Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ron Rash: The Risen

I have favorite novelists, favorite poets, favorite short story authors. Then there's Ron Rash, who manages to excel at all three forms. A colleague recommended his first novel One Foot in Eden, right after it was given Charlotte's Novella Award. Then I heard him read from  Eureka Mills, one of his poetry books, at the local college, and he brought his skillful way with words to his poems.

Since then, I've had the chance to hear him read and talk about his craft in a number of events. What I learned was, first, that he exercises the kind of writing discipline that results in finished writing projects. He can talk about writing, adjusting to his audiences smoothly, addressing his readers warmly, but one gets the sense that he'd rather be writing.

I've enjoyed sharing his short stories with my community college students, many of whom recognize some of their own experiences and their own families in his stories set in the western Carolinas.

Rash's latest novel The Risen moves back and forth between 1969 and present in the life of his troubled protagonist Eugene Matney. As a sixteen-year-old, he and his brother Bill meet a bewitching girl who has been sent from Florida to live with relatives after getting into trouble back home. She introduces both boys to temptations and then leaves, presumably running away to join her friends near the beach.

While Bill goes on the a successful law career and marriage, Eugene pursues a writing career, but is cut off from his own daughter as he struggles with alcoholism. During her stay in the mountains, the girl Ligeia drives a wedge of secrecy between the two brothers; the discovery of her body forty-six years later raises even more troubling questions.

In his dark, bewitching style, Rash has developed a protagonist at once distant and sympathetic, scarred by  family secrets.

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