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Saints at the River    by Ron Rash order for
Saints at the River
by Ron Rash
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Saints at the River is a moving, dramatic tale told by a very gifted writer. Ron Rash's first novel, One Foot in Eden, brought him many well earned accolades. Intending to while away time in the water as her parents picnic on the banks of the Tamassee River, a twelve-year-old girl steps into the fast moving stream. Currents wash her away and deposit her in what is called a hydraulic, a pocket whose pressure makes it almost impossible to retrieve anything that is drawn into it. The parents depend on the small South Carolina town of the same name as the river to help in the retrieval of their daughter's body.

Told that this is almost impossible to achieve safely, the parents enlist the aid of local and national politicians and the story goes from local tragedy to headline news. Since the Tamassee is the last free-flowing river in the state, environmentalists get involved, intent on stopping any measure that would forever change the flow of the river. The area where it all takes place is beautifully described. The reader has the feeling of having been there before and looks forward to going again. The characterizations are right on the money, from the grieving parents to a protagonist who has not been able to talk rationally with her father for years, and environmentalists who feel they have right on their side and are trying to save even just a small part of the natural world for those to come after them.

The plot is simple and straightforward, but also extremely engrossing - it manages to raise a few angry thoughts about the way the world works. Dialogue! Ah, here's the meat of the book. The fact that the dialogue is most of this epic narrative makes the reader feel a part of the discussions on the printed page. The climax is a shocker (not quite what I had envisioned happening) and only intensifies already aroused feelings. Whether you agree or disagree with what goes down and the outcome, Saints at the River is a wonderful novel, not to be missed and sure to stay in your mind for a long time.

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