An accident on the Ohio River has far-reaching consequences for a boy and his best friend.
Mitch Malone and Travis Baron have grown up together in the river village of Brilliant, Ohio. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the steel industry is still thriving, and so are the bars on Brilliant’s brief main street. When Mitch and Travis aren’t on the athletic field or exploring Tarr’s Dome, they amuse themselves along the banks of the Ohio River by shooting carp with bow and arrow and selling them to Turkeyman Melman, an eccentric scavenger. But Travis has a more compelling purpose in his life; he wants to know what really happened to his mother, Amanda. When he was just a baby, she and a mystery man supposedly drowned in a boating accident on the Ohio. But Travis doesn’t dare ask his father for the truth. Big Frank is a vicious drunk with a string of failed subsequent marriages and a callous indifference that frequently erupts into violence against his only child. Whatever research Travis does on Operation Amanda is a stealth mission that depends on Mitch’s uneasy help. Travis’ discovery of a memorial garden for his mother and a secret visitor who brings flowers and leaves large footprints fuels the boy’s determination to get to the truth about the night his mother and a rumored lover were on Frank’s pleasure boat, which crashed into a barge. Travis and Mitch interview a disgraced detective who had pursued the accident as a homicide and lends them his notes. But Travis is desperate to believe that somehow Amanda escaped—an obsession that comes to a head the night after his high school graduation.
Yocum (The Essay, 2012, etc.) creates so much sympathy for his characters in this coming-of-age tale that you hope for an alternate theory to what appears to be the ineluctable facts of a tragedy.