Before moving to Seattle I had spent six years in the mountains of western North Carolina, in a hippie-artsy-literary town that Rolling Stone once called Freakville, U.S.A. So it's been a treat to read two great books published this month that happen to have strong ties to my former home town of Asheville, N.C.*
Ron Rash's The Cove, selected as our top Best Books of the Month pick for May, is set during World War I in Mars Hill, just north of Asheville. It's a taut and hanting story about trust and small-town mistrust, and an unlikely love story. And then there's former Ashevillian Wiley Cash's debut, A Land More Kind Than Home, one of our top 10 fiction picks. It takes place in Marshall, another town north of Asheville, where a young boy and his brother must cope with a dangerous secret.
Both books give off a musky scent of dread and darkness, which is what I love about the best of southern writing. The past is always ghosting in the shadows–the Civil War, slavery, moonshine. But at the core of each book is love of family, love of the land, a clear sense of home.
I reached out to both authors to ask a handful questions. Ron's answers are below, and we'll post Wiley's answers this weekend.
In The Cove, the land is very much a character. How/why is the land and its history important to your writing?
Landscape is always a major character in my work because such an emphasis allows the reader to enter the fictional world more fully and, also, understand how the locale affects the characters’ lives both physically and psychologically. In The Cove I hoped to do more–to depict landscape as destiny. Laurel Shelton’s attempts to transcend her dark place in the world, if not literally then through her imagination, is what makes her heroic.
Yes, I wanted to The Cove to resonate with contemporary concerns. “Tell the truth but tell it slant,” Emily Dickenson says, and that is something I wanted to do, for the reader to be reading along and suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, realize the connection. I wanted to address who is and who is not a patriot, in 1918 as well as in 2012, especially in light of those who advocate wars and those who end up doing the actual killing and dying. In the past as in the present, an inordinate number of those who end up doing the fighting are from Appalachia.
Favorite writer? Favorite book?
Picking a favorite writer is always a challenge. As far as novelists, I would have to choose Dostoyevsky because of the impact of Crime and Punishment. I first read the novel when I was fifteen and it was as intense as any reading experience I’ve ever had. For the first time in my life, I felt that I had not entered a book but instead the book had entered me. I go back to Crime and Punishment often, and it greatly influenced my first novel, One Foot in Eden.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up a new story collection titled Nothing Gold Can Stay. The book will be published in March, 2013. It’s been nice to be writing short stories again. It is my favorite form, and I believe the most challenging to do well. A great short story, such as Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is a miraculous synthesis of poetry and novel–every word is perfectly placed and the narrative feels as complete as a full novel. I have a black-and-white photograph above my writing desk of O’Connor. She stares down at me and my writerly efforts disdainfully, as she should.
>See all of Ron Rash's books.
*On a personal note: a shout-out to my friends at Asheville's phenomenal, author-friendly Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe, which host readings by Ron (this Friday) and Wiley (May 19).