Wednesday, December 5, 2012

THE COVE by Ron Rash

The title suggests isolation, and the main characters are indeed outsiders.  The setting is a small town in North Carolina near the conclusion of World War I.  Laurel lives in the dank and dreary cove with her brother Hank, who lost an arm in combat.  The townspeople shun her because of a birthmark that they believe marks her as a witch.  She has almost no contact with anyone except Hank and their helpful neighbor Slidell.  Then she happens upon a stranger (Walter) who, unbeknownst to her is an escapee from a German internment camp.  He doesn't speak but plays a flute beautifully, bringing some much needed joy into Laurel's life.  She hopes to persuade him to stay on the farm and help out, rather than leave for New York to fulfill his musical ambitions.  His imminent departure and Hank's upcoming marriage will leave Lauren more alone than ever.  There's another lonely character to consider, however.  That's Chauncey, the pampered son of a banker, who heads up the local recruitment office.  Many of the injured veterans look disdainfully upon him for having secured such a cushy assignment, and some of the locals even blame him for their wartime casualties.  On the surface he seems pretty harmless, but he's looking for an opportunity to prove himself worthy of his neighbors' respect and he's a powder keg waiting to explode.  I have a couple of beefs with this novel.  For one thing, nothing much happens until the end, and then everything screeches to a rather abrupt halt.  Secondly, the three main characters—Laurel, Walter, and Chauncey—are too one-dimensional.  Laurel and Walter have no any glaring flaws, and Chauncey has no redeeming qualities.  Hank is a little more multi-faceted, adapting to his disability, fighting the battles that his sister cannot, but at the same time looking out for his own well-being.  I think his story would have made a better center.

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