Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Ron RashOn both sides of my family, my roots are in Appalachia. On my mother's side, things are a bit hazy, though there's a Zachariah Russell in Kentucky, and his daughter Blanche Delaware(!) who was my mother's grandmother. On my father's side, it's Tennessee, North Carolina And West Virginia, and before that, Virginia. There are names like Cabin Run and Scotch Creek, Kingsport, Blountville. There are words and phrases that belong to that heritage. When I read Sharyn McCrumb and Margaret Maron, they resonate. Now I've found another writer who takes me there: Ron Rash. His novels are The World Made Straight, Saints at the River and Serena. In addition he has books of poetry and short stories. His three books all cover some sort of environmental theme as part of the back story: a valley flooded by a power company, the search for a drowned girl's body leading to the destruction of a wild and scenic river, clearcutting of the southern mountains. Rash's poetry shows through in each of the novels, as does his love of the land he knows well. But it is the people who stayed in my mind long after I finished reading the books: an environmentalist who has claimed a river as his own; a farmer and his wife whose love for each other leads to murder; a woman whose greed destroys forests.
Some of the words used in the characters' conversations take me back to my childhood in Texas, words that traveled with my family from Appalachia.
"Don't sull up," my mother used to say, when I pouted. I read that in one of Rash's books. Even the rhythm of his words reminds me of aunts and uncles repeating stories and songs they had heard from their parents and grandparents.
Sometimes I think the best writers are also poets, and regional writers carry their past with them.

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