In Oppitz’s (The Green Monster, 2011) novel, a young man finds an unusual calling as a river guide.
Robbie Oliver Jasper seems to have everything that he could want—he’s wealthy, handsome, and athletic, and he has a genius-level intellect, a photographic memory, and a promised place in Kansas State University’s veterinary program. However, he isn’t happy, as he feels controlled by his mother and father, who frequently ignore his opinions. Following his high school graduation, he and his parents decide to try to reconnect by taking a canoe trip on the Rio Grande. Just as they start to mend their relationship, a freak flood overturns their boats, and both of Robbie’s parents drown and get washed away. But Robbie is saved by a man named ST, a professional river guide. The teenager finds that he envies ST’s freedom, so he decides to become a river rat himself. Taking the nickname “ROJ,” he joins ST’s group and learns their skills on the very same body of water where his parents died. As he guides his own clients, he provides them with business advice that many find compelling. When someone from Robbie’s hometown arrives in search of him, he must decide how his old and new lives fit together. This novel provides readers a good understanding of the life of a river guide as well as a strong argument for the benefits of a simple life. However, the main character’s implausibility makes it difficult to take the story seriously. Robbie, who speaks in stilted dialogue, comes off as overly adult; he also has the uncanny ability to convince adults to do his bidding, as when he tells a Park Service officer of his river-rat plans: “Judd, I have you to thank for all this to happen....If anyone inquires about me or my whereabouts, tell them I am out of touch for the time being.” He’s never shown to have any flaws, and his varied expertise and abilities seem almost superhuman, particularly for a teenager. As a result, there’s no sense that Robbie really develops as a character.
A too-perfect protagonist stifles this story’s energy.