Readers tune in to dark themes in 'The Cove'

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2012

SALISBURY — The Summer Reading Challenge is as hot as the weather — about 70 people showed up last Thursday evening to take part in a discussion of “The Cove,” by Ron Rash.
Organizers at Trinity Oaks and its Clio Book Club expected about 25 people, as did Forrest Anderson, assistant professor of English at Catawba College.
Rash was one of Anderson’s teachers in his MFA program at the University of South Carolina.
When Anderson noticed the growing crowd Thursday, he “got a little nervous.”
But he told the crowd about working with Rash, gave a little of his history. Anderson tried to make Rash “a little bit more of a person” by describing his generosity, “things he’s done for me to become a professor and fiction writer.”
And he shared this insight. Everything Rash writes starts as a poem (he’s published a couple of collections), then he writes it as a short story, then turns it into a novel. “People found the language beautiful and lush,” Anderson said.
Rash, in discussions with Anderson, has talked about when he was a child and first felt like books were magical. He used to bring “The Cat in the Hat” to his grandfather, not knowing he couldn’t read. Every time, though, his grandfather would tell a different incredible story — that was the magic. Rash grew up drawn to strong language and strong imagery, Anderson said.
Anderson researched the history of the internment camp at Hot Springs, the place Walter escapes from. He found photos of the camp in a U.S. Postal history, showing the Mountain Park Hotel; pictures of prisoners all in ties and short pants, hats. The book gave an overview of the camp and how the hotel became the largest internment camp in the U.S. with 2,200 German prisoners.
“They were not treated like prisoners, really,” Anderson said. He saw lots of pictures of prisoners building a German village with drift wood, discarded lumber and tins of Prince Albert tobacco. “The guard would take the prisoners home for dinner.”
Anderson pointed out that when the U.S. entered World War I, they shut down all German shipping and one of those ships was the Vaterland, as written in the book. It had a brass band and full orchestra. “They practiced and then gave performances for the townspeople,” Anderson said. “In 1918, the war department decided they would take over the camp. … The hotel was like a resort. … The war department decided it was too lax and sent the prisoners to Camp Oglethorpe in Georgia.” About the same time, typhoid broke out in Hot Springs. “That’s probably when Walter left camp.”
The group Thursday night talked about feelings of duty and honor. They focused on the bad guy in the book, Chauncey, and talked about superstition, family and love.
“People were very interested, very insightful,” Anderson said. “One thing people felt … was that Walter got out unscathed. It was a criticism they had of the book.” Anderson disagrees and points to the conductor, Goretz, who tells Walter to go out and practice, live life, get your heart broken before joining the orchestra. Rash refers to that in the final line of the book.
The attendees felt Rash did a good job with foreboding, the darkness of the cove; everyone feeling tense when Walter is in the well. “With Chauncey, people knew that an idiot like that would do something.”
Readers liked the Carolina parakeet story. The parakeets would ravage an apple orchard. The farmer might kill a couple birds, then the whole flock would circle back and all be killed.
“The Cove” opens with parakeets; Walter has a green feather in his sack; Laurel has seen the parakeets, thought to be gone forever. When she buys dress material, it’s green, with an open neck that shows her purple birthmark. The parakeets were green, purple, red and yellow. The readers picked up the imagery right away, Anderson said. They knew it was a dark time in America. Laurel became a Carolina parakeet, a rare and beautiful thing that is destroyed.
“I really liked the book, but didn’t love it,” Anderson said, “but after talking about it, I love it. The book discussion makes you love the book even better.
“I really enjoyed it. I hope we get that turnout for Wiley Cash.”
Your chance to discuss “A Land More Kind Than Home,” by Cash, comes Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. at Trinity Oaks, again with Anderson. Look for a review of the book here on Aug. 5. The June 24 review of “The Cove” is here: