The World Made Straight: A Novel by Ron Rash–Book-to-Movie–Out Now in Limited Release!

January 20, 2015
This is the movie edition cover of Ron Rash’s
novel, The World Made Straight.  [1]

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     It was reported that on, “Jan. 18, 1863, troops from the 64th North Carolina Infantry under the command of Lt. Col. James Keith lined up 13 men and boys, ranging in age from 13 to 60, made them kneel and shot them at point-blank range.” One of the captured was a 13-year-old boy by the name of David Shelton. [2] 
     Before being shot, the boy pleaded with his captors saying, “You have killed my father and brothers. You have shot my father in the face. Do not shoot me in the face.” The soldiers fired, killing four more of the captives, and wounding young David in both arms. 
   David then, in close proximity to one of the executioners, grabbed the soldier by the legs and cried out, “You have killed my old father and three brothers, you have shot me in both arms….I forgive you all this–I can get well….Let me go home to my mother and sisters.” [2]
     Though his cries were pitiful, the soldiers hauled David back to the firing line next to the final three men slated for execution. The three men were shot and killed and young David, too. David was shot eight times. [4]
This scene shows some of the county where the
Shelton Laurel Massacre occurred (N.C.). [4]
     The soldiers drug the captives bodies to a shallow trench dug out of the snow and threw them into it. Then, apparently, one soldier, Sgt. N.B.D. Jay (from Virginia), jumped into the trench on top of the bodies and began to dance around on top of corpses singing, “Pat Juba for me while I dance the damned scoundrels down to and through hell!” [4] 
An alternate cover for
Ron Rash’s book, The
World Made Straight.

     The location where the execution of innocent men and boys occurred, Shelton Laurel, is the location of Ron Rash’s book, The World Made Straight. The movie rights were purchased and the movie (released January 9, 2015) is now out in limited release for the viewing public. But, before we start the discussion of what I think of Ron Rash’s book, let’s begin by taking a quick look at the synopsis.

     Travis Shelton, seventeen years old, goes fishing and wanders his way up the creek, eventually going onto private property. There, Shelton finds marijuana plants, gathers a few and takes them to sell to Leonard Shuler. Shelton returns a second time, and, like the first, he successfully gathers the plants and sells them to Leonard Shuler. 
Bear traps have been used from time to
time as deterrents against men going
onto private property. Such traps have
been used to guard gold diggings and
marijuana farms. [6]
     Leonard warns Travis not to go again, but Shelton, anxious to make some more money, doesn’t heed Leonard’s warning. Travis gets to the farm and starts to harvest some more of the marijuana, but inadvertently steps into a bear trap set by the marijuana growers. Leonard, unable to get out of the trap fades in and out of consciousness, due to blood loss. 
     Eventually, Carlton Toomey and his son, the pot growing farmers, discover Travis and get him out of the trap. Carlton and his son discuss whether or not they should kill the pot thieving tresspasser–eventually they decide not to kill Travis, but to make Travis account for his wrongdoing by cutting Travis’s leg and tendon with a large knife. The Toomey’s let Travis go only with a promise he will never reveal anything about what happened there.
     Travis goes to the hospital and keeps quiet about the Toomey’s bear trap and the marijuana; Travis heals, and goes home to his mom and dad’s farm. Sometime later Travis’s father hits Travis for “sassing” him. Travis packs his few possessions, gets in his truck, and leaves home. With nowhere to go, he lands at Leonard Shuler’s trailer.
From the movie, The World Made Straight, this photo is
of Leonard Shuler’s girlfriend, Dena. [7]
     Leonard, the one-time schoolteacher, who unjustly lost his job and his family, accepts Travis, and lets him stay in the trailer with him; also living in the trailer are Leonard’s girlfriend, and two dogs. Leonard occupies his time by selling a few drugs and studying family journals from the Civil War era. Leonard challenges Travis to get his GED–Travis takes the challenge and begins studying for the test. 
     The fate of the two men become inextricably intertwined as Travis learns more about the Sheltons, the Civil War, and the bleak history of the area. Leonard has a secret of his own and struggles to keep Travis from learning it. The question is, what do Leonard and Travis have to do with the Toomeys and more perplexing, the Civil War that after a hundred years, still continues to cause a rift in the Appalachian community? Tensions rise, leading them all to a “violent reckoning.”




Travis ate his cereal as Leonard listened to “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” the choral voices tentative as though afraid to speak this truth–God come to the world as a child. These uncertain voices were the direct opposite of the bombast at the symphony’s conclusion. That was the wonder of it, Leonard knew, the balance of the thing, everything countered, not just balanced but reconciled as the tenor voices resonated below the ethereal sopranos. Even the words proclaimed an order, the crookedness of the world made straight. It was, Leonard recognized, such a magnificent order as to demand devotion, the same kind of devotion his mother had shown as she embraced the world from her porch steps. [p. 158-9]

This is the passage that Handal used in his
magnificent, Messiah, for the lyrics. [9]

     In this passage we find the title of Ron Rash’s book, The World Made Straight. The passage embodies the whole of the book, the deep roots, the bedrock of the story: The crookedness of the world made straight.

     The words of Handel’s, Messiah, say, what inspired the name of the book: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.” [9]

     The location of Shelton Laurel is of a deep valley and tall, nearly impenetrable, mountains. It is easy to see how Ron Rash sought this location for his book.

From this point on spoilers may be present.
If you don’t want to know more, don’t read


     The author sets up the story so that Leonard’s books came to him through Leonard’s family, originating with Joshua Candler, assigned to the 64th as their doctor. The author takes real facts and weaves them into the fictional story, since Joshua Candler knew all the people of the Shelton Laurel area he would have known and treated all of them from infancy up. For example, Dr. Candler treated young David Shelton as a babe and through his childhood. On the day of the Shelton Laurel Massacre, Joshua Candler stood silently by, consenting to the massacre and watched as young David Shelton was killed with his father and brothers. He never uttered a word–not when young David begged for his life, not when he was shot ten times, not when he was killed, and not when soldier Jay danced on the bodies of the deceased men whom he had treated in his practice. So these real facts are woven into the fictional story.
Leonard had the numerous journals
of his ancestor, Dr. Joshua Candler,
as the Dr. had written before,
and during the Civil War. [11]

     Author Ron Rash tells us that Leonard, quite naturally would have perused and studied his ancestor’s journals learning about all the people his well-known ancestor treated. None, however, was more gripping to him than David Shelton. Having Travis come into his trailer, fascinated about the Civil War, and learning about the Shelton Massacre, it would be all Leonard could do to prevent Travis from learning about his secret. At first we wonder why Leonard is helping Travis and then we learn that in some small way Leonard was trying to help make up for his ancestor’s failings by helping Travis pass his GED test. Because Travis was so interested, he even took Travis out to the massacre site. Ironically, Travis, using a metal detector found David Shelton’s eyeglasses.


     In the book the author has the two men discuss how time does not flow, but instead is layered one layer upon the other, so all moments in the past are also happening in the present (you just have to peel the layers back.). This is a wonderful technique the author uses to tie the past (Civil War era) with the present; it brings a bit of surrealism into the story, and we even get to hear scary, mysterious, and metaphysical stories of the local people. For example, Travis has a strange experience when he wears the eyeglasses–he talks to David Shelton’s “ghost” or spirit about the beauty of the speckled trout in the stream. So it is that much is made of ghosts in the book and of reality or seeming reality.

In the book time is “layered” like the picture of the rocks,
shown in the photograph. A sandwich with its various
layers (meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.), when
bitten into can be consumed in one bite, all at once. The
sandwich is probably a better symbol of layered time, here.[13]

     There is more surrealism when Travis muses about the past and how his finding arrowheads seemed more real to him because of the layering of time. Although the author doesn’t say it, it is almost as if Travis Shelton (ancestor of the Sheltons) and David are one! Also, it is as if Leonard and his ancestor, Dr. Joshua Candler, are one and the same, just in a different layer of time. We’ll see this concept later in the book, as well.

Bestselling author, Ron Rash,
author of The Cove, and Serena,
has won the Frank O’Connor
International Short Story Award
and the O.Henry Prize, twice.
He teaches at Western
Carolina University. [14]

     It is later in the book, then, when Leonard sends Travis to ferret Dena to the bus station so she can escape to her sister’s home, and also to get David out of the way, that we see his plan. Leonard takes Toomey’s hand and pulls down so the steering wheel turns and plummets the truck over the edge of the cliff to crash. Both Toomeys are killed. We see now, that Leonard did not stand idly by as the Toomy’s would have laid waste to Dena and David Shelton’s replacement, Travis. Leonard did the courageous thing, but it cost him his life. How elegant the author, Ron Rash ties everything together this way.

     Leonard’s last thoughts, too embody another of the author’s themes in the book, BEAUTY (beauty, as a theme is seen throughout the book). Leonard’s last thoughts have his body flow down the river, out the Mississippi to the ocean, then across the ocean to the beach where his little “Emily” waited.

To see a world in a grain of sand, and
heaven in a wildflower; hold infinity in
the palm of your hand, and eternity in
an hour. Leonard wanted to show his
daughter, Emily, the world of beauty
in a single drop of water. [15]

     Leonard wanted to show his daughter the “fern that held a bead of water,” when he would “cup his hand to the plant and show her more than he could ever tell her, a pearl of rain held in his open palm.” WOW! BEAUTIFUL! See how beautifully the author writes of Leonard’s death? “To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower…hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour” [William Blake (bold emphasis added)]. Leonard has all of infinity in that moment, a whole life, embodying all beauty by simply cupping in his hand that single drop of water!

     I have so much I’d like to say about Ron Rash’s book. Too much, probably. So…what I’ll do is distill my considerations down to bullets (mostly), for you to think about.

  •      Conflict Resolution: We have Carlton Toomey and trespassers (notably, Travis) exacting “retribution” with his “pound of flesh” (Cutting Travis’s leg);
  •      Travis v. his father: Travis “insulted” his father, the father hit Travis, Travis left home (kinda sounds like the war between the states, doesn’t it: states demanding their rights, then seceded from the union–i.e. left home);
  •      Travis v. Lori Triplet: Well, Travis didn’t like being told what to do. He never talked to Lori about it, he just dropped her off at her house and threw the “slave chain” necklace back at her house (location 2553);
  •      Dena had a “slave chain,” too, on her wrist (from the carnival); the way she resolved her issues of having an unhappy life was to drink, do drugs, sleep around, (and hurt Leonard);
  •      Leonard v. Kera (his wife–daughter Emily): Differences were not amicably done, no forgiveness; Kera ended up divorcing Leonard to solve her differences with him;
  •      Smaller instances of conflict resolution throughout the book (here’s one): When Travis and his friend Shank first came to see Leonard about buying the marijuana, and to have a beer, Leonard then told them they had “overstayed their welcome,” and asked them to leave due to their behavior;
  •      The Civil War was an armed conflict to resolve the issues of states rights (and slavery);
  •      Of course, the Shelton Laurel Massacre, conflict resolution, basically vengeance for supposed crimes by the Union against officer’s families, etc.–somebody had to pay–Old Testament justice (an eye-for-an-eye) exacted; and,
  • Mrs. Ponder (at the Vocational Center/previously a teacher); marriage and then divorce as a conflict resolution with Mr. Ponder; also, she had sorrows and upsets at the high school, her resolution was to quit the high school and begin working at the Vocational Center;
     Finally, one last comment: I realize that when we discussed, at the top of the post, the soldier who danced on the bodies of the deceased, it probably disturbed you. In history, this type of thing was seen in everything from poetry, music, and art. It was called, Danse Macabre. Symbolically, this dancing on top of the dead is paramount to Death summoning representatives from every walk of life; the representatives would then dance along to the grave, all to remind everyone that life is fragile and all vainglory. What all this means is that death is the great equalizer–this is the way the road is straightened or alternatively, death is the way all inequities are evened up and made straight. Hence, the title of the book: The World Made Straight. Leonard, by sacrificing himself (the sacrificial lamb) for Dena and Travis, makes not only his ancestor’s terrible silence right, it makes his failings right, too. At the end of the book (and movie) we see Travis going around curves on a crooked road, then he turns and hits the straight road–he’s leaving Shelton Laurel behind. Travis begins a new, fresh, hopeful life–beauty is everywhere. (location 2283)
     This book contains scenes of violence, including maiming, talk of murder, theft, drugs and drug dealing, vengeance, greed, murder, etc. Parents are advised to speak with their teenagers before they read this book. All others will find this book wonderful. Many beautiful themes, symbols, and topics can be discussed from this book (No. I did certainly NOT cover them all in this blog post!). If you like, you may take a look at the trailer, just for fun. [18]


MY RATING: Given all the above information, reasons, and facts about this book, The World Made Straight, I award this book 4.5 stars out of 5. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any adult. I will be reading Ron Rash’s, Serena, soon. I hope that book is as good as this one.

     Thank you for joining me this week as I had the privilege of talking with you about this wonderful novel. Please join me again, next week, as we will look at another exciting book.

Until next time…


…many happy pages of reading!

All my love,


[1] The World Made Straight.” [Ron Rash] Retrieved 11-17-15.
[2] Murder in the Mountains –NY Times Disunion.” [January 19, 2013; Rick Beard] Retrieved 11-17-15.
[3] Vicki Lane Mysteries.” Retrieved 11-17-15.
[4] Atrocity at Shelton Laurel–Indifferent No More.” [by Philip Gerard] Retrieved 01-18-15.
[5] The World Made Straight.” [Ron Rash] Retrieved 11-17-15.
[6] Hamlet’s Soliloquy. Parodied by a XX Teetotaller.” Retrieved 01-19-15.
[7] Metacritic–The World Made Straight.” Retrieved 01-18-15.
[8] The Boston Calendar: Boston Baroque presents Handel’s Messiah.” Retrieved 11-18-15.
[9] “The Crooked Made Straight.” [meme by Sharon Powers] Retrieved 01-18-15.
[10] Of Mages & Pages: Spoiler Retrieved 01-18-15.
[11] Estate Sales: 30 Day Diary Of An Estate Liquidator Day 11-12.” Retrieved 11-19-15.
[12] Ghost Effect.” Retrieved 11-19-15.
[13] Polycount Forum.” Retrieved 11-19-15.
[14] Discover Author Ron Rash.” [harper collins publishers] Retrieved 11-19-15.
[15] Geopix.” Retrieved 01-19-15.
[16] Conflict Resolution. Retrieved 01-19-15.
[17] Danse Macabre. Retrieved 01-19-15.
[18] The World Made Straight Official Trailer #1 (2015).” Retrieved 11-19-15.
[19] Review for Darkness Shows the Stars.” [4.5 stars graphic] Retrieved 01-19-15.
[20] Pictures From My Garden.” Retrieved 01-17-15.

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