In a debut that mixes hothouse melodrama with the eventual getting
of wisdom, a Canadian farming family is shattered by the arrival of
a charismatic draft dodger.What happened at the Ward farm during
that summer of 1966, when American "River" Jordan (a Paul Newman
look-alike) worked there, that ended up driving a deep wedge
between mother Nettie and daughter Natalie, separating them for
decades? Then again, what didn't happen? Milner's first novel
initially evokes an idyll of remote rural life and a happy family,
whose dynamic is completely rearranged by the inclusion of
dope-smoking, free-thinking, kindhearted River. Narrated some three
decades later by restless, exiled Natalie, heading home to see her
mother (whose deathbed reveries also round out events), the story
moves from a sunny small-town scenario to something far darker.
Natalie "seduced" River one night, only to later find him in bed
with her beloved eldest brother Boyer. River gets lost in the
mountains and dies, and Natalie is raped by the creepy mayor who
blackmails her into silence by threatening to expose the
homosexuality (a crime in Canada until 1969). Nevertheless, abuse
triggered by homophobia threatens the family; Boyer is horribly
damaged in a fire that burns down his cabin; and Natalie finds
herself pregnant and, after giving birth to a stillborn child,
leaves town. In a tear-jerking, lengthy resolution, Natalie and her
family put all the pieces back together as the narrative once again
swings between the soapy and the sensitive.An intermittently
heavy-handed parable of redemption. (Kirkus Reviews)
Growing up on a dairy farm in the mountains of British Columbia in
the 1960s, three kilometres north of the American border, Natalie
Ward knew little of the outside world. But she had her family. A
family so close and loving that Natalie believed they were the envy
of the nearby town of Wakefield - particularly her eldest brother
Boyer, whom Natalie held especially close to her heart. But Natalie
began to question her family's idyllic existence the summer she
turned fifteen. The arrival of a soft-spoken stranger, an American
draft-dodger called River, would test the morals and beliefs of the
family and the community to breaking point. The series of events
following that summer day would leave relationships shattered and
the Ward family changed forever.
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