A View Of The River
by Kathleen Eagle, contemporary (2005)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2098-7


After a period of silence from this author, Kathleen Eagle's icebreaking novel A View Of The River is out. To me, this book is like a nice young lady that lives down the street. We have nice conversations together whenever we meet but I can't say that we are really close friends. Sometimes I wonder why she is with that rather slimy-looking man who probably hits on all her girlfriends when she's not looking but she seems intelligent enough so I guess she knows him better than me so who I am to judge, hmm. What's the word to describe this kind of feeling? Ambivalence?

The problem with this book is that while it doesn't generate strong feelings of dislike, it doesn't generate passionate feelings of love or anything equally positive. A View Of The River is sedate, leisurely, and there are actually very little happening in this story that I have a hard time coming up with a synopsis that fully captures the story. Maybe I'll just say that this is the story of our heroine, Rochelle LeClair, leaving behind a teaching career to come down to Little Falls and take care of her Aunt Meg. Aunt Meg doesn't have much sense when it comes to her finances and now that she is ill and at the brink of bankruptcy, Rochelle hopes to find a way to keep a roof over Aunt Meg while helping the woman recover. Rochelle converts the family home, Rosewood, into an inn. The clientele thrill and entertain Aunt Meg, which is a plus.

Aunt Meg's latest buddies are into New Age stuff, so they rope in Birch Trueblood, an Ojibwan "holy man", to teach and show them ceremonies and stuff that will thrill these people and bring them closer to some New Agey deity or force or something, I suppose. Rochelle or Shelly had a crush on Birch when she was younger - don't these romance heroines do that all the time nowadays? - and now she may still be susceptible to Birch. There are also a ghost who makes her debut by spying on Birch and giving him a powerful, er, urge to salute (don't ask, please) and some family secrets. While this book starts off powerfully with the scene of a woman in 1911 planning to commit suicide, the book soon falls into a very sedated pace where everything feels underplotted, underdeveloped, and underwhelming.

Birch never stops giving me this impression that he is like a slimy used car salesman. His pick-up/come-on lines of seduction to Rochelle come off as cringe-inducingly contrived, as if he has watched Grease six zillion times and made Danny Zuko his ideal role model. But he gets to shag Rochelle on the first night they meet again so I can't say his methods don't work, heh. Oh, maybe I should point out that apart from one PG-13 rated love scene complete with imageries of turgid hoses at bursting point spurting all over the place, the love scenes in this book are of the "fade-out when things get interesting" variety. Back to Birch, he exudes a rather exaggerated machoman/loverboy swagger that often comes off as smarmy to me. I don't like him. The fact that he is selling his people's traditions and beliefs to skeptics and people who are into the latest New Age fads only add to his "smarmy TV evangelist" vibe.

His romance with Rochelle is underdeveloped because whenever he's in the scene with Rochelle, which isn't often because chapters can pass before they meet up again, they are in bed, whereafter he will then bolt off without a morning-after kiss to Rochelle. These two rush straight into declarations of love by the end of the story but I am skeptical because for the most part of their interactions, of which there aren't enough in the first place, they are having sex without connecting on an emotional level.

I like Rochelle because she has a level head and she manages to help Aunt Meg without coming off like a martyr - in short, Rochelle is a nice, sensible, and realistic adult woman. It's a pity that she's the only character with such traits. Birch's daughter Robin is precocious and smart-ass kind that has the tendency to launch into irritating "wise for her years" sayings. Aunt Meg is another character who speaks in blatant anvil-laden mumbo-jumbo, talking about how people who are physically blind may not be blind to all things and other similarly faux-insightful yammerings. Between Robin and Aunt Meg, there are enough unsubtle blabberings to make me feel like I'm reading one of those calculated Books With Very Important Messages That Are Supposed To Change My Life, only this time it's more like The Cockeyed Prophecy here. But it's not enough, obviously, because there is also April, the other fount of sage blabberings to add to the mix.

The ghost aspect of the story is a little vague and is pushed to the background for far too long to make much of an impact on me. Likewise, the subject of family secrets turn out to be a storm in a teacup. A View Of The River spends more time on Rochelle and her relationships with Aunt Meg, April, and occasionally Birch, and I have to be very riveted in these aspects of the story to be emotionally invested in the story. Unfortunately, this book lacks subtlety too much for me when it comes to heavy-handed hammy Messages About Life, the romance is underdeveloped for me to care about, and the matter of family secrets is developed without urgency to the point that even the characters don't seem to care too much about them. A View Of The River is like a leaf on a river, ambling and floating with the flow without a specific direction at too many times, and my final impression of this book is that Rochelle deserves a better story than the one she's stuck with.

Rating: 64


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