Country Noir: Where to Start with Ron Rash

Where do you tell someone to start with one of your favorite authors?

The dilemma is real.  There is a lot of pressure on you.  What if you screw up and recommend the wrong book and they never read your beloved author again?  And Ron Rash is definitely one of my favorite authors.  And one dear to my heart because he writes—and writes extraordinarily well—about the mountains of North Carolina where I grew up.  Danger notwithstanding, the recommendations must be made.  But I’ll give a few options.


Obvious, But Inferior Choice

This is where a lot of people would tell you to start.  Serena is Rash’s best known work by a wide margin.  It is also, to me, his worst (a very relative measure).  I think that I dislike it for the same reason it gets so much attention—it is told from the perspective of outsiders.  That makes it more accessible to outsiders.  But Rash is the master of writing about the people of western North Carolina.  Start with something written from their perspective.  Serena will still be here when you get back.

But it here.


The Beginning

One Foot in Eden is Rash’s first published novel, and it stands up against all of those later books.  It is a book about a crime, but less a crime novel than a book about the indelible stain a killing leaves on a person’s soul, with the flooding of a valley to create a man-made lake there to provide the literary effect.

My review.

Buy it here.


The End (for now)

Instead of starting with his first book and working your way forward, you could instead start with his latest (but surely not last) book and work your way back.  Most authors get better with practice, after all.  I’m not sure I would quite say that about Rash—One Foot in Eden is great—but The Risen is also absolutely among his best.  Set in Sylva, North Carolina, The Risen tells the story of two brothers and the girl they meet at the creek one summer across two timelines.

In The Risen, not in Serena, is where you will find Rash’s best villain.

Buy it here.


In Small Bites

Rash is first and foremost known as a master of the short story.  My favorite of his short story collections is Chemistry and Other Stories.  Blackberries in June is one of my favorite short stories ever.  Speckled Trout was recognized as a PEN/O. Henry Prize Story (one of the year’s twenty best stories).  If you remain Serena-curious, Pemberton’s Bride gives you a taste of that novel.

My review.

Buy it here.


In Verse

Rash is also an accomplished poet.  Sadly, I haven’t read any of his stuff (I read very little poetry).  Let’s go with Eureka Mill, a collection of poems about his family history, his first published collection of poetry, and his second published book (the short story collection The Night The New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina was his first).

Buy it here.


If You Are In a Historical Mood

David Joy has set all his novels thus far in Jackson County.  Rash jumps around, both in location and geography.  The Cove is set during WWI.  It is also one of his best books (this is a theme).  An ostracized woman takes in a man who claims to be mute but who is really a German hiding out.

Buy it here.


Something Darker

Rash’s stories usually involve violence, but as a whole I wouldn’t call them pessimistic or dark.  In Above the Waterfall, Rash is maybe showing some pessimism about the meth epidemic.  (Which has I guess been replaced by the opioid epidemic?  So we have that going for us.  Although Appalachia had an opioid epidemic before it was cool.)  Meth is a pretty central element to the country noir subgenre, and Above the Waterfall is more of a real country noir story than most of his stuff, which tends to hover at the border between country noir and straight literary fiction (albeit relegated to a regional fiction ghetto).  I would put Above the Waterfall in a tranche below One Foot in Eden, The Risen, and The Cover (though well above Serena).

(Above the Waterfall also has the advantage that it is on sale on Kindle for $1.99 at the moment.)

Buy it here.


Something I Haven’t Read So You Can Convince Me To Read It

I still haven’t read The World Made Straight, Saints at the River, or Something Rich and Strange (a short story collection).  Buy them, read them, and then convince me to do the same.  The World Made Straight, by the way, has been adapted into a movie available to stream for free if you have Amazon Prime.

Buy them here, here, and here.


Where do you tell people to start with Ron Rash?

2 thoughts on “Country Noir: Where to Start with Ron Rash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s