A Place for the Lost


Ron Rash’s Southern Gothic crime novel ONE FOOT IN EDEN is a truly engaging read.  The gist of the story is this: a young couple, Billy and Amy Holcombe, discover that due to Billy’s childhood affliction of polio he cannot provide Amy with a child.  Amy seeks out the advice of the town witch doctor, Widow Glendower, and is lead to the conclusion that she must copulate with another man, neighbor Holland Winchester, to begin her family with Billy.  Amy does this but Holland’s inability to leave the affair at that result in his murder by the hand of Billy.  The result is ONE FOOT IN EDEN, a novel of the crime and its effects told through the voices of the county sheriff, Amy, Billy, Isaac, the product of the affair, and the sheriff’s deputy.

The primary theme of the novel is the idea that Jocassee, the narrators’ town, is a place for the lost.  Nestled in a valley within Appalachia, Jocassee is slowly overrun by Carolina Power and is destined to be covered by a lake that will force an exodus.  The deep connection the characters harbor with the land dooms them from the beginning.  Looming throughout the book is the awareness that the land, representing both the good and bad within each character, will eventually drown in the approaching lake.  I believe that Rash’s view of this is ultimately hopeful; when Isaac is able to escape he brings with him both the knowledge of his true father as well as the love and wisdom his acting parents.

One character that certainly cannot be ignored is the Widow Glendower, a prototypical Southern Gothic witch doctor that turns the plot wheels of the story.  It is the Widow Glendower that leads Amy to her decision to sleep with Holland; it is the Widow Glendower who condones the murder of Holland by Billy; and it is the Widow Glendower that revives Billy from a sickness that could have eliminated him from his sons’s tragedy early on.  The ultimate image of her bones, sinking to the bottom of the heart of the lake, the Holcombe and Winchester properties, suggests that evil has finally been left to rest.

The story of ONE FOOT IN EDEN is enjoyable to the last page.  Rash’s characters are complete and the reader cannot help but become invested in their fates.  I am certainly glad I found a way to get my hands on this book.


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