Saints at the River
Ron Rash
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Buy *Saints at the River* online

Saints at the River
Ron Rash
256 pages
July 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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When a young girl drowns near the falls of an environmentally protected river, her body trapped by the hydraulic intensity of the churning water, her parents are distraught. They cannot recover the body. The Tamassee River is protected by environmental law as a Wild and Scenic River in South Carolina, one of the few pristine waterways kept out of the reach of developers, but it has been a long, bitter struggle by the residents to achieve such protective status for the river.

Saints at the River is the story of this tragedy as the residents of a scenic area in South Carolina face an increasingly common problem - the protection of a diminishing wilderness. It is the human face of the novel that renders legal decisions all the more difficult: protect the land as dictated by law or make exemptions for deserving humans who are suffering.

Five weeks later, meetings are held to determine whether a temporary dam can divert the water long enough to free the body, the news media witness to the proceedings. Critical to the debate is the grieving mother, whose religious conviction is that her daughter’s body must be reunited with her soul for burial. This mother’s anguish is powerful and moving to the onlookers, her subdued mien all but drowning out the eloquent arguments of a local environmentalist who says the river has claimed the girl and that she should be left in peace, part of the terrible harmony of nature.

Maggie Glenn, a former resident of Oconee County in the Appalachias, is a photojournalist in Colombia, South Carolina, sent by her newspaper with award-winning journalist Allen Hemphill to cover the story. Sorting through her mixed reactions, Maggie develops feelings for Hemphill, their new relationship charged with conflicting sentiments each has about the river controversy.

Maggie is forced to confront her personal demons and long antipathy to a father who is dying of cancer but is not ready to make her peace with the past. After Maggie shoots a stunning photo that does much to sway public opinion on the side of the drowned girl’s parents and the temporary dam, she has second thoughts when the people she grew up with react to her perceived betrayal. It will take the unfolding drama surrounding the drowning to wake the young woman to reconciliation of past with present.

This deceptively simple novel addresses the protection and conservancy of natural assets and all it entails. Clearly, when a sentimental twist is added, it is natural for the public to demand exception to the law to alleviate the suffering of victims. Often such exceptions precipitate the destruction of the protected region.

Describing the controversy with an unbiased eye and thoughtful prose, Rash gives equal weight to both sides, particularly the psychological nuances that color such decisions. Meanwhile, the river moves on inexorably, carrying its dead forever in a watery embrace, nature’s voice often overridden by the cacophony of human need.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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