Two brothers set out on Georgia’s mystical Altamaha River, "a long, dark muscle in the earth," to float down to the seacoast, intent on scattering the ashes of their father, "a man of the river….A keeper of it."
Lawton Loggins, a veteran SEAL warrior, and his younger brother, Hunter, a college student, are more similar than different: strong-willed, single-minded, hammered into their father’s iron concept of manhood. Hiram Loggins, their father, was a U.S. Navy Vietnam swift boat sailor. A troubled, complex man who forever "felt the blackness lapping at him, hungry," Hiram took up tidewater fishing, but he was unlucky, twice losing shrimp boats, one while hauling in "square grouper" (marijuana bales dropped by smuggler’s aircraft). Haunting Hiram’s memory was a youthful incident involving a childhood friend. His sons know that friend as Uncle King, an eccentric failed priest–turned–environmental guerilla. Before the trip, the sons, Lawton especially, were skeptical that their father’s death was an accident, but both are stunned when the truth is revealed, giving them knowledge that will redefine their memories and their futures. Expanding the Georgia lowland setting of this family saga is a narrative thread about the 1564 French settlement of Fort Caroline along the river. That struggle is detailed through the eyes of the expedition artist, Le Moyne, a man made real by a nuanced characterization. Contemporary drawings are reproduced. Thoroughly researched and expansively imagined, this portion of the novel is a tale of Utopia raped by greed, ineptness, arrogance, and deadly racism. Amid the deft descriptions of cypress swamps haunted by mythical beasts and poisoned by pollution, Taylor (Fallen Land, 2016) turns French fumbling, Hiram's rage, and the brothers' frustration into a common theme about humankind's struggle to understand its place in nature.
A literary achievement: a complex, character-driven story that’s powerful in concept and execution.