Earlier this month, a friend of mine introduced me to the world of independent publishing. I knew it existed, of course, but in that vague way the Queen of England or my brother’s Lego collection exist. I recalled it when reading Regnancy romances or shopping for an I’m-sorry-okay bribe, but that was about the breadth of my interest. But here was an enormous world of books, and authors, and potential reviews. I will start my independent eBooks review series with…
The River Within By Baxter Clare Trautman
(3.5 canaries, but I couldn’t bring myself to pop a poor canary in half)
Greer Madison, Foreign Correspondent, has breathed war for the last thirty years. She’s the best there is. But when a colleague dies trying to reach her, something inside her breaks. Greer finds herself back in the States, nursing her injuries at the house of her long-time friend, Darlene.
Darlene too is a casualty of war. After the death of her son, Chris, the last thing she needs is her perceptive friend rattling her carefully-crafted mask of normalcy and the lies she’s built to protect her family from the truth of Chris’ death.
Kate, Darlene’s daughter, is a young woman with the perfect fiancé, the perfect wedding, and the perfect job. But somewhere in the year or so after Chris’ death, she’s misplaced her life and she doesn’t know where to look for it–or even if she should. It’s a life she glimpses when she meets Greer, drawn to the battered reporter as if to flame.
Each woman lives in her own pain-numbed world, and each knows her balancing act cannot last. When the truths come out, will there be anything left of them?
That question and the Message (capital M) of searching and redemption underlies the many narrative threads in the book; the characters do not simply tell their stories, they tell the entirety of their stories, in casual but unbroken dialogue paragraphs of poignant descriptions and turns of phrase.
The characters are alive, each in their own excruciating human realities, and the story shows its strength in small ways that they slip up. The life is in the details, and not only in the details of foreign wars and bereavement. Kate’s dilemma is a great counterweight to the emotional agony Darlene and Greer face; The River Within is about facing tragedies, large or small, heartbreaking or mundane.
The piece relies on breadth rather than depth. The brilliantly crafted flashbacks take the reader across Russia, into the deserts, mountains, and valleys of the Middle-East, then to the cities again, spiraling over the places and events Greer had experienced over her thirty years reporting, pulling out the most vivid and socking moments and catching them as if in freeze frame. In a sense, the book is told in a series of recounted vignettes embedded within the overarching character interactions.
As a story about the collateral damage of war, the destructive consequences of hubris, and the human need to reach out, it is well wrought and engaging. The reasons my rating dropped a point and then another lies in between all the things that impressed me as a reader. Yes, the characters retell their stories–but entirely too eloquently! This is a book I would have to hear to fully believe, with an actor or reader to re-interpreting the lines to give them a spoken sound.
The descriptions were lovely, yet I found some part of me counting repetitions or thinking, “I’m only halfway through? How can that be?” The characters were breathtakingly human, yes–but only most of the time. Sometimes, they turned into opaque mouthpieces for the stories they told. In the pacing, I felt the story skimped where it should have slowed, and slowed where it should have skimped.
Were the brief sex scenes always relevant? Maybe.
What about Aeron? Maybe.
Could the ending have been cut by two chapters? Maybe.
Mileage may vary.
And I will add this: If you start reading and you have any trouble with the opening, just skip the prologue. I had nearly stopped there, and, having finished the book, I know I’d have missed out.