In 2005, I started a regular column for Hellbender Press, a tabloid-style newspaper published in Knoxville. The first installment included three book reviews. I present here one of those three, edited from the original draft.
First, though, here is a review of Love is the Way by Bishop Michael Curry.
This book is a recipe for optimism in the classic biblical tradition of faith, hope, and love. Bishop Michael Curry begins with a message on those three values, and it forms the foundation of his lessons throughout the text. He performed the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, at which he preached a sermon on love.
Bishop Curry has served as an Episcopal priest, Bishop of North Carolina, and Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. His father was a civil rights activist and an Episcopal priest, and he has followed that same path. The Bishop preaches a gospel of inclusion rather than exclusion, from the civil rights movement for people of all ethnicities to the contemporary struggles of the LGBTQ community and the ordination of Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire. He paid a brief visit to the protectors' camp at the Dakota Access Pipeline and, near the end of the book, relates what he learned of church history, American history, and the oppression of indigenous people.
A review of the Ron Rash book, Saints at the River
"He was dying, and the farm was dying with him." So Maggie, the protagonist in Ron Rash's novel, observes her father while visiting her home in South Carolina. Maggie is a newspaper photographer sent to her hometown to report on the attempt to recover a girl's body drowned in a wild and scenic river. A hydraulic, a powerful eddy under a rock, had trapped the body. The river is unwilling to give up its dead.
The focus of Maggie's visit home is a hearing in which various parties debate the best course of action to recover the body. Many local people believe that a dynamite stick in the eddy will free the body. Luke, The kayak guide, loved the river and envied the dead girl, cradled in its arms. Mr. Kowalski, a captain of industry from another state, is the dead girls' father. He favors building a temporary dam to divert the water to allow rescuers to his daughter's body for proper burial. Meanwhile, a real estate developer is closely watching the proceedings to see if any precedent-setting violation of the river's wild and scenic status occurs.
Like the wild river and the surrounding mountains, the characters are rugged and unyielding. Interest groups in conflict reflect the conflict between Maggie and her father, which builds until a surprise ending releases the tension. In a way that would only be possible for a person who calls such country home, Mr. Rash reveals these personalities in a tapestry of descriptions perhaps best illustrated by his comments on Billy, a minor character introduced early in the book. This small portion of the book was well-received when Mr. Rash read at the Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga earlier this year.
"Billy had a degree in agriculture from Clemson University, and his family owned the biggest apple orchard in the valley, but he'd decided after college that his true calling was playing Snuffy Smith to fleece the tourists. He swore if he could find a cross-eyed boy who could play banjo, he'd stick that kid on the porch and increase his business 25 percent."
Saints at the River is Ron Rash's second novel. It joins his volumes of poetry and short stories as he rises to the top of Southern Literature.
In the years following his reading at the Conference on Southern Literature, Ron Rash published novels and collections of short stories and poetry. He has won several literary awards, and at least one book, Serena, was made into a movie. A list of his published works a[[ears on his Harper/Collins website, https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/ron-rash.