beautiful tale. He offers us much information about the Carolina Parakeet, how they behave and how, at least in part, they have come to be as scarce as they are. Unwillingness to leave a fallen comrade behind enters into this, with obvious foreboding. The flutist, Walter, is inspired by the birds, in a possibly magical way, and sees that the cove has more to offer than darkness.
The next afternoon he came to a brook and followed it. By then he had begun to feel feverish. A music he'd never heard before rose from the stream. The notes had colors as well as sounds, bright threads woven into the water's flow. Some of that bright water splashed up on the bank. It was green and shimmering and he scooped it up into his palm and it became a feather.
Who Walter turns out to be is central to the story, but some might regard it as spoiler material to say too much here, so I am putting that at the bottom of this review for any who might wish to take a look. For now we can get by with the rather obvious intel that Boy with flute meets Girl with purple birthmark and limited prospects.

The why of her prospects is a major element. Seems the locals are a superstitious lot. They really do believe the cove is cursed and Laurel’s prominent birthmark labels her in their eyes as personally cursed at least and maybe something much worse. Her intelligence does not matter much to such people. (Reminds me a lot of right-wing talk radio and Tea Party sorts) A group of local women go out of their way to shun Laurel.
An image from [Laurel’s] childhood came to her. A hawk had grabbed a baby chick and then lost its grip. The biddy was hurt and bleeding and the other biddies began pecking it. Because that was what biddies did, she’d learned that day. They found one of their own sick or injured and took turns pecking it to death.
Epitomizing the dangerous ignorance of the arrogant unknowing is Chauncey, draft dodger of the venal, connected sort, (clearly he had other priorities during The Great War) eager to make political hay and more than happy to whip up some anti-German xenophobia in the service of that cause. He tries to get a local language professor fired for talking with Germans, while fantasizing about his own political future. Chauncey plays a central role when his dark deeds yield trouble beyond his control.

Hope and danger, light and dark, good and evil, sanity versus superstition. If Rash were a painter his canvasses would be in the Met. The Cove is so different from his masterpiece, Serena, yet displays the same power, the same delicate skill. Serena told a large tale in big splashes of color, bright reds and blues. The Cove tells its story in small images, and a palette that stays mostly on the dark side with healthy dollops of green to signal the possibilities of life and love. Serena might take up an entire wall, while The Cove would fit in among several in a room. But you would find yourself coming back to look at it again and again, appreciating this, then noticing that. Ron Rash is one of our best writers and The Cove is top-notch work. Where Serena was large, The Cove is a much smaller canvas, but just as satisfying.

Personally I would put Rash himself in that other collection, the one in the American Museum of Natural History, in the Hall of Minerals and Gems.

Can music, hard work and life overcome darkness, venality and ignorance? The journey to The Cove is a trip worth taking, with a Shakespearean climax that will leave you quivering.

Now as for Walter. His character is based on an actual event from the war. A German cruise ship, The Vaterland, had the misfortune of being docked in Hoboken when war broke out. The German crew was stranded. When the USA declared war, long after, many German civilians who had been working on the Vaterland and the dozens of others from stranded German ships were interned, some in North Carolina. This is the camp from which Walter escapes, as detailed in chapter 3. And, obviously, as a German national in the USA during World War I, particularly as an escapee from an internment camp, he needed to lay low, being at rather high risk.


April 1, 2012 - Janet Maslin's wonderful review in the NY Times

June 6, 2017 - I was alerted by GR friend Linda to the following from April 2017 - WCU's Ron Rash wins Guggenheim Fellowship - Rash deserves all the recognition there is, he is a national treasure.

May 30, 2014 - Salon@615 - Rash offers introductory material, then reads from the book, followed by a Q&A - video 55:01
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews864 followers
April 5, 2023
“Then it became clear that it was a song, the loneliest sort of song because the notes changed so little, like one bird calling and waiting for another to answer. It was as lonely a sound as she’d ever heard.”

Text Publishing — The Cove, book by Ron Rash

In The Cove, Rash explores small town North Carolina during WWI with wonderful (sometimes haunting) detail and penetrating insight. There are a couple things I found really interesting about his approach and will keep in mind when reading his other works. First, even though it is clearly fiction, Rash uses a little known historical incident (a German luxury liner full of musicians who have ended up in Appalachia) to set up his story. Second, while The Cove evokes the past, it still feels relevant. For me, the story was not just about the past; the characters and situations still resonate. Looking forward to reading more of Rash's work!
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
August 7, 2019

another quietly wonderful book from ron rash, about a couple of outcasts trying to grab a little happiness out of a life filled with loss and loneliness.

this one takes place in north carolina during WWI, in a remote and "gloamy" cove, where a brother and sister live isolated by superstition and circumstances. the sister, laurel, has a large purple birthmark believed by the entire outlying town to be a sign of witchcraft, and the cove where the two reside is believed to be haunted. after their parents died, the two of them lived alone until hank went to war, where he lost a hand , leaving laurel completely cut off from human contact and deeply lonely. there is only one man in town they can call a friend; the rest cross the street or spit when the two have to go to town for supplies. the heroism clinging to hank after his experience in the war has mitigated his situation somewhat, and people begin to treat him less shabbily, but laurel has no chance - she is doomed to solitude and loneliness, isolated in this presumably haunted cove.

until a mute and illiterate traveling flute-player loses his way in the cove, gets stung by a million bees, and is nursed back to health by laurel.as he recovers, and is able to help hank with the farm chores hank's single hand is inadequate to perform alone, he and laurel form a bond.

and laurel gets her chance at happiness.

this being ron rash, the happiness is not guaranteed - there are going to be a lot of complications. i guessed the "twist" part just by reading what will be the flap copy, but i don't think that matters. this isn't about the reveal,, but about laurel's struggles to carve out a place for herself when she has been given so few options.

it is also about birds. birds who are being driven out of their habitat by farmers protecting their crops, birds pecking each other to death, birds who will not leave a fellow bird behind.so many different birds exemplifying so many different traits of our human characters. but rash pulls it off without it feeling treacly.

and the character of chauncey, our "bad guy," is terrific. it's strange that this is the character who seems the most richly drawn and the most nuanced, because he is awful and smarmy and self-aggrandizing and one of those misguided true believers who, if there energy were harnessed towards ANY USEFUL GOAL AT ALL, would be a hero. instead, he is a german-hating pre-nazi, down to the symmetry of his uniform and his desire to burn the german-language books in the library.

he's an awful character, but a wonderfully-written character. and definitely my favorite in this book.

all the previous "spoilers" in this review were just silly television giggles that i didn't want cheapening the main text of a review of a serious-toned book, but this following one is an actual spoiler about an incredibly small passage in the book, but one that made my heart physically ache with emotion.

that scene broke my heart and i would have loved more moments like that throughout this fine, but not emotionally jarring, novel.

this one didn't kick my reader's ass the way serena did, but it is a very good, quiet piece of writing from an author more people should be reading.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews508 followers
July 22, 2013
Recently infatuated with southern lit I just had to give Ron Rash a try. With racism, poverty & superstition & the inclusion of an ill fated love affair, slot this one as ‘contemporary southern gothic.’ Yes, it’s melancholy and slow paced at the start but so superbly written that it’s a joy to read.
Set at the end of WW1 and told through Laurel’s eyes, a simple tale of a birth-marked woman shunned by the locals as a witch –of her lonely life with only her brother Hank, a wounded WW1 veteran for company. Following the sound of a flute "It wasn’t so much a soaring sound but something on the song’s surface, like a water strider crossing a creek pool" leads her to a wounded man – and it begins.
As for Laurel, look elsewhere if your preference is for passionate heroines, what she does have is an appealing resiliency, an understated strength. What develops is quietly muted – a love that deepens as slowly & gently as the river that runs through The Cove. With its raw beauty & pervading isolation, it’s The Cove itself that’s the heart of this novel "Nothing but shadow land, there wasn't a gloamier place in the whole Blue Ridge." That and the Appalachian people, brought to life by Rash’s use of simple dialect.“Not being able to talk, that’s got to be burdensome too. I’d think it could make you feel a lavish of aloneness. After my daddy died and Hank was over in France, I was here by myself and it was a hard row to hoe.”
Cons: While most of the characters are well fleshed out the villainous Chancey Feith is a one dimensional caricature, bit of a bore. As far as plot goes it’s not particularly fresh, and it is a bit predictable.
All is forgiven by the elegance of the writing, an atmospheric southern tragedy beautifully rendered - 4 ½ stars.

If you’re interested not a spoiler, just southern gothic defined:
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,252 reviews451 followers
May 1, 2018
No, this was not Serena, thank goodness, because I was not ready to descend into that maelstrom of evil again. Instead, we learn that ignorance and bigotry can be just as harmful, maybe more so. This was an entirely different tale, giving us the beauty of the landscape and the honesty and emotions of damaged characters coming to love one another while standing against a community that chooses to ostracize rather than accept. I loved it, and will choose to think of it as a fairy tale that ended badly for so many, but with some redemption as well.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews859 followers
July 23, 2012
This was a wonderful historical story and Ron Rash is a writer to add alongside great southern gothic styled writers. Just as many have mentioned Ron Rash strikes up feelings of being present with great writers such as Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy.
This story leaves a mark with characters that are lonely and modest, rich in kindness and deeply warm to others even though they face inequalities due to race, heritage and have been marked in a superstitious ways as cursed. A brother and a sister are two main characters that at times bring a tear in your eye for the happiest and the saddest of times they face in this WW1 period story.

The authors successfully places you in the atmosphere of that era and especially the Cove. The story flowed in an eloquent pace, hard times and romantic occasions really a throwback to the storytelling of Charles Dickens. This was my first reading from Ron Rash and won't be the last I felt in the hands of a great storyteller, at one point i was reminiscing on an equally great story Great Expectations as you do want great things to happen to Laurel Shelton and her guest that she becomes attached to. That guest is equally lost for words and cannot communicate by tongue but touched others hearts with tunes from a flute and gathers attention like the pied piper of Hamlin. Attention is what he does not need, as the man who struck up from nowhere and finds a lady to warm his heart soon faces harder times, and those around him go through their worst and happiest of times. A story to remember with an exceptional quality of writing historical, very romantic with a overshadowing melancholy presence from beginning to end.

Check out also myreview @ http://more2read.com/review/the-cove-by-ron-rash/
and these videos there:

Gary Carden interviews Ron Rash (video): http://more2read.com/gary-carden-interviews-ron-rash-video/

Ron Rash reads from Serena http://more2read.com/ron-rash-reads-from-serena/

Ron Rash Interview by Stacey Cochran http://more2read.com/ron-rash-author-video/
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
828 reviews760 followers
March 1, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
887 reviews120 followers
November 26, 2020
A man walked through the cove, passing Slidell’s old homestead, then down the hill to Laurel and Hank’s cabin. Both deserted now. Stopping by the well for a cool drink of water, he lowered the bucket into the hole, hitting what felt like some branches off a tree. Then the bucket began to descend again. Bringing up a murky bucketl of water, the man waited until the water had cleared. Looking into it, he saw his own reflection. He waited. As the water cleared, the face he saw began to look like a white orb, not his face at all, and then he saw it, two dark holes where eyes had once been. What had happened here so long ago?

The cove was going to be covered in water, a lake would cover the entire valley. And it might as well, because nothing good ever happened there and now nothing more would. The cove had been shunned by the town’s people, but I wondered, if, in the future, boaters would shy awary from that area, thinking it was haunted. But right now, before the man had come into the valley, the witch, Laurel, lived there, marked so by the brown birth mark on her arm, and by the fact that she lived in the cove. A dreary place. What had happened before her moving there that had caused people to shun the cove? I never learned.

Flute music filled the air. Laurel heard it one day when she was out walking. It drew her to its sound just like the Sirens drew the men to them in “The Iliad” of long ago. She sat hidden in the trees and shrubbery and watched the man as he played his flute. He had wandered into he cove and had stayed to bed down, even stealing the forbidden apples from an old orchard. Shriveled fruit Laurel found him injured one day and brought him home. That was her mistake.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,687 reviews451 followers
April 29, 2018
In the prologue, a TVA official was preparing for the cove to be flooded. A local man in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina told him, "You can't bury that cove deep enough for me....The cove was a place where only bad things happened."

Over thirty years earlier at the end of World War I, Laurel and her brother Hank, a veteran missing a hand, were living at the cove. With the shadow of a cliff looming over the cabin and dark woods, the cove is a dark, sinister place. The townspeople in the insular community are superstitious, and gossip that Laurel is cursed by her port wine birthmark. Many consider her to be a witch and shun the young woman. Laurel discovers a seriously ill, mute young man in the woods and brings Walter home to recover. He's a musician who communicates beauty and his feelings when he plays the flute. He's also a man with a secret.

Chauncey Feith, an army recruiter whose family ties kept him out of the trenches, is trying to make a name for himself. Convincing himself that he is acting with patriotic zeal, he harasses the elderly German language professor at the college, and the librarian who has German poetry books on the shelves. Unquestioned xenophobia is the driving force behind Chauncey's actions.

Ron Rash has written an atmospheric Southern Gothic tale filled with deep shadows and dangerous water. It's balanced with the lilting sounds of the flute and the green feathers of the Carolina parakeets. "The Cove" is a beautifully written book that leaves one thinking that good and evil can be found in unexpected places during a war....and not just on the battlefield.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
December 5, 2013
3 1/2 stars.

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 and at Shelf Inflicted
Profile Image for Laura.
100 reviews103 followers
June 13, 2015
This book really got to me when I read it, and it has quietly haunted me ever since. I find myself thinking of the characters some times, and still bothered by the ugly truths of prejudice and human nature that the author captured so powerfully. I think it's the subtle, quiet power of the book which makes it so effective, and the evocative portrait of the South. I have a real love/hate relationship with the region I was born in, and Rash captures it perfectly: wildness, beauty, spirit...but all twisted up and tainted by hatred, superstition, and loss.
Profile Image for Sandra.
193 reviews98 followers
May 5, 2016
There is Lauren, the wicked witch (or so the town thinks) with her brother Hank living in the cove. Disaster has struck the family several times and now they are ready to work hard and have a better future.

This is dark and gloomy, with bits of hope shining through. Rash' mastery with descriptions, he manages to completely immerse the reader in the environment of the cove. You hear the gurgling of the water and feel the sunlight on your face when you look up as the birds take off and make the leaves rustle. But since this takes places near the end of World War I, tension can be felt, expecially in town settings.

For all the beautiful prose we get from Rash, you can't go wrong with any of his books (so far).

Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,489 reviews9 followers
October 15, 2015
Ever since reading Serena a couple years ago (rushing to get it done before the movie that never materialized), I've  looked forward to more Ron Rash.  The Cove lacks the very sick disturbing main characters found in Serena, but it did offer us Chauncey, a mighty good example of an egomaniac on the verge of doing something truly awful to prove his manliness to the townspeople.  The main  story  of the siblings Laurel and Hank  taking in a mute vagrant gradually developed into a mesmerizing tale.   The hatred for all Germans in America during and following World War I always fascinates me and makes me wonder how my grandparents survived it.   Looking forward to more by this author.
Profile Image for Melodie.
589 reviews64 followers
December 30, 2016
I love Southern literature. By turns it can be nostalgic, sweet,romantic, brooding, dark.But for me,southern literature always has it's complicated political and social history at it's core. The Cove is no different.
The setting is North Carolina just before the close of WWI. A young woman, shunned by the locals as a witch befriends a drifter she happens upon in the cove she calls home. As the friendship develops, you can see how this cannot possibly end well, but you are routing for a happy conclusion.
The characters range from the stereotypical,some who would be truly comedic if they weren't so pathetic, to the enlightened and accepting. Laurel could easily have been portrayed as a passionate and fiery soul.Instead we find a young woman beat down and seemingly accepting of her lot in life. But the hope hasn't quite been extinguished.
And the author truly has a gift for extraordinary description. I could smell the cove as well as I could see it in my mind's eye. To live the story with the characters is always the mark of a 5 star book. Excellent!
Profile Image for Dana.
195 reviews
July 24, 2016
3.75 stars
Although this story takes place during WWI in NC, it reflects the prejudices that still exists today - all over the world.
I felt the novel stated off slowly and ended too quickly, but the story will remain with me and the writing was beautiful.
Profile Image for Shaun.
Author 5 books171 followers
January 3, 2014
First review of 2014...wohoo!

I like to think that I have eclectic reading tastes, meaning that while I have preferences when it comes to my reading choices, I find I like lots of different styles, genres, and stories for lots of different reasons.

But this ... The Cove, this is the kind of book that hits my literary G-spot. Okay, I know: a little crude, too much information, whatever--but true.

You see, I love Southern Gothic fiction--Flannery O'Connor, one of my heroines; Erskine Caldwell, a genius--so it's no surprise that I would enjoy Ron Rash's work.

And I did. I loved it. What's not to love? Subdued story and action; poetic prose; vivid descriptions; complex, flawed characters; and a tragic ending the reader hates to love and loves to hate.

And if that weren't enough, it's under 300 pages (the perfect length for a book as far as I'm concerned.)

This is the story of two siblings, misfits of a sort as far as the rest of their world is concerned, as they attempt to find some happiness, told against the backdrop of World War I and the South.

Bottom line: 5 sparkly, glittery, lovely little stars. I was lucky enough to check this out from the library the day before a big storm snowed us in. Definitely icing (or at least ice) on the cake.

Would recommend this to fans of Southern Gothic fiction.
Profile Image for Camie.
898 reviews186 followers
May 7, 2018
Laurel and her brother Hank who has just returned from the trenches in France live in a shady cove in the Appalachians. One day while in the woods Laurel who is treated as an outcast and proclaimed a witch by neighboring Mars Hill townsfolk, comes across Walter whom she has previously glimpsed playing a silver flute by the river, but who has now been stung by a swarm of bees and needs help. Walter is a stranger to the area, who carries a note in his pocket explaining that he is a mute musician journeying to New York City. While recovering at the Cove, it's inevitable that Laurel and Walter two outcasts form a bond, but there are secrets that threaten their future together.
Ron Rash writes lyrical books of the South that are darkly beautiful. I thought this one had a rather slow start, nevertheless by the end of it I must admit it didn't fail to surprise and enchant me.
Read for May - On The Southern Literary trail 4 stars
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
April 14, 2012
3.5 There is no doubt that the strength of Ron Rash's writing lies in his use of regional color, his descriptions of the Appalachians are lush and elegant, just beautiful. This books highlights the superstitions of the mountain people, the loneliness of being an outcast, and how even at the end of the war patriotic fever is stirred up. The power of secrets and the damages they do all set to beautiful scenery with a very melancholy tone. Definitely not your happy ever after book.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,761 followers
May 19, 2012
The dank and dangerous cylinder of a new well, where the walls could collapse at any moment, crushing the digger in a muddy grave; a valley so overwhelmed by a cliff of granite that light shudders and dies in its wet shadow; a voice choked from sound, leaving a man trapped in silence; a young woman isolated by fear and suspicion in a remote mountain cabin: these are the acedian images Ron Rash writes to sobering effect in The Cove.

This is a novel of a place seemingly suspended in time, a forgotten hollow in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina, where venomous snakes slither, wild parakeets flit like flocks of bright green faeries and where residents still believe in witches' curses. But the modern world invades this isolated land with the wounded and dead from European trenches. As their broken bodies are returned home, fear of the enemy Hun incites public hysteria.

Rash weaves a story with themes that ring loudly to the present-day: how patriotism can be a mask for prejudice and a justification for violence, how war robs us of our sensibilities as well as our citizens.Yet instead of stating the obvious, he shows us with an atmospheric mystery that runs languid on the surface, but races with an unstoppable current in depths you cannot fathom.

The Cove is written in an opalescent and mannered style that is reminiscent of a 19th century Gothic romance. It abounds with literary archetypes: a persecuted young woman dreaming of escape and the love of a strong man; a mysterious stranger who speaks with music rather than words; a wealthy young villain with delusions of grandeur; a Greek chorus of simple country folk; a gruff but well-meaning brother. We know these characters because they have been with us from our earliest memories of faerie tales and mythology. We sense that our star-crossed lovers will fare no better than Romeo and Juliet; we are wiser than to hope for a hero. Whether or not a hero appears is for you to discover.

The novel's flaws can be found in Rash's over-simplification of the pretentious and cowardly Army recruiter, Chauncey Feith, and the backward suspicions of the townsfolk. He also dwells overlong on Laurel's isolation and loneliness and treats her response to romance with little-girl wonder, which nearly degrades her character rather than invoking the reader's empathy.

Despite some of the weaker character development, this reader is delighted to have discovered a writer who can craft a powerful story with captivating language.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,910 followers
March 22, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews393 followers
December 6, 2015
I have to thank my GR friends for letting me know that Ron Rash even exists!

Listened to this on audio (which, I admit is one of the weaker audio narrations I've heard). Took me a while to to get into the book, but when I did ---- what a good story.

Although the book is set in a small North Carolina town, it's as timely as ever (unfortunately..) It's a tale of the tragic consequences when ignorance, prejudice, and superstition are fueled by hate and pride.

This book has a beautiful lyricism and I loved the descriptions of music and birds.

4 solid stars.
Profile Image for Colleen .
382 reviews187 followers
May 20, 2018
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

What light XXX's eyes held faded, not dying away like an ember but receding like a train headed elsewhere. XXX couldn't shake the feeling that wherever the light was going it was taking part of him with it.
Profile Image for William Clemens.
207 reviews3 followers
May 29, 2012
This is one of those books where I just don't understand why people are loving it so much. I found it incredibly hard to slog through, full of characters who are so one dimensional I couldn't take them seriously, and set against a backdrop that just didn't impress.

Everyone seems to go on about the nature in the book, and how it captures the feel of Appalachia, but I just didn't see it. He certainly mentions nature, and goes on about how dark the cove is and how bright it makes the sun feel, but I didn't get anything that I will take with from this book. I talked about this in my book group, and we all agreed to that it was hard to keep the tie setting of this book straight, it always seemed to feel earlier and earlier thatn it was supposed to be.

The same goes for plot. I finished the book and thought to myself "okay, never need to think about this book again" (except for this review)

To be fair, this is not my favorite kind of book, so maybe that has something to do with it, but I would not recommend this one.
Profile Image for Bobbi.
500 reviews6 followers
November 16, 2012
The story takes place 3 miles from the town of Mars Hill, NC. I live 2 miles from Mars Hill so I keep looking out my windows trying to find the cove that he talks about! So far, no luck. I'm not a great fan of Ron Rash and this one is distracting since it involves so many nearby localities. More later.

So, now I've finished it and am trying to figure out why I disliked it so much. Because it takes place where I live, all of the historical inconsistencies really bothered me. He has the French Broad River running in the wrong direction, towards Asheville instead of north toward Hot Springs. Trying to get a feeling for the area through the characters' dialogue was just downright wrong. No one has ever talked like that here.

The development of the characters was miserable. I had no feeling for any of them. The story, predictable. I've read a lot of reviews of this book and cannot figure out what people see that I failed to see.

The book was chosen by a member of a book club I belong to. Thank goodness it was short, or I would have given up before the end. You may want to skip this one, even if you do like Ron Rash.
Profile Image for Fred Shaw.
562 reviews42 followers
July 9, 2016
"The Cove" is the first book I've read by Ron Rash and certainly not the last. I have heard Rash's writing style as lyrical arisen from his poetry. I say it is clear as a mountain stream as are the story, characters, setting. This is also a view of the cruelty of men blinded by hate and prejudice. A stranger appears in the lives of a brother and sister, living a farmers life in the Appalacian mountains in the early 1900's. Their lives are simple but fulfilling and this man brings strength and hope but, because he is a German and America is at war with the Huns the town destroys the future of the 3 way bond being formed.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,482 reviews291 followers
March 6, 2014
Grave and deliberate story set in the Appalachian mountains. This is a book (though) that is not about the story. It is about the writing and atmosphere. Beautiful and complex.

Mostly, "The Cove" is about being an outsider. ENJOY...

p.s. reminds me a bit of "Nightwoods" by Charles Frazier.
Profile Image for Malcolm.
69 reviews19 followers
March 22, 2017
Deep in the Appalachian mountains, lies a cove. Partially hidden by an over hanging cliff, it is a dark and forbidding place, thought to be haunted by the local townspeople, and the young woman, Laural, who lives there with her brother Hank, a recent wounded veteran of the trenches in France, is thought to be a witch.

Laura's and Hank are devoted to each other and they work hard to restore the farm of their parents. In doing so, Laura dreams of a better life.

When a stranger is discovered in the cove, Laural begins to hope that the better life has arrived as well. Unable to speak, the stranger, Walter, has a silver flute which he plays and fills the cove with mesmerizing music. Soon, Walter has proven to be a hopeful and helpful addition to Laural and Hank's world.

But Walter bears a secret and, that, along with the misplaced fear and prejudice of the townspeople, threaten to destroy all of Laural's dreams.

Simply put, Rash is a writer's writer. His characters are developed so completely the reader has no doubt who they are. His prose can mesmerize. As you read of climbing the cliff blocking the sun from the cove, you feel the warmth of the sunlight at the top. His stories do not always end totally happy, and this one is no exception. But they do end with a certain hope and justice, and the journey to those endings can be unforgettable.
Profile Image for Wyndy.
187 reviews76 followers
May 21, 2018
3.5 stars. This was a darn good read, my third by Rash. You know immediately there will be no happy ending here in the cove: "A cursed place . . . cursed long before Laurel's father bought the land. The Cherokee had stayed away from the cove, and the first white family to settle here had all died of smallpox. There were stories of hunters who'd come into the cove and never been seen again, a place where ghosts and fetches wandered."

Laurel and Hank Shelton, sister and brother, run their family's farm in the cove after the death of their parents. Hank has adapted to using only one hand - the other blown off in the war. Laurel is taunted and shunned due a purple birthmark which the superstitious Appalachian townfolk say marks her as a witch. They go into town when necessary, and Hank has a fianceè he travels three miles by wagon to visit on Sundays, but mostly they keep to themselves. Then, a stranger arrives in the cove - Walter, a man who can neither speak nor read or write, but he possesses a silver flute and plays it "as if the music was about every loss that had ever been." Hank and Laurel befriend Walter and allow him to live and work with them on the farm. And for a while, life is good. But Walter's past eventually comes to light, triggering a fanatical frenzy that changes everyone's lives.

I liked Rash's novels Serena and One Foot In Eden more than this one, but still highly recommend this to Southern Lit fans, particularly those who enjoy dialect like "swoll," "conniption," "rotgut," and "gimcrack."
Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
January 7, 2015
2 stars - Meh. Just ok.

This was your classic case of, receiving the unexpected. I have heard so many wonderful things about Ron Rash and expected dark southern lit with a poignant plot and atmospheric backdrop. What I received instead was a heavy helping of romance with a side of historical fiction and a tiny dash of southern lit.

To the contrary, some of my favorite Goodreads reviewers did find this one to be atmospheric. Maybe it's me, or maybe it is because I am so familiar with the Appalachian region, but I was let down in this department. The plot was predictable (which prevented any tugging of the heart strings), too romance-centric, and not engaging enough for my personal tastes. I still want to read another novel by Rash, Serena, which sounds to be more like my cup of tea.

Favorite Quote: Maybe calling it being hitched ain’t the prettiest way to say you’re married, but it’s the truth to my mind and true in a good way, because you’re working together and depending on each other, and you’re sharing the load.

First Sentence: The truck’s government tag always tipped them off before his Kansas accent could.
Profile Image for Carmel Hanes.
Author 1 book129 followers
July 23, 2022
I enjoy Rash as an author, and this one was no exception.

Set in Appalachia during WWI, a brother and sister living in an isolated cove thought to be haunted take in a mute stranger after he's stricken by a bee attack. Although expecting to be on his way after recovering, the stranger (Walter) stays on, helping Hank with home chores due to Hank's having lost one hand in the war. The sister, Laurel, finds herself drawn to Walter after hearing him play beautiful music on his flute. Although the cove is described as an uninviting place, it appears a peaceful oasis for those living there, away from the nearby town where Laurel is shunned due to superstitions about her birthmark.

I find Rash's descriptions enticing....of places, characters, and the day to day ruminations and activities that make up life. He builds a world that surrounds you, making you forget it wasn't the one you were born into. It's easy to care about those inhabiting his story, wishing them well, hoping to see them ultimately satisfied. But, as with real life, those with nefarious intent and darkened souls dot the landscape, threatening to unravel what others stitch together. The mystery of the stranger and the undercurrent of menace from those in the town keep a tension in the story that propels it forward, as does the growing bond between Laurel and Walter. Although not a big fan of romance themes in novels, I did appreciate that this aspect was handled with a light touch; and I did find myself rooting for these two lost souls.

And that well-digging...oh my...I might have nightmares just imagining it now!
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