DOWNRIVER by Peter Collier


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Like James D. Houston's Continental Drift (p. 653), this first novel by the co-author of The Rockefellers attempts to yeast up a family drama with suspense and politics; but, while Houston achieved an attractive marbling effect, Collier comes out with a lopsided and slightly lardy layer cake. Still, some of the layers are very, very fine. Best by far is the family layer: Cabell Hart's father is dying of cancer in Los Angeles, and Collier plainly, quietly captures the tender traumas of their last year together-an illusory remission, a final trip to the family town in So. Dakota, the hospital frustrations and cold horrors. Somewhat less successful is the Deliverance-style melodrama that follows the father's death, when Cabell drives 600 miles up the California coast to give his sister the bad news--and learns that she ""accidentally"" drowned a few days before. Cabell is soon convinced that his sister was gang-raped and murdered, and he plunges into a to-the-death revenge duel with the redneck locals. This crude suspense, initially exciting, is hotted up into off-putting hysteria as half-naked, wounded Cabell hears voices, talks to fish, and zestfully kills his enemies in the name of his wronged great-great-grandfather. But more damaging still are Cabell's interruptive flashbacks (he was a Sixties radical who became disillusioned) and Collier's efforts to link the book's disparate parts by heavy-breathing thematics and indiscriminate politicizing. ""I am the true and perfect revolutionary,"" thinks Cabell as he prepares to castrate his sister's rapist. ""A medical My Lai and Kennedy assassination all in one,"" he thinks, as he ponders the coverup of cancer research's failures. Lots to chew on, much of it written with color and verve, but a classic case of congested, high-strung first-novelitis.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1978
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston