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Fiction Review    



Saints at the River
By Ron Rash
Henry Holt and Company, 2004
Hardcover, $24.00 (239 pages)
ISBN: 0-8050-7487-2

Saints at the River is a superb novel as well as a rumination on the environmental and sociological changes in the Appalachians. 

Tensions have been mounting amongst the locals as to how to best manage the Tamassee River for years. The South Carolinians who've lived the town bearing the same name as the river for generations have a healthy respect for the white waters and have seen or grown up hearing stories about what happens when humans interfere. The environmentalists who have moved to town with the intention of preserving the river are tolerated, ignored, or accepted depending on the circumstances. When a twelve-year-old tourist is drowned, and her body is trapped in an eddy, battle-lines are drawn. 

At twenty-eight, Maggie Glenn thought she had shelved her feelings about her hometown, her heritage, and her environmentalist past forever. When her editor asks her to cover the story alongside Allen Hemphill, whose work has been short-listed for the Pulitzer, she's forced to confront her past -- familial tensions yet to be resolved, an old lover whose only passion is the river, and extended family and friends who want her to take sides. 

All the characters in Saints at the River, not the least of which is the river itself, are changed in fundamental ways by the story's end. The questions of what do the living owe the dead, how does one make history with family/heritage, and what obligation does a community have to be honorable in the face of tragedy, are the center of the novel. In answering these big questions, Rash confirms his reputation as a fine storyteller. 

Rash, who holds the John Parris Chair for Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University, has published three collections of poetry, two collections of short stories, and an earlier novel, One Foot in Eden

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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