Tuesday, March 19, 2019

River Under the Road

It's been a while since I wrote a book review.  For a while most of the books I read were not all that special; then I started reading parochially for a book project I was on; then I just got out of the habit. 

I have read a few good books over the past year. Clock Dance by Ann Tyler; Educated by Sarah Westover, Dear Committee Members-Julie Schumacher. But I have also read some that did not come as advertised. I thought Hillbilly Elegy was overrated, and while I was primed to like The Library Book, I thought it did not warrant the raves.

Over the last few years, I've read a number of books by Scott Spencer.  I thought Man in the Woods was outstanding; and A Ship Made of Paper was also good.  His most famous book, Endless Love, I thought was from hunger. Men in Black, only okay.

With the exception of Endless Love, whether I really liked the book or thought it was just fair, I have been impressed with Spencer's ability to describe characters and a scene. Really masterful.  You read about a character and he is portrayed with all the human nuances that we humans have.  In River Under the Road, nearly every character--and there are many--are so well drawn that you feel you could might walk down the street and bump into one of them.  My favorite was the caretaker, Hat, who earned the nickname because when working as a young boy as a caretaker, the imperious patrician owner had a problem, saw the young caretaker apprentice who was wearing a hat, and said something like, "You, Hat, fix it."  His name became Hat so much so that his son once had to think a moment when asked what his dad's first name might be.

I finished the River Under the Road Saturday night. And for a number of days it has just hung around in my head. Less so today than on Sunday and Monday, but still.

Are we all, on some level, aware of the river under the road, the turbulence under--our apparent solid footing. No matter who we are, wealthy by birth, poor and stayed poor, wealthy because we "made it";  happy or sad; filled up with love, enjoying a reasonable facsimile, or bereft--can we all feel the rumble of the river under the road but choose to ignore it.

When I first finished the book, I thought its claim to excellence was in the really amazing writing and character depictions. But now a few days later it has made me consider the river under my road more seriously.  Hardly an earthquake by me, but what the book did was make me consider something I might not have so consciously considered.  Beyond the story line, that is why we read fiction, no?

 If you are just starting Spencer I would suggest Man in the Woods, though I recommended it to a friend of mine who later wanted to know if I fell off a roof and landed on my head.  But I liked it.  Then, I would go for River Under the Road--and watch where you step.

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