Saints at the River (Ron Rash)

There are two tragedies in this book, one of water and one of fire. The first opens the book (so be ready!) and the other is implied before it is finally explained at the start of the second part of this thoughtful and nuanced novel. Together, these tragedies tough everyone who comes near them, and they culminate in a scene by the river that has to be read to be believed.

I admire how Rash kept the conflict so balanced. He doesn’t take sides which is likely what makes much of that climactic river scene so powerful.
The book needed some of Maggie’s personal life because it raises the recurring question – Can we go home again? It also raises a related question – should we go home again?

I am not sure we needed quite so much of Maggie’s love life and some of the characters, admittedly minor character, are too one-dimensional – Wanda, Mama Tilson, etc. – but at least they serve a function.

Rash paints a vivid picture of the landscape. I feel like I’d know it if I saw it. And it’s important that he does so because as the title suggests, the center of the book is at the river. As for who the saints are? That’s up to you.

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.

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