An aging writer relates the lessons she’s learned from life—an unconvincing mix of the politically correct and fabulous—while navigating the Colorado and Amazon rivers.
Kate Talkingtree, the narrator of Walker's latest message-driven story (The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart, 2000, etc.), has much in common with her creator: she’s a successful writer, an African-American, and a feminist exercised about all the approved issues of the day, racism, environmentalism, and colonialism. And while Walker still lyrically evokes place and mood, the underlying smug preachiness, the unconvincing experiences, and the idiosyncratic thinking make this more a self-indulgent fantasy than an intellectually provocative tale. Kate’s search for meaning begins when, haunted by a dream of a dry river and dissatisfied with her current life, she dismantles her altar honoring deities as varied as Jesus, Che Guevara, and friend Sarah Jane, and joins an all-women’s group rafting the Colorado. On this voyage Kate regurgitates all the words from her life, all her memories of past marriages, then returns home to her blue house and male lover, African-American artist Yolo, determined to live as a virgin so she can continue her spiritual explorations. She next joins a mixed group of seekers who all have stories to share (think rape, abuse, addiction) as they seek to encounter the Grandmother and drink her healing medicine while sailing down the Amazon. Kate has to take harsh purgatives until the guide determines that she’s ready to encounter the universal Grandmother, a large tree. The Grandmother advises against interplanetary travel, tells her about the life-forms from outer space that fled to earth and live in human DNA, and preaches the oneness of life. None of which fazes Kate, who returns home to Yolo, now back from traveling in Hawaii, where he learned from the natives to honor the old ancestral ways that are uncontaminated by such white pollutants as sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Purged and instructed, they next make resolutions for the future.
An overwrought pastiche of muddled thinking.