People, place and memories influence Ron Rash’s latest novel “The Caretaker”

“The Caretaker” is the latest novel by author and WCU English professor Ron Rash. It is his first novel in 10 years.  

“The Caretaker” is set in 1950’s Blowing Rock, North Carolina amid the Korean War. The novel tells the story of Blackburn Gant and young couple Jacob and Naomi as they traverse the trials of love and adulthood.   

Gant has lived in Blowing Rock his whole life and he cares for the graves in the town cemetery. He not only cares for the dead, but also, the living.  

“In the novel there’s a character named Blackburn Gant who kind of embodies a lot of what we admire in other human beings: integrity, courage, honesty,” Rash said. 

Jacob Hampton comes from a well to do family while Naomi Clarke is a poor outsider working seasonally at a hotel in town. The pair elope against their parents’ wishes and Naomi is soon pregnant.  

When Jacob is drafted to fight in the Korean War, his friend Blackburn takes on the responsibility of caring for Naomi. The pair grow close as the war endures.  

From chapter to chapter the novel takes the reader to different settings. The novel opens on the cold banks of a Korean river as Jacob experiences the front lines of war. Chapter two establishes Blackburn’s character and sets the scene in Blowing Rock.                                                                                           

The novel also explores different themes of love. It depicts young lovers jumping in headfirst. It demonstrates the kindness and understanding that exists between friends, despite their differences. It also shows the pain and separation that love can cause.  

Rash is known for writing dark novels featuring sinister characters. His 2008 novel-turned-film, “Serena” involves themes of loss and jealousy.  He knew “The Caretaker” felt different from the novels before. 

“I think this is a book that in some ways is a good reminder. A hopeful book, in that it reminds us that even right now, the world just seems so full of conflict, that there are good people out there and we have to remember that,” Rash said.  

Many speculate that this could be his last novel. Rash doesn’t have any plans to stop writing, though. His next book will be a compilation of short stories, something he enjoys working on. “The Caretaker,” however, is special to him. 

“This book in some ways feels like a nice summation of a career of writing, what I’ve learned that I feel like I can put into a novel,” Rash said, “Sometimes it feels like inspiration is not something I can control, so I just hope the stories keep coming.” 

As long as the stories keep coming, Rash intends to write them. 

Rash has taught at WCU for 20 years. Prior to working at WCU he taught in community college and high school for over 20 years. He teaches a variety of courses in the Department of English Studies including fiction writing and Appalachian Literature. 

Rural Appalachia plays an important role in Rash’s storytelling. Many of his novels are set in the mountains of North Carolina. The setting for “The Caretaker” is based on the geography of his grandparents’ farm. He spent a lot of time there in his youth, drawing inspiration from those experiences.  

“I feel a sense of rootedness, connection to this place,” Rash said, “And I’ve just always felt there was enough here to write about that I didn’t have to go elsewhere.” 

To read “The Caretaker”, and more from Ron Rash visit “The Caretaker” is available for purchase wherever books are sold. It is also available at WCU’s Hunter Library.