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An engrossing debut memoir from 40-something Goyen, a Texas wife and mother.
Goyen opens with a brief discussion about her suffering from chronic anxiety attacks in childhood and beyond and how she learned to cope. Then, before returning to that subject, she shares thoughts and ordinary experiences that came with being a parent (or in her case, fear of never being a mother) and stories from what she describes as her family’s normal, typical middle-American life. “You might be a lot like us,” she tells her readers. The most gripping section (and the longest) describes a gradually escalating medical issue that arose when the couple thought their problems were solved. Although Goyen had a stillborn child, she and her husband finally had two sons (born 19 months apart). Their happiness felt complete. Trouble returned when the youngest, 7-year-old Blake, fell deathly ill with mysterious symptoms. For months, while they went from doctor to doctor, taking him to the hospital (sometimes to the ER) for diagnoses and treatments, their happy life became a nightmare, and their faith was tested. The author’s detailed account reads almost like a detective story about a child and his family held hostage by illness. It’s easy to empathize and care with Goyen, and her chatty, confiding, openness as a writer makes her seem like a friend. Fans of Anne Lamott (Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, 1993) will recognize and appreciate a similar sense of authorial immediacy. Goyen conveys with lyric beauty how faith in God, love for her husband and devotion to her sons now guides her response to tragedy and her approach to life. The “river” in the title refers to the family’s favorite vacation spot in Red River, New Mexico, a place that “flowed straight to my soul like a river through my heart,” but it’s easy to feel that the real river she cherishes is that of God’s love.

A child’s illness becomes the focal point for a riveting true-life drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484912393

Page Count: 214

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2014



The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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