Ron Rash’s novel, Above the Waterfall, uses the beauty of nature and poetry to make the reader feel connected with each character. Love, romance, past traumatic experiences, and the hard truth about methamphetamine addiction are all critical elements within the story. Rash who was born in Chester, South Carolina and raised in Boiling Springs, North Carolina knows his literary territory all too well. “He has kept his address within that region he calls home, from his master’s studies at Clemson to his current posting at Western Carolina University, where he is the John Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies. A caller on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, who had been a college dropout before returning to school at age 30, spoke of the time Rash taught at Tri-County Tech: “You cared about people like me,” she said, and she went on to get her own master’s degree. This shows what kind of person Rash truly is, and while he has also been shaped by his own past, his personality shines through his characters in Above the Waterfall. “Many of Rash’s stories show a grave and raw side of Appalachian life, perhaps illustrated best by the stories dealing with methamphetamine, a scourge much of rural America struggles against.”
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Les, who demonstrates many of same characteristics of Rash, shows unconditional love for the people close him while remaining able to see the good in everyone. Sheriff Les who narrates through first person is one of Rash’s main characters in Above the Waterfall. This soon to be retired sheriff in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina in determined to figure out exactly who is to blame for pouring kerosene into the stream and killing dozens of the trout. As he continues dealing with local drug addicts, a meth bust, and all the challenges that come along with crystal meth, he somehow is able to maintain his own sanity despite the obstacles he has dealt with in his own past. “You’d think a lawman would have some faith in the word “Justice”, but in thirty years I’d seen too little of it” (Rash).
Becky Shytle, who is the local park ranger, has also fought many demons throughout her own life. Haunted throughout her childhood and even still to this day from being involved in a school shooting in Emory, Virginia, in 1984. Becky who also narrates through first person, while using extraordinary poetry as her main form of communication. After the school shooting she went to live with her grandparents on their farm. Rash whose grandfather was a major influence in his life while he was growing up. “He would sit down with his grandfather and a copy of Cat in the Hat. Rash’s grandfather could neither read nor write, but instead used his imagination to tell the story to Rash. Rash admits, “there always seemed to be a new line of dialogue, plot, twist, or further description – that made each version unique. How could I not grow up believing words were magical? How could I not want to be a writer” (Wells). With Becky he is able to let the magic flow with his unique ability to critic poetry into his novel while giving his readers a deeper connection to his characters and the scenery that makes up the northern Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. Her grandparents respected the fact that Becky did not want to speak for a long time after what she had witnessed. She was not pressure to communicate and with her grandparents gentle love she was able to speak again.
While everyone is affected in one way or another by the prominence of meth addition within this small town. Gerald Blackwelder, who is affected the most, as he is being accused of poisoning the stream at Tucker’s Locust Creek Resort. Les at the age of 51, who is a protagonist, is forced to take action when Gerald is seen on video surveillance at the waterfall the day before the poisoning. This case forces not only Les but also Becky to look past how they feel. It is extremely hard for Becky and Les to believe that someone whom they love could be capable of committing this horrendous crime. They both have known Gerald since they were kids and they are struggling to believe he is the one to blame. Les does not want to arrest Gerald with the killing of the trout, but with Tucker pressuring him, he is forced to hold him until they are able to figure out who’s to blame. With meth once again showing its true colors, we learn that it is Gerald’s own nephew that has framed him. Darby intends to gain his inheritance early, even if it means burning down the man’s house or putting him in jail for life. With Les being the person that he is, instead of throwing Darby in jail, he uses his love for his friends, and makes sure that everyone gets what they wants and enters his retirement with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that he has made the right decision.
Rash, Ron. Above the Waterfall. Ecco, 2015.
Wells, Jerry Wayne. “”Like Farmers Drilling For Water’: A Landscape of Ron Rash’s Fiction.”Hollins Critic, vol. 52, no. 5, 2015, p. 1+. Literature Resource Centerhttp://link.galegroup.com.liboc.tctc.edu:2048/apps/doc/A437598559/GLS?u=tricotec_main&sid=GLS&xid=c9c99601. Accessed 6 Feb. 2019.
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