Book of the Week: Above the Waterfall – Ron Rash

Way back in the mid-2000s Jen Reynolds, then at Joseph-Beth and now Director of Field Sales at Houghton Mifflin, praised to sky an Appalachian poet, story writer, and novelist who Harper had just signed. Harper’s field reps later had a chance to meet Ron Rash and it was immediately clear that the man is not only a born storyteller but a careful, generous observer of people and the natural world–as well as a writer devoted to his native Appalachia.

The book we had just acquired was Serena and the read was a revelation. It rightly became a major bestseller—a “great American novel” kind of story, with its own version of Lady Macbeth—one as chilling and mesmerizing as Shakespeare’s original. In the time since then, the NYT’s Janet Maslin called Rash “one of the great American authors at work today…his awe-inspiring stories are startlingly attuned to nature, human and otherwise, in all its power both to create and destroy.”

This new novel marries Rash’s talent as a poet as well as a novelist to tell the story of a small-town sheriff nearing retirement and his lover, a female park ranger who finds solace from a violent past in poetry and nature. When someone commits a vicious crime in the town, neighbor is set against neighbor and everyone seems to have secret–including the sheriff and the ranger.

It’s a rewarding read by a major American writer at the height of his powers. Coverage is already scheduled in the WSJ, Esquire, Garden & Gun, Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and on NPR’s Here and Now. We expect much more to come.

Les, a sheriff in a small Appalachian town, is only 51, yet he’s ready to retire as meth labs poison his neighbors and beloved countryside. With just a few weeks left before his departure, Les, a law officer not entirely on the up-and-up, finds himself confronted by two volatile cases with deep personal connections….A loner ever since his early marriage failed, Les isn’t sure how to characterize his relationship with Becky, a profoundly haunted survivor of a childhood school shooting who became a park ranger enthralled by nature….[Rash] channels his love of poetry through Becky, who always carries a notebook and is steeped in the ravishing poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the inspiration for the novel’s enrapturing rhythms and glinting descriptions. Combining suspense with acute observations and flashing insights, Rash tells a seductive and disquieting tale about our intrinsic attachment to and disastrous abuse of the land and our betrayal of our best selves.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Rash’s widely celebrated style lends his Southern Gothic-tinged books a suppleness that verges on prose poetry and, in the case of his new novel, elevates a small-town noir story….Les and Becky unearth a caper heavy in rich Southern crime and violence, one that’s a cut above the rest….[T]here’s no denying Rash’s grasp of the North Carolina landscape and its reflection in the oft-tortured souls of its denizens, making this novel one of his most successful ventures into poetic humanism.”
   — Publishers Weekly

“Think Longmire but more poetic and in Appalachia. Les is within a month of retiring from his position as county sheriff. He has a replacement, and he is ready to pack up and move into his new cabin (paid for with buy-offs by the county’s marijuana grower). When a local man is accused of poisoning a private section of river, Les finds his last case will be one for the books and for burning bridges.”
— April Gosling, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

“Of course, grit lit set in Appalachia. I do like that this one feels different than his previous works. It is lighter, poetic, but just as “Ron Rash” as always. The depths were not as dark with this one. This may make it a great book to start the newcomer to Ron Rash with.”
— Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington KY

“Ron Rash is one author who gets a lot of recognition regionally but I firmly believe should be regarded as a national treasure. In Above the Waterfall he transitions between two narrators, Les and Becky, to tell the story of a small Appalachian town in the last days of Les’s time as sheriff with depth and thought-provoking candor. Rash writes with such a dark beauty that I want everyone to experience his way with language and descriptions of the power of the land over its inhabitants.”
— Catherine Bock, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

Above the Waterfall (9780062349316) by Ron Rash. $26.99 hardcover. 9/8/15 on sale.

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