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Ron Rash Book Group Discussion

Page history last edited by amber.pitts@spart1.org 14 years, 3 months ago

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Joan Green

"Saints at the River" is Ron Rash's novel that uses the drowning of a twelve-year-old girl in the Tamassee River as a starting point. Before Chapter One even begins, Rash lets us witness the death of the young girl as she picnics with her family on the banks of the river. Then the first word in Chapter One is "Ghosts." We have a foreshadowing that there will not only be the ghost of the girl that will follow us through this story, but that there will be many more "ghosts" to discover.

Rash does a wonderful job of describing his characters. "The skin on the undersides of his arms was loose like an old woman's" is one example of imagery.

Rash gives us a slow unveiling throughout the story. We are left wondering and wanting to know more. We wonder: What happened during Maggie's childhood that makes her think, "Because being connected to Daddy was like having an infected limb no antibiotic could cure. What I wanted was not only to sever the limb but also to cauterize it." Rash depicts Maggie's father to the reader as a vulnerable man who is dying of cancer. I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. And the brief mention of her brother, Ben, at the beginning of the story has me wondering. Why does he need to put the entire United States between him and South Carolina? Why is there no mirror in his room? Yes, there is a reference to being burnt, but WHAT HAPPENED?

Just as the young girl lies dead beneath the surface of the Tamassee River, there is a story just beneath the surface of the story about Maggie on her photography assignment. Rash makes us want to keep reading to understand. 




Sarah Stephanoff - Saints at the River


I  must admit that I  read for plot. I  voraciously devour each page often skimming through flowery descriptions in favor of finding out what happens next.

Saints at the River was no exception. I  picked it up before bed and could not put it down, resulting in a late school night.


Now I  am trying to go back and reread for craft.


One thing I noticed was in the introduction which details the girl's drowning. Rash writes a "run-on" sentence that is 25 lines long when he tells the action of the girl getting swept up, over, and under the falls. The rapid pace at which you read without periods to pause at mimics the rapid pace at which the river takes the girl without pause.


I  also agree with Joan that Rash creates suspense by meting out details slowly - part of the reason I  could not put the book down - I  had to find out why the people were the way they were.


I was surprised to find that Rash writes about South Carolina and I think that anyone who has lived here for any length of time could make connections with the places and characters of his book. I  think Rash tells you about his characters in such a way that his readers probably know somebody who is like one of his characters.


Rash is also incredibly descriptive as he narrates about the places in his book. You can see where the characters are. Here is one example:  "The Tamassee Community Center was little more than cinder blocks, tables, and a few dozen metal folding chairs. The roof needed new shingles, and the one window had a piece of plywood where a pane should have been. Hawkwee and broom sedge sprouted thick around the edges, some of the plants sortieing out to rise in the gravel parking lot."







Renee Phillips

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash


One Foot in Eden (The High Sheriff)

This is my first exposure to Ron Rash and I am in love! He is a wonderful writer that creates people and places that the reader can connect with on many different levels. For me as a native of the upstate if am able to put faces on the characters. He does a great balance of direct characterization and indirect characterization to create very believable characters. I also like the way each section tells the story from a different point of view. This first section was from the point of view of the sheriff in a small town that is investigating a disappearance of a vet. He feels that the man has been murdered but he can prove it. Within the story of looking for the missing person he has woven in the sheriff’s personal life and conflicts. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking he writes a lot like Pat Conroy but uses our area of state and western North Carolina as his backdrop in his books. (At least in what I have read so far)  A teacher that I work with at Cowpens grew up with him and says that he uses the people of her town to craft his characters. Dawn mentioned last week about paying attention to the how and not the what when you read like a writer so I am going to have to reread it as a writer. I was enjoying the book as a read so much. I am also reading some of the poems out of Eureka Mill and he really has captured the history and the life of the mill village.


Crystal Weathers 

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash (the wife)


One Foot in eden is set in the 1950's in  Jocassee, a town in South Carolina. The book tells the account of a military hero who disappears and the people who are involved in the case. The story is told through the voices of the local sheriff, the accussed farmer, his wife, the son, and the deputy sheriff. The story is rich with authentic southern language that enables the reader to envision the quant southern community where lives can be changed when the wants of Amy, the farmers wife, outweigh the deadly consequences. Ron Rashes depiction of Amy is one of vulnerability and heartwrenching desire to become a mother. The southern twang of the authentic voice used in the wife's narration creates a vivd picture of how vulnerable and heartwrenching Amy's predicament really is. "At first it was kind of a joke between me and the older women. They'd lay a hand on my belly and say something silly like "Is there a biscuit in the oven" or "I don't feel nothing blossoming yet." Then we'd all have a laugh. Or a woman more my won age might say, "A latch-pin can poke holes in the end of them things," or "Nuzzle up to him of a sudden in the barn or the field edge and that will do the trick." Such words made me blush for they brought up notions I'd never known women to talk of our amongst each other.

This book is a departure from what I usually read. I must say that it took until reading the Wife part of the book to get me interested enough to keep wanting to read. Although this book was such a different venue for me I will say that I am going to read his other books.


Chemistry and Other StoriesAmber Pitts Chemistry and Other Storiesis a collection of Ron Rash's short stories. I have not finished reading the whole collection yet, but I have read the first five stories. His stories are set in the appalachian mountains and most of the ones I have read so far are set in the past. Overall, the stories I have read are not your typcial happy, light hearted stories. All of them deal with the struggles of life such as death, injuries or family struggles. It amazes me how Rash can have so many different stories to tell! They are all so distinct, yet they all have his personal touch. Rash used a lot of descriptive terms to give life to the setting and characters. It made me feel like I was a part of that story! I felt connected to these characters and at the end I was wondering what they would do next. I feel like the endings left me hanging, I guess Rash leaves that part up to the reader.  


Amber Pitts 2/21/10:

I don’t have much free time for reading, but I have finally finished this collection of short stories. Although Rash’s stories are much different from my usual Nicholas Sparks books, I did enjoy reading his short stories. I felt a connection to most of them because the settings were places I have heard of like Boone, Seneca, or Asheville. As I said in my earlier post, these are not sweet loving stories. Most of them deal with death or people being wounded in some way or another. In the story Chemistry a boy’s father drowns, in Last Rite a mother searches for the place where her son was murdered, in Blackberries in June a sister tells about her brother losing a leg and so forth. There were also stories of a father whose son struggles with drugs, stories of women losing their babies and people dealing with the memories of war.

On of the things I noticed most about Rash’s short stories is the imagery he uses. He writes in a way that helps me visualize the characters and the things that are happening. Here are some examples that I enjoyed “On August nights when no late-afternoon thunderstorms rinsed the heat and humidity from the air, not breeze stirred the cattails and willow oak leaves…(pg 53)” “I could hear an out-of-tune piano, a chorus of voices rising from the open door and windows into the August evening, merging with the songs of crickets and cicadas (pg 32).” “The evening sun glowed in the treetop like a snagged orange balloon. The first lightning bugs rode over the grass as though carried on an invisible current (pg 221).” “My father died that September, on an afternoon when the first reds and yellows flared in the maples and poplars (pg 37).”







Amber Pitts Serena


I have just gotten this book from the library and have only read the first chapter. I do know a little about thist book because in the book of short stories,  Chemistry and Other Stories, there was a short story called "Pemberton's Bride" and it is what this novel is based on. I am excited to start reading another of Rash's book and I  feel like this book will tell more details on what happens to Serena and her husband Pemberton.


Renee Phillips Eureka Mill (collection of poems)Product Details

The poems in this book really do capture the people of the mill village as well as what mill life was like. Through his words he paints a visual of what you would see and hear. The houses, the churches, and the people that all make up these places. I know that he is talking from his experience in NC but it could easily be Inman, Pacolet, or Clifton. I love the like about how close the houses are to each other. It is perfect!





Crystal Weathers Chemistry and Other Stories

This book is a collection of short stories that capture the working class and what life was like. Blackberries In June depicts a family where obligations to take care of the whole outweigh the good fortune of the few. His visual langauge places right in the story with them. It makes for excellent reading.



Sarah Stephanoff - One Foot in Eden


So I finished Saints at the River and loved Ron Rash so I wanted to read another book by him. Dawn suggested One Foot in Eden.

From the very beginning One Foot in Eden drew me in. Rash does not give the reader anything. You have to earn everything by continuing to read. For example, I had no idea the book was set in the past until I got to page 6 when Holland references that the sheriff was in the World War. Even then I had to infer that it was another war like Korea or Vietnam that Holland had been in until the book told me many, many pages later.

I noticed that the first section of the book was called the High Sheriff but I did not realize until I got to the 2nd section called "The Wife" that the whole book was in five sections narrated by five different people. It is amazing the change between the first and second sections. It is almost like a different author writing because the voice is so different between them. I think Rash did that at least with the sheriff and the wife because he is showing how the sheriff is set apart now that he left the hill country for a life in town. I agree with Crystal about the wife section being written in dialect. It was difficult to understand in some parts.

I also found it interesting that Rash titled the sections "The Wife," "The Husband," and "The Son" instead of by their names. It makes the story a bit more ominous.

Spoiler alert!!!! As much as Rash makes you keep reading and only metes out details a little at a time, he also includes foreshadowing. For example, Widow Glendower and Amy have a conversation as follows.

"He'll live then?"

Widow Glendower didn't answer.

"You claim to see things that ain't yet been."

"I reckon I do."

"Fire and water," she finally said. "Fever's a fire. Your man's not to die by fire."

This conversation foreshadows that Billy, Amy's husband will die from water (drowning).

I really felt left hanging at the end of the book. My kids often complain when I read aloud a book that leaves loose ends. I feel that Ron Rash left many loose ends in this book, far more than Saints at the River. You don't know if the sheriff ever resolved things with his wife Janice. You don't know how Isaac ended up after his parents died other than living with the sheriff; you don't know how he felt. It was an interesting choice to end with the deputy narrating since he was not integral to the story.

One thing I noticed after reading two of Rash's books was his tendency to make somewhat of a political statement with his novels. After reading both, I would surmise that Rash is for protection of the wilderness and not into humans tampering with it. I must say I did feel bad for people who had been displaced by damming of rivers after reading One Foot in Eden.

I can't wait to see Rash at the SWP Spring Conference!


Serena/Burning Bright thoughts by Renee Phillips

I really enjoyed hearing Ron Rash last Thursday. I have truly found an author that I will continue to read when he puts out a new book. The use of dialect and dialogue to layer the characters make them so real. I am about half way through Serena right now and after hearing who is going to play her I have that visual in my head.  I know that part of my love of his writing is because of my background knowledge but I truly think that is someone who appeals to readers all over the country. I hope that we get a chance to talk tonight about what are reading.


Solid Southern Mystery 5.0 out of 5 stars5 stars

by Crystal Weathers


One Foot In Eden by Ron Rash


One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash is set in the 1950's in a small community in South Carolina. The story involves a military veteran, with a very jaded history, who suddenly disappears. Although few are saddened by this loss, the sheriff must get to the bottom of it. The story switches from character to character where Ron Rash creates a murder mystery rich with southern cultural details and dialect that comes through the voices of the characters. One Foot in Eden is a must read for those who enjoy a good mystery and especially those who can relate to the southern twang in this all-too-realistic story of murder and intrigue.



Serena by Ron Rash ( 5 Stars)

Review by Renee Phillips

Ron Rash is one of those writers that create characters that have a lasting impression on the reader and with Serena he has accomplished this again. The book begins with a murder that helps to introduce the major players in the story and their personalities. The character Serena is a very strong and often hard woman who has overcome tragedy and heartbreak. You find that she is beautiful but in no way is she soft or weak. At times she is hard to like but at the same time you feel that something horrible had to have happened to make her the way react or better yet not react to events that would make most women and men fold. In Pemberton you find a character that is use to getting his way and feels that it is owed to him. Whether it is committing a murder or getting a young girl pregnant you see a man who regrets nothing and almost seems to feel like it is owed to him. Harmon’s daughter as she is introduced at the beginning appears to be a young girl who may not be able to make it on her own but as the book progresses you find that Rachel is not weak at all and is just as strong and determined as Serena but with a softer more feminine side. This creates a character that the reader falls in love with and is cheering for as well. Even though horrible things happen to her and she is faced with trial and tribulations that would make a man give up, the young teenager preservers and makes a life for herself and her young son. Rash’s characters are part of a great story that is woven in history. Many of the actions that might have seemed unbelievable are believable because of the rich history that is intertwined into an excellent story.  Serena is a must read for anyone who appreciates a well crafted story seeped in history and culture. Ron Rash does for western North Carolina what Pat Conroy did for coastal South Carolina.



*This is a book review of Ron Rash's book Chemistry and Other Short Stories. It is based on reviews I found from commonsense.org. By Amber Pitts

Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash Published in 2007

Is It Any Good: 5/5 Stars

Is It Age Appropriate: 17 +

The Good Stuff:

Messages: People can prevail through all types of struggles and heartaches.

Role Models: In each of these story stories there is at least one strong character that people could see as a role model.

What to Watch Out For:

Violence: 4/5: There is a lot of violence and dark tones throughout this book. There are stories about death, injuries, and a soldier’s recollections of war

Sex: 1/5: There is discussion of sex and sexual talk in two of the stories

Language: 1/5: There are some curse words

Consumerism: Not an issue

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking: 4/5: Some of these short stories talk about drinking and smoking marijuana

Is It Any Good?

  The short stories in this book are well written and Rash has created a way to connect the old South and new South within this one book. His topics very widely, yet they all have the same depth of the characters and sometimes leave you hanging. You want to know more about the characters that you have built a connection with. One of the longer short stories, Pemberton’s Bride, has been turned into the novel Serena. It is a great recommendation for Ron Rash followers!

What Parents Need to Know:

   This story is for very mature young adults. These stories are a bit on the dark and gloomy side, but most of them end with the main character persevering.

What Parents Can Talk About:

Good Writing Traits: Rash uses a lot of imagery to describe the locations of these stories. In the story Blackberries in June the character talks about the Southern summer heat after she returns home from work “On August nights when no late-afternoon thunderstorms rinsed the heat and humidity from the air, not breeze stirred the cattails and willow oak leaves…(pg 53)”. Another characteristic Rash uses when writing his development of characters. He makes you feel that personal connection with each character and it makes you want to keep reading to see what happens to them.

Personal/Family Struggles:These stories are very diverse and cover topics from a woman losing her child, a son whose father dies, a young man and his father that struggle with drugs, and a veteran that struggles with flashbacks from war.


Comments (1)

rphillips@spartanburg3.org said

at 11:53 am on Feb 1, 2010

I am getting ready to post my thoughts about One Foot in Eden and Crystal I agree about getting really hooked on the book when I got to the Wife. I also love his use of upstate dialect that was/is so much a part of who I am. Last week at class Dawn mentioned having to get past the what so you can pay attention to the how. I saw this as a reader and writer in this book. I hope to have some time to read today while waiting on my daughter and I plan to finish the book. Can not wait to meet him!! I work with a teacher at Cowpens Elementary and she grew up with him. She said that one of the minor characters in Selena was modeled after her dad (I need to ask again which one)

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