Saints at the River – A Review
“He was dying, and the farm was dying with him.” So Maggie, the protagonist in Ron Rash’s novel observes her father while visiting her home in the mountains of South Carolina. Maggie is a newspaper photographer, sent to her hometown to report on the attempt to recover the body of a girl drowned in a wild and scenic river. The body is trapped in a hydraulic, a powerful eddy under a rock. The river is unwilling to give up its dead.
In the hearing, various parties debate the best course of action in regard to recovery of the body. Many local people believe that a dynamite stick in the eddy will free the body. Luke, an environmentalist and kayak enthusiast is so in love with the river that he envies the dead girl, cradled in its arms. Mr. Kowalski, a captain of industry from another state is the dead girls’ father. He favors construction of a temporary dam to divert the water while his daughter’s body is recovered for proper burial. Meanwhile, a real estate developer is closely watching the proceedings to see if any precedent setting violation of the river’s wild and scenic status takes place.
Like the wild river and the surrounding mountains, the characters are rugged and unyielding. The dynamic conflict between varying interest groups, and between Maggie and her father builds until much of the tension in this dynamic book is released by a surprise ending. In a way that would only be possible for a person who calls such country home, Mr. Rash reveals these personalities in a tapestry of descriptions perhaps best illustrated by his comments on Billy, a minor character introduced early in the book. This small portion of the book was well received when Mr. Rash read at the Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga, earlier this year.
“Billy had a degree in agriculture from Clemson University and his family owned the biggest apple orchard in the valley, but he’d decided after college that his true calling was playing Snuffy Smith to fleece the tourists. He swore if could find a cross-eyed boy who could play banjo, he’d stick that kid on the porch and increase his business 25 percent.”
Saints at the River is Ron Rash’s second novel. It joins his volumes of poetry and short stories as he rises to the top of Southern Literature.
- Reviewed by Ray Zimmerman