The Risen by Ron Rash

Years after a free-spirited young lady disappears from a small mountain town, an The Risenalcoholic writer remembers the summer he knew her, as he ponders the discovery of a set of human remains that may prove damning to him and his brother.

Sixteen year old Eugene Matney and and his older brother Bill are five years apart, but share a close camradary developed in the shadow of their grandfather’s strictness.  The two and their mother have lived with their grandfather, the town doctor of sterling reputation, since his son, their father, died fairly young.  Their grandfather does not suffer fools at all, and from a young age, much is expected from the brothers, including an unwavering obedience.

The year 1969 brings with it an undertow of rebellion, in the form of a beguiling girl named Ligeia, who is staying with nearby relatives over the summer.  She begins to frequent their favorite swimming and fishing spot, and Eugene is easily smitten by her worldliness and knowledge of the popular music then exploding at that time.

Sunday afternoons with Ligeia are fueled by alcohol and sex and drug samples filched (unwisely) from Eugene’s grandfather’s supplies.  Bill at first encourages his little brother along his summer of love, but when Ligeia starts wanting more from their forbidden supply of pharmaceuticals, Bill distances himself from her and urges Eugene to do the same.

Ligeia leaves town abruptly, and Eugene knows nothing about her fate in the intervening years.  Their grandfather dies a few years later, thankfully, and their mother is finally able to have a life.  Bill graduates from medical school and becomes a top-notch surgeon in Asheville.  Eugene…fell off the wagon as a teenager and never got back on.  After having a failed marriage and a grown up daughter that won’t speak to him, Eugene’s main interest is liquor and the half life of failure, until new evidence may implicate his gifted brother.

The Risen is a study of brotherly love and rivalry, and a taut story of tried loyalties and family secrets.  Clocking in at 252 pages, the book is a tight and quick read, conversational in tone.  Even with the time shifts in the narrative, the book clicks along.  Ron Rash has built a strong reputation as an exceptional fiction writer, and The Risen didn’t disappoint this reader.

The Risen reminded me of another book that came out the same year (2016) – Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington.  It’s another tale of two brothers and small town intrigue set against a backdrop of popular music from a bygone era.  I’d also recommend it.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


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