Book Review: Saints at the River
Posted April 1, 2011on:
Saints at the River by Ron Rash, Henry Holt and Company, 2004, 239 pp.
The novel tells the story of a young girl who drowns in a protected whitewater river, her body trapped beneath the rocks in a dangerous eddy. The tension in the story is between the girl’s family, who wants to dam the river to retrieve her body, and the environmentalists who have the law on their side to protect the river’s natural state. The story’s narrator, Maggie Glenn, is a photojournalist who hails from the small town at the center of the crisis, but now lives and works for a paper in the state capitol. She returns to cover the story, and (of course) deal with unresolved family issues from her past and present. The southern Appalachian mountain landscape and culture figure heavily in the plot as well.
The story was well-written and interesting. In spite of the premise, it was not overly maudlin, and I was grateful to read something that was not emotionally wrenching, like the other novels I have been reading lately. If anything, the book suffered because it didn’t suffer enough. As a narrator, Maggie is detached from the action. She has loyalties on both sides of the debate, although she leans toward the environmentalists. No one in the book seems to struggle profoundly or emotionally with the death of the girl or the river. The situation just is.
Saints at the River is not a book that will be particularly memorable, or that I found particularly inspiring, but I enjoyed it and I have no complaints. I just wanted something to escape with for a few hours, and this book did just that.