Reviews for Caretaker : a novel

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From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Master storyteller Rash (In the Valley, 2020) returns with a tale of friendship, love, and betrayal set in his beloved Appalachia. Jacob is the sheltered only son of a wealthy North Carolina family when he meets Naomi, a 16-year-old from Tennessee working as a hotel maid to keep the family farm afloat. The shock of their elopement and Jacob's subsequent disinheritance reverberates through the community of Blowing Rock. When Jacob is drafted to serve in the Korean War, he enlists his closest friend, cemetery caretaker Blackburn Gant, to look after Naomi and their unborn child. Partially paralyzed by a childhood bout of polio, Blackburn is used to being a community pariah, but his attempt to shield Naomi from a similar fate has unintended consequences when Jacob is wounded, and his parents recognize an opportunity to rewrite history. In lyrical, understated prose, Rash explores themes of devotion, deception, and family ties in this unforgettable story that will appeal to fans of Alice Munro and William Kent Krueger.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Set in Rash's beloved midcentury Appalachia, a nimbly plotted, suspenseful romance with a twist—its titular hero is the third wheel. Blackburn Gant is by habit, inclination, and necessity a loner. Disfigured (as he sees it) by polio and abandoned by his family members, who've moved to Florida, Blackburn has taken work, permanently it seems, as live-in caretaker of a mountain cemetery near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. When his closest friend, Jacob Hampton, gets drafted into the Korean War, Gant assumes responsibility, too, for protecting and tending to Jacob's pregnant wife. Naomi Clarke, only 16, is an outlander from distant Tennessee who came east to work as a hotel maid; she's ill-educated (but working diligently on that so that she can write better letters), without means, friends, or support. When she and Jacob—scion of the town's most prominent family, shopkeepers revered for their generosity with credit during the Depression—met and fell in love, Jacob's family disowned him, and now they refuse to have anything to do with Naomi. After a scary confrontation with Jacob's father early in her third trimester, when Naomi and Blackburn venture out to the movies, Blackburn helps Naomi move back home, seven hours west, to await the baby and her husband's return. But when—as recounted in the novel's bravura opening, a hand-to-hand combat scene that evokes James Dickey's To the White Sea—Jacob is grievously wounded, his parents see the prospect of his long convalescence as a chance to put things right—or to put them horribly wrong—and they seize that chance. Rash writes with finesse and affection, as usual, of western North Carolina and its people. But the mood isn't mere nostalgia—there's a flint and an unflinching realism underneath, especially in his portrayal of the stalwart, utterly solid Blackburn Gant, that elevates the novel. Rash's 20th book is among his best. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
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The potent and rewarding latest from Rash (The Risen) centers on a Southern man whose simple life is challenged by the tenets of loyalty, friendship, family, and honesty. Blackburn Gant is a solitary man, scarred by a battle with childhood polio and left behind in Blowing Rock, N.C., by his family, who have settled in Florida. In 1951, Blackburn becomes the town’s hilltop cemetery caretaker after the pastor offers him the position. His caretaking duties grow more serious, when his best friend Jacob Hampton, son of a prominent local family, is drafted into the Korean War and leaves his teenage wife, Naomi—uneducated, friendless, and pregnant—in Blackburn’s care until he returns. When Jacob met and hurriedly eloped with Naomi, his family disinherited him and, while generous to the townsfolk through their storekeeping business, they refuse to offer her any aid. After a sketchy encounter with Jacob’s irate father during her final trimester, Naomi returns home to Tennessee. When Jacob is medically discharged after a combat injury and returns to Blowing Rock, his parents manipulate the grim situation into an opportunity to rid the family of Naomi and her child forever. Rash expertly and seamlessly ratchets up the suspense and melodrama as both sides of this family feud seek their own version of justice with Blackburn caught up in the maelstrom. The lyrically nuanced prose faithfully evokes the Appalachian landscape, and Rash again showcases an ability to dig beneath the surface of his characters to expose their base desires and intentions. This is exactly the kind of humanitarian storytelling that fans have come to expect and savor from him. (Sept.)