The Cove by Ron Rash is a meandering book and I realized recently that I don't like meandering books. So, I don't recommend this book.
First, I have to admit something. At the end of this book, I was still a little unclear as to what a "cove" was. I always thought it was a body of water. A consult of Wikipedia clued ms in - in the Appalachians, it's a valley, typically with steep walls all around.
Anyhow, so the story is mostly about Laurel and Hank and Walter and this cove. And a guy named Chauncey. And World War I.
Laurel is a girl who's apparently not unattractive, but because she lived in the cove and because of a large birthmark, many had felt she was a witch. Therefore, she was prohibited to attend school and was mostly ostracized from the nearby town.
Hank had gone away to war, but had returned after losing his hand.
Walter is a mute man who plays the flute and is trying to return to New York, according to the note he carries with him.
The Cove is a dark and foreboding place, parts of which never seem to receive sunlight due to the high walls. Superstitious townsfolk keep leaving stuff on the path to keep evil spirits from leaving the cove.
Chauncey is a military recruiter but never actually went to war because of his influential parents. He's supposed to be an allegory for modern-day patriotism run amok but allegory is too fancy a word for this thin character.
At the beginning of the story a man in more modern times is surveying the area because the the TVA is planning to flood the cove for a dam project. He looks around the area and the deserted cabin and is thirsty so he goes to draw some water from the well and finds a human head in the bucket.
Then the story moves back to Laurel and Hank's timeline, alternating between their story and Chauncey's and you keep waiting for the two stories to intersect, they must, right?
Laurel has buried her parents and Hank has just returned and is fixing up the farm. She hears Walter playing and finds him on their property. She listens for but doesn't confront him. The next day she discovers him near death due to many bee stings. He's nursed back to health, leaves, sees his photo in a wanted poster at the train station and runs back to the farm to hide. And so sets up one of many possible scenarios of whose head is in the well and why.
We later learn Walter is an escaped German who was in New York at the time the war began and was interned to wait out the war. He was a musician aboard a luxury ship. He had been told that he would never be truly great until he'd loved and lost.
Laurel figures out Walter's secret and that Walter actually can speak. They fall in love. He helps around the farm, including helping to dig a new well which is scary and dangerous work.
In the end, Chauncey finds out that Walter's at the farm, leads a party to search for him, accidentally kills Laurel (he has his pistol drawn and his horse is jostled by the bloodhounds they brought to track) and then intentionally kills Hank to make sure Hank never comes after him to exact revenge for killing Laurel.
And then Chauncey falls down the newly dug well.
Walter and a neighbor buries Laurel and Hank and then the next day there's news that the war has ironically ended. Well, it didn't end ironically, the timing was.
Of course. sigh.
So Walter goes back to New York having loved and lost.
This was recommended by Entertainment Weekly and it may just be that I need to stop getting recommendations from EW because I think we have massively divergent taste in books. I didn't care for this book. It was interesting and descriptive, but the main characters all got killed off in the end and what seems like the central mystery of the book becomes nothing more than a deus ex machina to wrap everything up nice and tidy. Ironic without feeling just. One almost wonders if that was the plan all along or if it just seemed convenient, if that's why the prologue felt so tacked on.
How depressing. No thanks.