The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

The World Made Straight portrays a series of sad and sometimes violent situations and does a fine illustration of the strange gap between adolescence and adulthood.  The book juxtaposes two periods of a place – Madison County of Civil War times as reflected in a doctor’s journals vs. the same county during the 1970s.  The main character is Travis, a high school dropout who appears to be headed for a life of mill work and a quick drunken death on the roads.  It’s Travis’s one talent that leads him into trouble – an avid fisherman, he ventures though properties unknown and stumbles on a stand of marijuana that is apparently free for anyone with the nerve to take it – until his third visit, when he gets caught by a bear trap set by the owners Carlton and Hubert Toomey, a father and son known in the community as men not to be trifled with.  They inflict further injury on Travis and then let him off with a warning.

Kicked out by his father, Travis moves in with Leonard, to whom he had been selling his illicit booty.  Leonard is a thirty-something former high school teacher who scratches out a living working at a convenience store and dealing drugs on the side while mulling over his wreck of a life. 

Travis works full-time at the local grocery store, dates a poor girl with bigger dreams, and acquires an informal yet disciplined secondary education from Leonard.  He learns about the harsh truths of the local history, and the possibilities of a wider world beyond the small town drudgery that ensnares them both.  But frustrations from their personal pasts come back to haunt the two, and the Toomeys turn out to have a stronger hold on them than previously thought.

After reading this one, my impressions of Ron Rash are similar to what I had of Tim McLaurin ten years ago.  Both of them are North Carolina writers, and after each book I finish of theirs, I want to read more.  Neither author aspires to be high-faluting; their books deal with gritty people, and are just well written.  The difference between the two is that McLaurin’s places of interests are the Sandhills and the North Carolina coast, whereas Rash’s focus is on the mountains.

And the past, it appears, echoes always in those hills.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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