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SAINTS AT THE RIVER by Ron Rash Kirkus Star


by Ron Rash

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2004
ISBN: 0-8050-7487-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

A gripping environmental drama pits the rescue of a drowned child against the integrity of a river.

Narrator Maggie Glenn works for a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. The 28-year-old photographer was born and raised in Tamassee, in the mountains to the west, and she’s assigned, along with star reporter Allen Hemphill, to cover a big story in her hometown. Three weeks earlier, 12-year-old Ruth Kowalsky had been sucked into a whirlpool in the Tamassee River; county divers have failed to dislodge her body from the rock where it lies trapped. Ruth’s father Herb, a powerful banker from Minnesota, wants to make the divers’ job easier by erecting a portable dam to divert the water flow. One problem: Erection means drilling holes into the bedrock, and federal law protects the river from any violation of its natural state. Storywriter and second-novelist Rash (One Foot in Eden, not reviewed) sets up a finely balanced confrontation between Luke Miller, fearless and incorruptible champion of the river (though no saint), and Ruth’s grieving parents, who want to give her a proper burial. Uncomfortably in the middle is the district ranger. Back in Tamassee, Maggie has more on her mind than her job. She has been estranged from her father ever since her brother Ben and she were badly burned in a childhood accident for which the old man was responsible. Now he’s dying of cancer. Can Maggie make peace with him, as her more forgiving brother did years ago? On the job, she takes a haunting photograph of the despondent Herb Kowalsky. Along with Hemphill’s reporting, it helps tip the balance in favor of the temporary dam. Luke, her ex-lover and mentor, is furious, and Maggie herself, secretly on his side, regrets taking it. But the suspense isn’t over. The river is rising. Will the dam hold long enough for the divers to retrieve the girl?

Spare, resonant, unputdownable.