Lyrical, maybe. But "heart-rending," as the cover blurb suggests? Eh, not so much.
I mean, the situation is sad. Laurel and Hank are outcasts in their Appalachian community, largely because they have the misfortune of living in The Cove, their family's homestead, a gloomy stretch of land where a large granite outcropping looms over the property, cutting off light and hope. A place that the locals believe is cursed.
Of course, Laurel and Hank's neighbors are the usual Bible-loving, inbred trogs whose primary skill, beside making sweet-cousin lovin', is hating on their neighbors, and doing so blissfully unaware of their hypocrisy. The god-fearin' folk particularly love heaping cruelty on Laurel because of her sizable birthmark, which is a sign of the devil or apocalypse or something Eeeeevil.
But Laurel finds hope in the form of a mute young man who wanders onto the property, and who needs rescuing when he is nearly stung to death by yellow jackets. Walter, the young man, is a talented musician (flute) and somehow got off track on the way to New York.
Walter, of course, has a secret, an identity that won't play well with the jingoistic, World War I bigotry that has infected the small community.
Yeah, things don't end well, so don't go expecting this one to deliver a happily-ever-after.
The thing is, even though the basic ingredients are there -- bigotry, ignorance, hope-lost-found-and lost -- Laurel, Walter and Hank's story didn't resonate for me. As a rumination on the inherent tribalism of humans, our innate desire to define ourselves not only by what we are, but what we aren't, then and kill everything "other," The Cove is effective. But the characters have a sort of stiffness, a lack of emotional exposure that keeps them from being compelling. They feel like actors who had a decent script, but lacked the necessary direction to have a genuine experience on stage, consequently giving the audience little emotionally. The story is relatively short and I think the brevity hurt the storytelling. If the narration had taken the time to pull more of the characters on the page, baring their souls, this would have been genuinely "heart-rending."
Actually, for me, the most evocative part of the book was the Prologue, where a government surveyor, examines the now abandoned cove which is doomed to be flooded by the upcoming TVA project, and finds a skull in the well. Creepy and cool.