Above the Waterfall: A Novel

Image of Above the Waterfall: A Novel
Release Date: 
September 8, 2015
Reviewed by: 

“A dark and wondrous slice of Appalachia noir.”

“Promise me, children, not a single word, Ms. Abernathy had whispered, then led us down the hallway single file to the basement doorway . . .”

When Becky Shytle—one of two alternating narrators in Ron Rash’s latest novel, Above The Waterfall—was a young pupil at school, she was involved in a horrific shooting when a gunman went on a rampage, killing and wounding.

“Ms. Abernathy stands in the basement door blocking the exit as I run. Close your eyes, a policeman says as he grabs me. But I look back and when I do my tongue turns to salt.”

The heroic Ms. Abernathy was gunned down helping Becky and other pupils escape to safety. Ever after that, a specter of darkness and violence seemed to follow wherever Becky went, sometimes via the choices she made; other times by fate.

Later in life as a park ranger, she entered a relationship with a man by the name of Richard Pelfrey, an eco-militant. Pelfrey planted a bomb and if the timer had worked correctly, he would have killed more people than Ted Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph combined. Pelfrey would eventually be killed.

Now as superintendent of Locust Creek Park, a state park in North Carolina, Becky has finally found a kindred spirit in the local sheriff, Les, a fair-minded and caring individual. Both have a passion for the environmental landscape and the creatures inhabiting it.

Les is retiring in less than a month after 30 years in the law business. Like Becky, he also has his own troubling past lurking in the background: his wife’s attempted suicide initiating a stormy and discordant divorce.

Before Les leaves office, he has two tasks to complete: raiding a meth den and finding the person or persons responsible for pouring poisonous diesel into an expensive trout farm at a resort in the area.

The meth raid turns out to be a terrifying experience filled with violent addicts who resemble zombies rather than something human; so terrifying, one newly recruited cop hands in his resignation seconds after the raid is over.

However, It’s the trout poisoning which becomes the most problematic as one of the chief suspects is Gerald Blackwater, a local embittered landowner and staunch ally of Becky’s environmental crusade.

In the past, Les has warned Becky that Gerard is not the gentle giant he makes himself out to be, and has a raging and unpredictable temper. For reasons perplexing to Les, Becky pays little heed to his warnings, preferring to see the kinder side of Gerard, stating she believes Gerard innocent of such a callous act of environmental terrorism. Les is tempted to remind her that she thought bomber Pelfrey was a good man, also, and she is allowing her emotions to cloud her judgment.

Was the poisoning the desperate act of a bitter man intending to seek revenge for the perceived wrongs inflicted upon him by a despised resort owner—or something more sinister and dangerous?

Soon the relationship of Les and Becky will be put to the test, as they find themselves plunging into a vortex of violence and betrayal that will force them to question loyalty and their relationship with each other.

Tautly constructed with an authentic voice, Above the Waterfall is filled with a meditative and surreal narrative that at times can be disturbing yet hypnotically enlightening. It captures perfectly the seedy and menacing underbelly of small town USA. A dark and wondrous slice of Appalachia noir.