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The Risen


The Risen

THE RISEN is many things: a coming-of-age novel, a rural mystery, a character study, and, most importantly, a superbly written tale that rings solid and true without complexity or complication. Author Ron Rash is a master of such work, and here he gives us yet another fine story that differs markedly from what he has written before but is still of the highest quality.

The narrative bounces between the ultimately portentous summer of 1969 and the present. Both tracks of the story are told in the voice of Eugene Matney, the younger of two brothers who were raised by their mother and paternal grandfather after the untimely death of their father. It is clear from the beginning of the story that Bill, the older of the brothers by two years, is destined for great things. Indeed, he becomes a surgeon of considerable skill and local renown, one who could have practiced anywhere but instead chooses to do so in western North Carolina, on the lip of Appalachia, near where he was born and raised. Eugene, on the other hand, is a failed writer, husband and father, who has achieved his greatest success at being the town drunk in Sylva, North Carolina, which sits in the shadows of nearby Asheville. It is Asheville’s proximity that in part influenced Eugene’s choice of potential occupations, given that city’s fame for having birthed Thomas Wolfe.

"THE RISEN is many things: a coming-of-age novel, a rural mystery, a character study, and, most importantly, a superbly written tale that rings solid and true without complexity or complication."

The seeds of Eugene’s failures, however, run far deeper. It was during that ill-fated summer of 1969 that 16-year-old Eugene and 18-year-old Bill met a young woman named Jane Mosely, who was staying with relatives in Sylva for the summer. Jane had apparently fallen in with the wrong element in Florida, and it was felt that staying in the quieter, more traditional environs of Sylva would influence her more appropriately. But Jane, who initially introduced herself as Ligeia, brought the spirit of the wrong element with her, and in her time seduced both brothers while introducing Eugene, in particular, to the wonders of substance abuse. The reason for the subsequent wedge between them, which has persisted up to the present, is revealed by Rash through Eugene’s voice in piecemeal fashion as the book progresses. What we learn initially is that near the end of that summer, Bill drove Jane to the bus station for her return trip to Florida, and she vanished from their lives, seemingly forever.

In the present, the remains of a long-dead young woman have been discovered. When she turns out to be Jane, local law enforcement slowly but inexorably turns its attention to Eugene, who knows that Bill was in all probability the last person to see Jane alive. Bill is reluctant to discuss the matter with his brother. When he eventually does, though, Eugene learns things about his family and about himself that he never suspected. He is also confronted with a dilemma: Is the revelation of the truth always the best course to follow? Or are some truths meant to stay hidden for the benefit of the greater good? THE RISEN ultimately provides an answer.

Ron Rash is the real deal. While he is arguably better known for his shorter fiction, he is gaining increased and well-deserved interest in his longer work, which, similar to his short stories, combines lean yet sturdy prose with sharp characterizations that leap off the page and into this world, seemingly effortlessly. I’ve never read an inferior work of his, as each of his offerings get better and better. And as good as THE RISEN is, I have the feeling that Rash’s best book is still ahead of him.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 9, 2016

The Risen
by Ron Rash

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062436325
  • ISBN-13: 9780062436320