THE MORNING RIVER by W. Michael Gear


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 Gear is better known as the coauthor of several novels set in pre-Columbian North America (People of the Lightning, 1995, etc.), but his first volume in a coming-of-age saga set in 1825 demonstrates a rather formidable individual storytelling gift, his strong theme overshadowing occasional didacticism. Richard Hamilton, timid Harvard philosophy student and intellectual snob (with a propensity for verbally biting the hand that feeds him), accepts a challenge from his father: Deliver $30,000 to a business associate in St. Louis. If he doesn't accept the task, the elder Hamilton will cut the purse strings. Appalled by his father's lack of appreciation for abstract philosophy--but also by the prospect of supporting himself--Richard leaves Boston determined to remain true to his ideals and untainted by any necessary association with the ``animals'' and ``savages'' inhabiting the frontier. Predictably, one of the ``animals'' takes umbrage at Richard's contempt and retaliates. Richard, now penniless, finds himself sold into a two-year indenture as a deckhand on a Missouri River keelboat engaged in an illegal trading expedition led by an old mountain man named Travis Hartman. Richard's journey up the river is one of intellectual discovery as well as a quest for self-knowledge. In apposition to Richard is Heal Like A Willow, a young Shoshoni woman whose philosophy is also limited by lack of experience. Her rigidity of beliefs mirrors Richard's own, but experience gained during her time on the keelboat transforms her limited perceptions of white culture, in contrast to Richard's continued inability to admit the fallacies of his philosophy. Weaving together realistic characters, authentic dialogue that only occasionally overdoes the frontier dialect, and a historically accurate setting, Gear creates believable fiction that transcends and transforms its predictable plot. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-89039-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996


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