3.5 "Ron Rash has written a book about the deepest human themes: the love of the land, the hold of the dead on the living, and the need to dive beneath the surface to arrive at a deeper truth. Based on a factual event, he weaves us another story pitting human desire against environmental concerns and challenges.
I also love how the river becomes a character in the story. (view spoiler) A young girl dies in the Tamassee River while on vacation with her family, but the white water vortex that pulled her under makes the body's recover almost impossible. The family is asking that a temporary damn be built in South Carolina's only protected river to aide in the recovery, and the town's leading conservationist is putting up a fight.
Before his first novel in 2002 he had published poetry and short stories. I am reading GR reviews before, during and after the reading of the book because I am interested in learning about the author, Ron Rash. Saints at the River grabbed onto me on the first page with the drowning described in the most humanistic. Ron Rash taught me about the usual stuff of novels, relationships and family and nature. In a promotional video for the film company, Ron Rash says, I wanted the novel to have environmental concerns but I wanted to have enough faith in the reader so that the reader would make up his or her own mind about this situation. So, as usual in his books, Ron Rash wants to teach us, to give us information that he thinks is important to help us make up our own minds. Although the story is fiction, the events in the book about the drowning and attempted recovery of the body have some basis in reality. Reading this article is an interesting way to see how a writer can transform an actual event into fictional writing. Saints at the River brought me a fair number of meaningful memory jolts more than the average book.
The book grabbed me from the first sentence and never let go, immersing me in the story, but also forcing me to see the viewpoints of all the characters, to ask myself how I would feel if I were in any of their shoes, and to remind me that answers to life's deepest questions are rarely black and white or simple. "...the girl's body is the Tamassee's now...the moment she stepped in the shallows she accepted the river on its own terms. This story and its characters' experiences teach us that we should try to keep ourselves in the flow instead of swimming upstream so much; that we should celebrate joys and acknowledge sorrows, but then let them go; that injustices, real or imagined, are poison to our happiness and peace of mind as long as they are retained; and that since everything is transient, we must embrace and savor every moment as it happens, then relinquish it, good or bad, to the "vast and generous unremembering."
I thought this book's plot was very interesting, but unfortunately it fell flat for me because character development was lacking greatly.
The opening scene is the death of a twelve-year-old girl, who drowns in the Tamassee River and her body is trapped in a deep eddy, impossible to recover by the usual means. When I first started reading the book, it was the oddest feeling--the opening of Chapter 2 gives directions almost to our front door here in Rabun County: To get to Temassee, South Carolina, you leave the interstate at the last exit before the Georgia line. Like I said, it's not an easy read, or it wasn't for me, because of the conflicts between the two camps-- those that want to help the family come to closure and bury their daughter so they can begin to heal, and those that want to protect a spot on earth from further damage from mankind. And I like a book that allows me to gather at the river, with the saints and the angels, once again.
As the last smudges of fog evaporated, the yellow sun-struck poplar leaves brightened like lamp wicks being turned up. Saints at the River is the second novel by American poet, short story writer and novelist, Ron Rash. In spring, the Tamassee is a white-water river, making a dive for the body too dangerous, and the river comes under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1978, which precludes usual methods of retrieval like dynamite. The community is divided: dissatisfied with efforts by the locals (hes referred to them as hillbillies), Herb Kowalsky has brought in businessman touting his temporary dam; the white-water rafting business is concerned their rivers reputation will tip from thrilling to dangerous; a land developer sees the opportunity to weaken environmental regulations; loggers, too, resent the district park rangers power; and the environmentalists (tree-huggers) are determined to see the law upheld. But Maggie also has issues from her past in Tamassee to deal with (It was not a convenient memory, because I couldnt frame it neatly into the black-and-white photograph Id made of my past.), and Allen is not free of baggage, either.
It happened while I was working for the USFS.The event pitted the family against the environmentalists who claimed that attempts to retrieve the body violated the Wild and Scenic River Act. It was heartbreaking and dragged on for weeks.
His short stories humanize southern and in particular Appalachian stereotypes, and Saints at the River did do this through plot, but, unfortunately, failed at empathizing and humanizing with the characterization of Maggie, the first person narrator. Maggie defines herself by the men in her life and has very little personality and opinions of her own--father, lover, ex-lover, brother shape her opinions and actions. Maggie instead narrates the thoughts and actions of the men around her, never reflecting on her own opinions, her own thoughts, her own humanity.