Hauntingly atmospheric, The Cove by Ron Rash takes places during the end of the First World War in the North Carolina Appalachian mountains.The land itself is depressing with a river that slowly meanders through the gloom as subtly as the quietly disturbing story unfolds. Outcasts Laurel and her brother, wounded war veteran, Hank live in a rustic cabin near a dark and forbidding cove that is avoided by other residents in the area. Laurel’s birthmark is considered the mark of a witch which contributes to her whole family being shunned over the years.
After Laurel finds a man suffering from dozens of yellow jacket stings laying semiconscious in the woods, she brings him home to the dank cabin where she nurses him back to health. When Walter, seemingly a deaf mute, is well enough, he begins to help one armed Hank around their land, building fences, clearing land and digging a well. It’s always been his intention to stay just a little while, but Laurel is in no hurry to have the enigmatic flute playing stranger leave and has no idea that the secret he carries will rend all their lives apart.
Enter unpopular army recruiter Chauncey Feith, who managed to avoid the draft, perhaps because he is the son of the local bank’s president. Feith attempts to rally support for returning, wounded veterans as WW I nears its end. His fear mongering vigilantism, disguised as patriotism, makes life miserable for a local professor teaching German at the nearby college. He also helps incite violence near the cove and the cabin where Laurel and Hank reside. Unfounded fears and superstitions put in play a chain of events that have irrevocable consequences for the characters and the readers in this seductive story.