Friday, October 21, 2011

Charles Martin's "Where the River Ends"

In Charles Martin’s novels, place is as much a character as any person in the story. Place is often the story. The southeastern United States, the relatively short stretch from Charleston, S.C., to the Georgia-Florida border, has played a significant role in six of Martin’s seven novels.

In Where the River Ends, published in 2008, the St. Mary’s River on the Georgia-Florida border is the setting, the narrative structure and indeed one of the main characters of the story. The plot is deceptively simple: Doss Michaels takes his wife Abbie on a canoe trip from the St. Mary’s headwaters all the way to where the river empties in the Atlantic Ocean. The trip is on Abbie’s list of 10 things she wants to do, and it has some urgency about it. Abbie is dying of metastatic breast cancer.

Doss is determined to give Abbie this gift of a trip. He just hopes they can complete it before she dies.

The trip is anything but idyllic. Doss has to steal a considerable supply of cancer and pain medications to take along. Abbie’s father, a powerful U.S. Senator, has hated his son-in-law from the beginning, and sets in motion a massive law enforcement search to find the couple. In a page from Deliverance, four no-account rednecks intend to steal everything Doss and Abbie have, and do even worse violence.

But along the way, they find help from people who go out of their way, often at great personal risk, to help them. A gun-toting grandma gives them food. A defrocked priest saves their lives. They discover kindness from strangers. They discover grace.

And the reader comes to see what this story and this river are really all about. Each scene of the trip is followed by a scene from Doss’s early life, how he and Abby meet and fall in love, and the story of their life together before cancer changes everything. This is a story about life, and we come to embrace it as our story, too.

If you haven’t a novel by Charles Martin, you’ve got some fine reading ahead of you. Simply put, he’s one of the best storytellers writing today. I deliberately didn’t read Where the River Ends  for two years after I bought it – and anticipation was part of the reading experience. I wasn’t disappointed. And he published the The Mountains Between Us in July – another book I’m enjoying the anticipation of reading.


My review of Martin’s When Crickets Cry.

Charles Martin talks about the St. Mary’s River and the origin of Where the River Ends:


Kathleen Overby said...

You nailed it. What a great storyteller. Enjoyed all his books and anticipating reading his latest.

Louise Gallagher said...

Dang it Glynn. Another book for the pile. glad you told me about 'anticipation' of reading -- I can make that the reason I haven't read all the pile yet!

And thanks for the video -- brilliant!

Brian Miller said...

hmmm..thanks for the intel have not read one of his books prior but will check it out...

Anonymous said...

Since i have not read any of his books, perhaps i will start with his first novel and work my way through. Looks like there are several for me to anticipate reading. As long as my anticipation doesn't turn into procrastination.

Susan DiMickele said...

I'm on it Glynn. This is a great review.

Laurie Kolp said...

This sounds like a heartwarmer/ tear-jerker. I'm always looking for good books to read. I'll have to check this one out. Thanks, Glenn!