Laurel lives with her brother Hank in the Cove, an apparently blighted stretch of land that managed to see off her mother and father and cursed the two remaining siblings enough to leave them ostracised in the local community. Returning from war sans a hand sees Hank doled out a measure of forgiveness but Laurel is a witch, plain and simple, a witch adorned with a strawberry birthmark, young and gullible, tricked by a local boy into losing her virginity and quietly suspecting her dreams of teaching and of love may remain just that.
Enter Walter, a mysterious flute playing mute, discovered bee stung and unconscious up on the hill. Nursed back to health, and gradually brought to work on the farm, an unlikely love affair begins, quietly encouraged by Hank who is himself set to marry and leave Laurel some months hence. Fence wire is restrung, a well is dug and occasionally a little moonshine is imbibed as Walter charms Hank and Laurel and their one friend in the world, a local neighbour called Slidell with his impressive musicality. But there is of course more to Walter than meets the eye.
We know from relatively early on in proceedings that Walter is on the run but Rash takes his time to draw out the full sting of what he’s running from and it is here that The Cove makes its claim to genuinely refreshing originality, marrying a slightly gentler take on the kinds of mountain folk you’d more often than not see in a Daniel Woodrell novel with a tale of wartime espionage. Rash is also canny enough to set a narrative bead on an additional character relatively early on who any reader worth his or her salt will know is on a collision course with Laurel and Walter.
Although Rash is a gentler writer than Woodrell (and a far gentler writer than Cormac McCarthy to whom he is often erroneously compared), he retains a determined lyrical prowess and a willingness to embrace calamity, as can be seen in the dark denouement of the novel. The Cove is also the kind of novel likely to bring new fans to Rash’s door and have them scurrying back over his extensive back catalogue.
Any Cop?: A surprising and affecting read guaranteed to satisfy fans of literary Americana.