CROSSING THE RIVER by Fenton Johnson


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Like good country blues, this regionally accented first novel has the persistent, repetitive twang of a satisfying Saturday night lament. It's all about a restless, homebound dreamer--crowded by old kin, old feuds, and the custom of the country in a tiny Kentucky town--who, like some of the young folks around, is looking for a way out of town but, unlike those young, seems to be doomed to sulk on the home roost. Martha Pickett Miracle, born and bred in Mount Hermon--the Baptist side of the river--one fateful day on a dare, had crossed over into New Hope--Catholic country--and at the Miracle Inn fell hard for Bernie Miracle, owner and bartender. So there were love and mystery (the Catholic Church was full of it), and anyway Martha ""wanted to stir up the bucket."" That was 23 years ago, and now, at 45, Martha knows she was a fool for love (""Any woman who had been in love knew how little that was worth""). The marriage is icy; the Catholic Miracle family is waiting for a false step; and their son, nicknamed ""Miracle,"" seems destined to rot in New Hope. Miracle is wildly in love with beautiful Rosamund, who's after singing fame in Nashville and escape from her parents' lives ""stretched out before and behind them like Kansas."" Enter Talbott Marquand, the blond Yankee construction engineer who'll build a new bridge across the river. Martha helplessly sizzles: they have an affair. Bernie, bitter to the end, dies, but Talbott will marry Rosamund. Both mother and son (who are not speaking) wonder why. But as Rosamund explains to a tearful Miracle: ""What I'm after is real. Money is real. You and your mother--you're after love."" At the close, Miracle at last leaves town, and Martha, wiser, tougher, and happier, leaves her dreams--to blue new trails in New Hope. Meanwhile, the old bridge is blown (symbolically) to smithereens. Although the characters seem somehow generic, not lit individually from within, the heavily pulsed theme, in its catchy, tangy idiom, about big dreamers in tiny towns, is warmly familiar and as immediately recognizable as all those Miracle Inns in all those American backwaters.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1989
Publisher: Birch Lane/Carol Comm.