August 2, 2011

River's Song by Melody Carlson

River's Song, set in 1959, is the story of 40 year old widow Anna Larson and her return to her childhood home after the death of her mother. She does so with the distinct disapproval of her spoiled grown daughter and controlling mother-in-law, who treats Anna like a servant and controls every aspect of her life. As she reacquaints herself with the river and land once so dear to her, she also comes back in touch with her native heritage, a heritage her mother had spurned in life and her mother-in-law loathed.

One day while canoeing in the river Anna encounters an anthropologist who seeks to learn more about the native peoples of the area. She invites the woman to her home to look at her grandmother's things, and they begin a friendship that inspires Anna to convert her parents' home into an inn and stay on the river rather than return to her mother-in-law's home. She also discovers that at 40 her life is just beginning.
Melody Carlson did an excellent job recreating 1959 Oregon. Of course it was before my time, but the setting has a truly authentic feel, from fashion to the word choice and etiquette of the time. The only rather glaring exception to this was when one of the characters uses the term "African American," a term that was coined in the early 80's by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. I can understand this slip however, and am sure it was intentional as any other phrasing would have been offensive to readers.
Carlson's writing style is exactly the sort I like best. It is simple but evocative, descriptive without boring the reader with endless details. Her writing is warm and enfolds you effortlessly into the story. Many readers will relate to the mother-in-law issue, as well as to the theme of a mother trying to relate and get close to her self-centered daughter.
There are two things in this book that didn't quite mesh for me. First, Anna's friend Babette, who is a lovely character, but whose French identity is taken a little too far. Someone who has spent the majority -decades- of their life in American society isn't likely to continue inserting French phrases into every bit of English conversation, and it's a little over-the-top. It's a bit awkward and distracts the reader from Babette's true character. The other thing is that the romance wasn't allowed to build to a good peak before reaching its resolution. There was some chemistry there, but it didn't seem like the characters had the time to truly fall in love.
This book will be released on September 15th and is the first of a series. I look forward to finding out what lies in store for Anna and her family.
I received a copy of this book for the purpose of review.

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