The controversial construction of a dam throws a quiet Pennsylvania town into turmoil in this novel.
Even though Sam Kopco has been home from Vietnam for two years, he’s still beleaguered by the trauma of his memories, which visit him in flashbacks. He grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in the Minisink Valley, an area now threatened by the construction of the Tocks Island Dam across the Delaware River by the Army Corps of Engineers. While some locals believe the dam will eventually be a boon to the economy, others worry about the ecological costs as well as the displacement of longtime residents from their land. Many complain that they’ve been poorly compensated for the property they’ve been ousted from—one woman, whose family had occupied her land for three generations, kills herself in despair when exiled from it. Meanwhile, Sam begins a romantic relationship with Holly, who works for the Monroe County Commissioner’s Office. But they keep their affair private since she’s in the midst of a messy divorce from Mark, whose father, Leo Kober, is her boss. Further complicating matters, Holly suspects Leo is tampering with official documents to hide the inflated prices he’s selling his land to the government for, despite the meager amounts others are fetching. Collins effectively relates the story from shifting first-person perspectives: Will Mead, a hippie academic attempting to establish a utopian community on land the federal government pines for; Loretta Shuster, a local who loses her farm and spearheads a campaign to block the dam project; Jack Neumann, the project manager for the dam’s construction who’s unconvinced it can be successfully built; and of course Sam and Holly. The author’s kaleidoscopic approach to narration produces a remarkably sympathetic rendering of warring interests—Collins trusts his readers to draw their own conclusions. But the writing is less than poetic—the dialogue in particular seems stiff and lifeless. In addition, the plot unfolds without sufficient discipline, meandering too far afield too often. But the restrained intelligence of the novel as a whole should appeal to those interested in the tension between economic revitalization and environmental responsibility.
A thoughtful case study that sometimes falls a bit flat as fiction.