April 2006

Southern shades and shadows

By Ron Rash
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Seventeen-year-old Travis Shelton lives in the mountains of western North Carolina, and when Ron Rash's superb tale of redemption and healing begins, young Travis knows little of his family's or his region's history. Haunted by shades . . . as if created by the mountains' light-starved ridges and coves, the Shelton family's dark heritage from the Civil War is the reason the rural county in which they have lived for nearly 200 years is known as Bloody Madison. Indifferent about the past, Travis finds that the present becomes complicated when he has an encounter with Carlton Toomey.

One of the most enigmatic men in Madison County, Toomey impresses everyone as a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction. Beyond the apparent paradox, though, Toomey is purely and viciously dangerous. When Travis ignores the menace, he has a near-fatal encounter with Toomey that results in an estrangement from his family but creates a hesitant friendship with the solitary scofflaw Leonard Shuler. Secretly haunted by his own past, Schuler, in his role as reluctant mentor and friend, will lead Travis to question all that he believes to have been true about his obligations to his family's history and to his own future.

In The World Made Straight, Rash–like his Southern Gothic ancestors William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor–offers readers a powerful story about families and individuals troubled by subtle evils, persistent violence, malignant fear and the relentless encroachment of the past upon the present. At the same time, however, this highly recommended novel, vividly enriched by clear, concise prose, also becomes a beautifully rendered palimpsest of memory in which the brooding presence of buried regional and family history is finally overcome by the cathartic power of truth and sacrifice.

Tim Davis writes from Lillian, Alabama.


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