Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fiction Review: The Risen

I’ve wanted to read a novel by acclaimed author Ron Rash for years, and I finally had a chance this summer. I listened to The Risen, his latest novel, on audio and was entranced by the dark, compelling story of two brothers in Appalachia and how the events of one summer changed their lives.

The novel begins in the summer of 1969 in the tiny rural town of Sylva, North Carolina. Eugene, sixteen, and his older brother, Bill, who is home from college, change into cut-offs and t-shirts after church on Sundays and drive their old pick-up out to Panther Creek to go fishing. They live with their mother and grandfather, a controlling man. They also both work for their grandfather, who is the town’s only doctor, so fishing in the creek is a nice escape for them.

One Sunday, Eugene sees a girl swimming in a pool downstream, so mysterious – and naked – that Bill teases him she must be a mermaid. She’s just a regular human, though she is beautiful and confident. Her name is Ligeia, and they get to know her over subsequent Sundays. Ligeia is from Florida and is staying with her aunt and uncle, the local minister, for the summer because she got in too much trouble at home. Wearing love beads (and not much else) when they first meet her, Ligeia brings the Summer of Love to these sheltered Appalachian boys and encourages them to bring her alcohol and other goodies, eventually coming between the brothers, until she just disappears, amid rumors she got on a bus back to Florida.

More than 30 years later, the brothers’ lives have turned out radically different. Bill did as his grandfather wanted and went to medical school to become a renowned surgeon. He’s happily married and lives a settled life. Eugene has transformed from those first innocent drinks of beer at the creek into a full-blown alcoholic. He tried to follow his dreams and become a writer, but now he mostly just sits alone in his house and drinks. One morning, severely hung-over, Eugene spots an article in the newspaper about a recent discovery that wakes him up with a shock and takes him back to those long-ago summer Sundays at the creek.

The novel moves back and forth from the summer of 1969 to the present day, with Eugene narrating. New discoveries by local police have brought back memories of those days by the creek and of spending time with Ligeia. As Eugene remembers that summer and relives those formative days, he becomes more and more convinced that something happened back then that he didn’t know about it. He drives back and forth to visit his brother (even calling him out of surgery) to try to uncover the truth, all while the police are visiting him to find out what he knows.

This is a completely unique novel that blends a coming-of-age story, family drama, and suspense. The past and the present come closer and closer together as Eugene remembers that summer and strives to stay sober long enough to learn the truth. The sunshine, innocence, and first love of that long ago summer contrast with the depressing reality of his life today. Eugene is an engaging narrator, and the novel is compelling on audio, feeling as if Eugene himself is telling you his story. It’s a dark tale that delves into human nature, family, and ethics, but the tension of its central mystery of what happened to Ligeia all those years ago pulls it along at a fast pace. I definitely want to go back and read some of Rash’s earlier novels now.

272 pages, Ecco (an imprint of HarperCollins)

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You can listen to a free sample of the audio book on Audible at the Amazon link below:

Risen A Novel
by Ron RashHardcover


  1. I read another book by this author that haunted me for years. What was the name of that book? My memory fails me sometimes.

    I have tagged you for the LONGEST BOOK TAG. Here is my LONGEST Books list I hope you want to join in, but not pressure.

    1. I've wanted to read Ron Rash for years, Anne, so if you think of that other title, let me know!

      I've been overloaded this past week (and away), but I will check out the Longest Books List!

  2. So intriguing! Now I want to know what really happened in that summer of 1969!

    1. Yes! There is plenty of suspense to move the story along.