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Is Rash worthy of the Steinbeck mantle?

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James (JD) Dittes This was my 2nd Ron Rash book, and I admit I was drawn to his works because of the connections made with John Steinbeck.

In the limited capacity that Rash is a regional writer with gifts of drawing landscape, populating it with fauna (like Carolina parakeets) and connecting with the hidden history of the place (Lincolnites). I'm not sure if he's equal to Charles Frazier (another western Carolina author), but he's right up there.

What Rash lacks is what Steinbeck had in spades: a social conscience. Most Southern writers seem content to point out the hypocrisy in interpersonal relations or in religious communities (see Flannery O'Connor), but they tend to be tone deaf to the social injustices that seem to flourish in the South even today. Sure there are some notable exceptions like Harper Lee, but this is distinct.

John Steinbeck was a regional writer who hit the big time when he latched onto a national issue in The Grapes of Wrath. I just don't know if Rash has reached that high yet.


Rebecca Maness I am sure that Rash is really excited to be put in the ranks with John Steinbeck. I think I disagree that Rash lacks a social conscience. I have only read The Cove, so I do not know how he utilizes his social conscience in other novels. However, I can see some real comparisons to the social injustices heaped on Laurel and Walter as well as other Huns in The Cove like the situational conflict of Lenny in Of Mice and Men. I also feel that the descriptions that made me reel in NC memories when I first opened The Cove was very much like reading Steinbeck. I would say that it is hard for me to put anyone up there with Steinbeck, but I am really proud that this comparison is being made to a NC writer. I will definitely read more of Rash's books.


Rebecca Elswick Rebecca wrote: "I am sure that Rash is really excited to be put in the ranks with John Steinbeck. I think I disagree that Rash lacks a social conscience. I have only read The Cove, so I do not know how he utiliz..."

Read Serena! It truly speaks to the "social consciousness" of destroying our national woodlands in the name of greed.


James (JD) Dittes Update: I asked Rash about the Steinbeck thing during a Q&A he did in Nashville at this year's Southern Festival of Books. He seemed genuinely bemused by the comparison (obviously his publisher's idea, not his), although he affirmed an admiration of Steinbeck.

Rebecca. I'll try to read Serena. That sounds like a good launching point. I'll add that his short story collection, Burning Bright (also the title of a forgotten Steinbeck novella, I might add) he deals a lot with methamphetamine addicts and the ravages their addictions play on families and communities.


Trina I just read this book, and even though I enjoyed parts of it, especially the hook, I don't think Rash comes close to Steinbeck in scope, impact, greatness, etc. The Cove reminds me more of John Ehle's The Winter People (set in NC during the Depression) and Larry Watson's Montana 1948. They are both small, meaning regional, and very well crafted stories. If you like Rash, you might like these, too. If you like Steinbeck, you might want to try his son Thomas Steinbeck's first novel In the Shadow of the Cypress (it's very slim but set in CA and picks up on themes of interest to his father John Steinbeck, especially the treatment of the Chinese, like in East of Eden).


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