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Above the Waterfall


Above the Waterfall

There are few things that a lover of literary fiction can anticipate or appreciate more than a Ron Rash book. That goes doubly so for the newly published ABOVE THE WATERFALL, which follows 2014’s SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE, an excellent collection of his short stories. While it is doubtful that many will find this to be Rash’s best work, his inability to write badly makes his latest effort worthy of shouldering its way to the top of your must-read pile.

Rash is a master of many literary skills, all of which are on fine display here. These would include his exquisite, seemingly off-the-cuff turns of phrase, whether as part of the narrative or as presented in dialogue; his sharply defined characters, who are never redundant and fit squarely in the story’s place; and the inability of even the most seasoned reader to guess what will happen from page to page. The only constant from book to book --- besides Rash’s superlative craftsmanship --- is his penchant for the rural setting as a backdrop for his tales.

"Rash is a master of many literary skills, all of which are on fine display here.... Strongly recommended, particularly for those making acquaintance with Rash for the first time."

ABOVE THE WATERFALL is set in a small town where the southern edge of Appalachia gives way to the mountains of North Carolina. Les is the town sheriff, a three-decade law enforcement officer who is set to retire at the age of 51. He is settling into his final weeks of duty when he is confronted by a situation that requires he walk a delicate balance between the wealthy owner of a local vacation resort and Gerald, an elderly local character whose property abuts a scenic feature of the popular venue. There are several complications in the matter for Les, not the least of which is C.J. Gant, a boyhood friend of his. Les owes much to C.J., who in turn is between an apparent rock and hard place due to Gerald’s alleged incursions onto the resort property.

Gerald, meanwhile, is supported by Becky Shytle, a local forest ranger whose unwise and unfortunate dealings with a radical environmentalist several years before have left her emotionally scarred and in retreat. Les and Becky have a relationship that is stalled midway between friendly and romantic, with neither of them quite able to bridge the gap. Les also walks an ethical tightrope of his own, reluctantly permitting local marijuana growers to operate in return for a monthly stipend while attempting to crack down on the scourge of crystal meth labs and dealers that constitute a much greater threat to the serenity of the area he has tried so hard to preserve during his law enforcement tenure.

Things come to a head for Les when the resort’s fish stock is poisoned, and virtually all of the evidence --- most of it damning and much of it seemingly irrefutable --- points to Gerald as the doer. Les has his doubts, even as one of his deputies points out that if one hears hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Yet there are a couple of elements that nag at him, not the least of which is that Gerald is probably the unlikeliest person in the area to hurt fish or any of the game animals in the area. In addition to the evidence, though, Gerald has a motive: revenge against the resort that has been high-handed in its dealings with him. Les navigates his way through the quagmire, wanting to see that mercy is given while justice is done. In alternating chapters, Becky gives poetic voice to her love of the land.

Les ultimately solves the mystery. And yes, at its core, this book is a mystery while being so much more. I’ll raise the issue again: Is ABOVE THE WATERFALL Rash’s best book? Maybe not, but it’s so good that you won’t be able to tell the difference. Strongly recommended, particularly for those making acquaintance with Rash for the first time.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 11, 2015

Above the Waterfall
by Ron Rash

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062349325
  • ISBN-13: 9780062349323