Archive for the ‘  American Literature’ Category

I discovered Ron Rash’sAbove the Waterfall‘ through Emma’s (from ‘Book Around the Corner’) review of it. Emma reviews beautiful American fiction that non-American readers haven’t heard of, and I always discover new American authors through her reviews. I’ve never heard of Ron Rash before and so I decided to read this book.

Les is a sheriff in a small town in the middle of the Appalachians. He is going to retire in a few weeks. He hopes to have a peaceful few weeks and then hand over charge to his deputy. But things don’t go according to plan. First one thing happens and then another and suddenly it turns out that a good, old gentleman might have done a really bad thing. What happens after that and how the mystery is resolved forms the rest of the story.

Though the book has a plot, it is not at all about the plot. There were two things about the book which stood out for me. The book depicts how small town life is, how everyone knows everyone else, and how when someone acts or reacts in a particular way, we need to know his or her past and history to understand them. As Les says in one of the chapters –

“In a county this rural, everyone’s connected, if not by blood, then in some other way. In the worst times, the county was like a huge web. The spider stirred and many linked strands vibrated.”

This depiction of small town life was very perceptive and beautiful. There are almost no bad guys in the book, just beautiful, imperfect human beings.

The second thing about the book that I loved was the beautiful prose. The descriptions of nature are very beautiful and poetic. That, I think, was the best thing about the book, and the book is worth reading for that alone. Sometimes the sentences are actually poetic – that is if we organize them in different lines, they have rhyme and rhythm and are beautiful to read aloud.

For example, these lines somewhere at the beginning of the book.

“In canopy gaps,
    the sky through straws of sunlight
sips damp leaf meal dry.
    For a minute, no sound.
I gather in the silence,
    place it inside me for the afternoon.”

And this one :

“I lead them to where
    joe-pye stems anchor
low clouds of lavender.”

And this one, which reads like a line from a Wordsworth poem :

“A hollowed lightness like a thimble,
    spring’s green weight gone.”

And these beautiful lines :

“There on the straw-strewn floor,
    a sundial of slanted light.
I’d reach my child’s palm into it,
    hold sunspill like rain.”

And this one :

“Eyes adjusting,
    much more revealed:
junctions knit
    with spiderwebs,
near cross beams
    dirt dauber nests,
the orange tunnels rising
    like cathedral pipes.”

One of my favourites was this one :

“Morning’s fawnlight yokes
    inside dew beads,
each hued
    like a rainbow’s hatchling.
But they cling like tears
    about to fall.”

In the middle of a tense scene, later in the story, there is a sentence like this.

“Ferns sleeve both banks green.”

Who writes like this?

Ron Rash is a poet too and he has written many poetry collections, and it looks like he couldn’t resist inserting poetry into this book and cleverly disguising it as prose  I lingered on many of these nature descriptions and poetic lines and celebrated their beauty.

An interesting thing happened when I started reading the book. The book started with Les narrating the story, but at some point, I felt that the story had a taken on a different light, there were new characters and the tone was different and the prose was more soft, and I wondered who this person was who was narrating the story, and if it was really Les. Then I discovered that this narrator was not really Les, but Becky, who manages the nature park. It was interesting to discover, because when we read the book, there is no clear indication of who the narrator is. After I discovered this, I challenged myself to discover while reading every chapter, who the narrator was. It was fun 😊 I loved Becky’s narration even more than Les’, because most of the nature passages came in her story.

French readers and publishers have had a long love affair with American fiction, stretching back to the 1850s and before. French readers discovered Edgar Allan Poe, before American readers did. French readers and publishers are continuing that proud tradition deep into the 21st century, promoting and translating books by American writers, who might be well-known in their country among a dedicated group of readers, but who are virtually unknown outside America. If we want to tread off the beaten path and discover wonderful new American writers, who are virtually unknown, a good way to do that would be to look at the catalogues of French publishers and find out which American books they have published in French translation, or are planning to publish in the future. An alternate way, an easier way, to discover wonderful new American writers would be to just go and read Emma’s blog.

I enjoyed reading ‘Above the Waterfall’. Hoping to read more of Ron Rash’s books now.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

This is a perfect depiction of the picture on the book’s cover.

“A mown hay field appears, its blond stubble blackened by a flock of starlings. As I pass, the field seems to lift, peek to see what’s under itself, then resettle. A pickup passes from the other direction. The flock lifts again and this time keeps rising, a narrowing swirl as if sucked through a pipe and then an unfurl of rhythm sudden sprung, becoming one entity as it wrinkles, smooths out, drifts down like a snapped bedsheet. Then swerves and shifts, gathers and twists. Murmuration: ornithology’s word-poem for what I see. Two hundred starlings at most, but in Europe sometimes ten thousand, enough to punctuate a sky. What might a child see? A magic carpet made suddenly real? Ocean fish-schools swimming air? The flock turns west and disappears.”

This conversation was very beautiful.

      What does silence look like?
      I ask them to think about an answer. As they do, several children tilt their heads to one side, listening.
      “It looks like air,” a child says.
      “What else does it look like?” I ask.
      “It looks like night, but not scary.”
      “It looks like the wind when the wind’s not blowing.”
      “What about you, Ms. Douglas?” a child asks the teacher.
      “Hmmm,” she says. “How about that it looks like paper that hasn’t been written on.”
      “Plain paper with no lines,” a child says.
      “Yes,” the teacher agrees. “No lines.”
      “And what about you?” a child asks me.
      “Like stars resting on a calm pond,” I answer.
      Several small heads nod.
      “It’s time for us to go,” the teacher says, and we stand up, brush bits of ground off our clothes. We are almost to the bus when a child who hasn’t spoken turns to me.
      “I know what silence looks like,” she says.
      “What?” I ask.
      “It looks like someone asleep,” the child says.
      “Yes,” I tell the child as she boards the bus. “It does.”
      It does, it did.

And the sound of crackling fire during a winter evening, what can be better than that?

“…Gerald is building a fire. As always, one of the hearth logs is apple wood. Because its colors make a fire pretty, Gerald says. He places kindling and newspaper as attentively as he might tie a trout fly, then strikes a match. Beneath the andirons the red-tipped wood spore blossoms. Fire streams around kindling, thickens and pools, swirls upward as sparks crackle, splash slowly onto the hearthstone. The apple wood sprouts feathers of redyellowgreen, as if the lost parrot has phoenixed among the flames. Gerald’s palms open as if to bless the fire, or maybe it’s to have the fire bless him. How many thousands of years that gesture, its promise of light, and heat, and soon-rest summoned.”

Have you read ‘Above the Waterfall’ or other books by Ron Rash? What do you think about them?


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