Hats off to Donna Milner with After River. The beginning starts out slow. We’re told/promised ruin and scandal, and near half way through, I was thinking, You better deliver. Over-emphasis on the resemblance of transient worker (a drafte dodger “hippie” who suddenly appears on the farm) to the narrator’s brothers leads me to guess that River is either the mother’s son by another man or that the mother will sleep with the help, the age of her eldest son (roughly just-out-of-high-school-age). Scandalous enough. But what happens actually way exceeds something so relatively tame.
The narrator (the daughter at various ages through the tale) is seduced by River cz he has those eyes that seduce everyone he doesn’t want, into falling in love with him. At age 16, she finally to his room at nigh to seduce him. He lets himself have sex with her briefly, then goes off to throw up after declaring her a mistake. She runs off, but doesn’t see her mother, who we see was about to climb the same stairs. So. River disappears. Not much later, (this is in the ’60, farm community, when homosexuality was more than taboo) the narrator finds River and her brother (who she, as a child, wanted to marry – just to illustrate their closeness) copulating in brother’s bed. Extremely upset, she runs off to tell her best friend (friends only cz friend is attracted to narrator’s brother). Either friend, or friend’s evil pedophile father (also the mayor) spreads the news, ruining the family’s business. Of course, he rapes the narrator, convincing her that he won’t tell if he lets her have sex with him. She does, but she then incapacitates him, steals his car keys and pants and calls the RCMP. Problem over, justice done? Oh no. Things get worse. River disappears and is found dead having fallen into an on-property abandoned mine shaft (we see these hidden holes in the beginning of the book. Nothing comes out of nowhere) The on-property cabin that is eldest brother’s living quarters is set on fire (possibly by the mayor? I haven’t quite finished the book) with brother in it, who is rescued, but badly burned. Naturally, the narrator feels extreme guilt and retreats into herself and eats and “gets fat.” But this fat is painful. She attracts the attention of mother & brother with her moaning, until she’s taken to the hospital for what her mother says is a swollen appendix, but the doctor rushes the daughter off to the delivery room. The baby – River’s or pervert mayor’s? – is born dead. Though, is it? Mention is made of a cry, but an unwed mother (there’s a home for them nearby) is also said to have given birth that night.
We know the narrator has a daughter with the same last name as the doctor who delivered the baby. The daughter is who now-adult-narrator-mom is returning “home” to see. She (the grown narrator mom), of course, has left town & been married 3 times, believing she causes too much ruin to ever stay in one place for long. So, is her daughter a subsequent child?
Sorry, I don’t yet know the end. I haven’t finished the book, but I would highly recommend this as a read. It’s literary, and not at all hokey or high drama. This is why I love book clubs. I get exposed to material I may not have chosen and end up on some fascinating literary adventures.
Astonishing fact from book: up until 2003, homosexuality in the USA was illegal.