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IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON by Elisabeth Hyde

IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON

By Elisabeth Hyde

Pub Date: July 20th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-26367-4
Publisher: Knopf

A neophyte crew of amateur adventurers embarks on a perilous rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

Hyde (The Abortionist’s Daughter, 2006, etc.) applies her flair for creating fully realized characters and adds a dash of invigorating peril set in a striking landscape. Unfortunately, what starts as a fast-paced, highly readable consideration of travelers facing a hostile environment is derailed by an overabundance of players and one very dubious plot device. The book chronicles the 13-day Colorado River passage led by JT Maroney, a laconic whitewater guide with 125 successful trips under his belt. JT senses trouble from the beginning, mostly due to the diversity of his charges. The especially inadequate rafters include Peter Kramer, an unemployed lecher with the hots for Dixie Ann Gillis, JT’s fellow river guide; a septuagenarian couple masking injury and Alzheimer’s; and Amy Van Doren, a seriously obese teenager whose shrill diary entries (“OMG!!!!”) disrupt the flow of the story instead of punctuating it. Hyde does a terrific job of crafting her characters; even the less flamboyant of the dozen guests seem very real, if superfluous. The mechanics of whitewater rafting and the challenges faced by seasoned guides are also well drawn, as the petulant clients face heatstroke, emotional conflicts and the constant test of big rapids. So far, so good, until a bewildering medical emergency sends the story tumbling off on a wildly improbable tangent. It’s a jarring diversion that threatens to turn a thoughtful portrait of humanity at odds with nature into a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.

Well-intentioned but flawed ensemble drama.