HEART OF THE RIVER by Carolyn Slaughter


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Once, nearly 20 years ago, Englishwoman Constance--the heroine of this overheated post-feminist romance--found a great and pure and idyllic love in Africa. . . with a young man named Fredrick. Now Constance returns to Botswana, having left her husband, Robert, and her boarding-school son--on vacation from her job as a teacher. And here, on a farm owned by her aunt, she seems to wait for a reprise--or an exorcism--of that first, great love. A black man, Jacob, becomes obsessed with Constance; and, as if with nothing better to do, she extends the act of stringing-him-along into a grotesque, semi-erotic masquerade of domesticity. Meanwhile, husband Robert flies from England in hopes of reconciliation--but Constance will have none of it, preferring to toy with the desperate and hapless Jacob. And she won't tire of this cruel game until an Afrikaner cattle-rancher, a loner named Laurens, appears on the scene: he takes the fabled Fredrick's part in Constance's heart; she drops Jacob cold. Slaughter, author of an effectively creepy incest novel (Relations, 1977) and an overwrought Mary Magdalene novel (Magdalene, 1979), plays, to no great purpose, with heavy role-reversals here: Constance is a liberated woman who turns every macho man she meets into a gusher of female-stereotype expressions of clinging, mindless, hyperventilating adoration. (""I can't live with the idea of you: I think you could live with the idea of me, but I can't. I need you, the body and soul of you, or I can't live."" Similarly: ""You're always thinking and never feeling. When I say I love you, you want to know why. I don't need to know why: I just do."") And, despite lots of routine exotica, with pantingly obvious scenes of sexual intercourse in riverbank mud or among the lilies, this talky novel remains dullish and implausible--with the Woman-No-Man-Can-Resist fantasy swamping any serious exploration of feminist/romance/independence themes.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's