That ""Old Woman"" river--as flinty 76-year-old Ella calls the Florida waterway that courses past her boathouse--keeps on rolling along. . . but not for long if Ivan Mitchell and other greedy land developers have their way. In what amounts to a sincere but one-sided crusade, Cummings has her heroine taking on all the ""sons of bitches"" with the help of slow-witted sidekick ""Reetard"" (self-named), a young boy of unknown age and apocryphal origin who appears at Ella's door and adopts her as his ""Mama."" Of course it's impossible not to root for these quintessential ""little guys"" who eventually do effect the river's designation as an aquatic preserve. But their fight to save the river is too clear-cut, too unambiguous. Ella is as right as right can be: the way Cummings sets it up, there simply is no other point of view, no other considerations (e.g., economic necessity) to take into account. And the scattershot nature of Ella's efforts--one minute she's battling bulkhead builders, the next she's squaring off with swamp drainers--robs the plot of any dramatic focus. Cummings tries for suspense by portraying overgrown Reetard as a menacing innocent Ã la Steinbeck's Lenny. But he comes across as so puppydog playful that his occasional threats to ""hug"" Ivan Mitchell until he ""pops"" don't carry enough real threat. And his freakish death (he's accidentally killed by Ivan Mitchell's motorboat) seems a rather gratuitous martyrdom. Still, Ella's Tugboat Annie vigor is a drawing card. She's tough, loving, even wistfully horny, and real enough to just about keep this story afloat.