Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Ron Rash: The Caretaker

As close as I follow book news, I am rarely surprised when one of my favorite writers publishes a new book. I had been disappointed when I checked to see if Ron Rash would be appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October and did not see his name. 

Then I had a message from a friend and former teaching colleague, telling me to be sure to read his latest novel, The Caretaker. I didn't hesitate. 

I have read everything Rash has written--full-length fiction, short stories, and poetry, since his novel One Foot in Eden won the Novella prize at the Charlotte festival. Though there is often a darkness in his stories, it is never gratuitously so.  He also has the power to evoke some of the most memorable images of anyone I have read.

My students always responded to the stories in his collection Burning Bright. A favorite former student who discovered a love for reading after graduating high school read Saints at the River and The World Made Straight, then contacted me to say thanks for the recommendation.

This new novel by Rash is set during the Korean conflict, set in part on the battlefield, but primarily in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Blackburn Gant, the caretaker at the local cemetery, is semi-reclusive after his facial disfigurement, a result of polio, makes his the victim of stares at best and mockery from some of his more cruel peers. 

Initially, Jacob Hampton appears to be the protagonist. He disappoints his parents first by choosing to work in his father's mill rather than attend college. Then, against their wishes, he marries 16-year-old Naomi, who came from Tennessee for work in the Blowing Rock Inn instead of the local girl everyone expected him to marry.

Rash's artful plot timing keeps suspense throughout the novel. He also keeps his characters' integrity (or the lack thereof) consistent through the story, even when readers might expect a sharp plot twist. As I finished, I felt satisfied that Rash had been true to the people he created.


1 comment:

Glenda Beall said...

I totally agree. I just finished listening to the book on Audible and once again was amazed at how Ron Rash made each character an important part of the book and how he made the reader see, hear and know them. Excellent book that would make a great movie, I think.