The Cove by Ron Rash is a tragic story of worthy but unfortunate characters, living in remote and miserable surroundings, as semi-outcasts from their community. The story sounds pretty dreadful when I read that sentence back, but The Cove was actually really good.
The story is told by Laurel Shelton, a woman lives on a remote farm known as ‘The Cove’ with her brother Hank. Laurel is an outcast because the few locals living in the nearby village believe her large, purple birthmark marks Laurel as a witch.
Hank, who recently returned from WW1 with only one hand, is working to make the farm profitable, as he is planning to get married to the daughter of a successful local businessman. Despite having lost his hand, Hank never complains or allows his loss to stop him from living the life he wants. Eventually though, Laurel realises that Hank intends to leave Laurel at The Cove alone, as his new bride refuses to live in the gloamy, miserable surroundings. (Isn’t gloamy a great word? I’ve never heard it before, but it instantly made me think of damp, misty surroundings).
Laurel’s feelings are hurt that Hank didn’t tell her of his intentions, although she can understand his fiancée’s reluctance to live at The Cove.
One day, while Laurel is in a sunny spot waiting for her washing to dry, she hears music and follows the sound to find a stranger camped out in the rocks above. When the stranger is stung almost to death by wasps, she brings him back to the Cove, where she and Hank nurse him back to health. The stranger, who doesn’t speak at all, has a note on him that says his name is Walter, that he is mute and that he would like to purchase a train ticket to New York.
Walter is a talented musician whose only possession is his silver flute. After recovering from the wasp stings, Walter worked for Hank on the farm for a week to earn some money while waiting for the weekly train. During the evenings Walter played his flute, as Laurel began to fall in love with him and his music. After a week Walter went into town with the intention of catching the train to New York, but mysteriously returned to the farm, leaving Laurel hoping Walter returned because he had also started to fall in love with her.
The story of The Cove is very subtle. It started slowly, but by about the middle of the book I realised that I really cared about what happened to Laurel, Hank and Walter. I hoped and hoped for a happy ending, but was terrified throughout the second half of the story that tragedy would continue to dog these characters, the way it always had. Laurel is a good woman, beautiful inside and out, although she doesn’t realise how attractive she is. Like Hank, she lives her life to the fullest in her own quiet way.
The Cove is an enormously satisfying story and I am very excited to have found a ‘new to me’ author. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those stories that stays with me for years.