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“The Cove,” by novelist and poet Ron Rash, is a dark story of Appalachian superstition that takes place deep in the mountains of North Carolina during World War I.
The story takes place about three miles outside of the town of Mars Hill where a huge cliff rears up. Under this cliff is a sinister cove, dark and cursed, or so the local residents believe. This is where siblings Laurel and Hank Shelton live; the townspeople believe Laurel is a witch.
Laurel’s brother has returned from the war in Europe, having lost a hand. He falls in love with a woman who will not live in the cove and he secretly plans to move on, leaving Laurel, in her early 20s, behind.
When Laurel hears an unusual sound in the woods she thinks might be the rare Carolina Parakeet, she follows the sound and finds a man with a flute, badly swollen and dehydrated from bee stings. This stranger carries a note with him that says his name is Walter, that he is mute and
that he is heading for New York City to play in an orchestra. Walter understands everything and appears to relieve the cove’s darkness, at least for Laurel. She finds herself falling in love with this mysterious stranger, who helps her and her brother with their farm.
But Laurel begins to suspect something, and eventually finds out Walter’s real identity. Only then does she realize the serious danger they are in: He has escaped from a nearby internment camp. Even if Walter is a fleeting episode in her life, however, this is the only time she has ever found such happiness.
Author Ron Rash writes about the insularity of a small town where everyone is suspicious. By using language true to the time and place, he helps bring the characters to life.
In a biographical note, Ron Rash’s family has lived in the southern Appalachian mountains since the 1700s.