LAST YEAR’S RIVER by Allen Morris Jones


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The former editor of Big Sky Journal, not surprisingly, trudges in the sensitive/macho tradition of Jim Harrison and Cormac McCarthy in his first novel, a love story set in Wyoming during the 1920s.

Still devastated by her beloved father’s death the previous year, 17-year-old New Yorker Virginia Price is a mix of spoiled schoolgirl innocence and flapper sophistication. Her mother is a socialite whose relationship with her daughter is unbelievably cold-hearted. After Virginia is date-raped by her older, highly respectable boyfriend Charlie, her mother blames Virginia, choosing not to believe anything bad about the young man. When it becomes clear that Virginia is pregnant, she’s sent with an elderly aunt as her only companion to hide out at a Wyoming ranch until the baby is born. There, she encounters Henry Mohr, the ranch owner’s stepson, who is still traumatized by his military experience in WWI and filled with angry guilt over his inability to protect his half-Indian mother Rose from the physical abuse her husband Frank periodically inflicts on her. In contrast to chubby, wimpy, yet vicious Charlie, Henry is ruggedly sensitive, a man who “loves hunting but could do without the killing.” The attraction between Virginia and Henry is (surprise) immediate. Charlie’s arrival at the farm to make amends by marrying Virginia only intensifies her affair with the other. She has little to say to the suddenly caring and patient Charlie, who may or may not be aware that Virginia and Henry spend their nights together in his bunkhouse. As Virginia’s pregnancy progresses and winter sets in, emotions flare, sending all into crisis. Readers more or less know the outcome early on, since Jones intersperses his narrative with italicized glances back from the now elderly Virginia. And since her love affair has been both with man and place, Jones also devotes many long passages to lovingly detailed descriptions of ranch work and cowboy life.

Slow and pretentious if occasionally affecting.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2001
ISBN: 0-618-13161-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2001