Like a persimmon or a cucumber left on the vine too long, this book is both nourishing and bitter. Lambert writes gorgeous prose. I read this book on the flow of those words and those images alone. The texture between her voices is superb. But I had a difficult time becoming engaged with the book and did not feel invited to be part of the stories until Half Boy, page 105. In some ways, I think this book was ambitious, almost to a fault.
The stories within this novel are sad and hard and brutal and frightening, and they are written in a way that erases boundaries of race and sexuality, so that they become human stories. This element of Lambert's writing made me continue to read. When I began the story of a woman born without legs who learns to swim from the manatees and then wraps her breasts to appear as a man, who drinks rum from a jar at night, but must behave as a lady at the table with her parents in the morning—this story made me go back and revisit some of the earlier parts of the book with fresh and more eager eyes. I was willing, then, to be confused and disoriented. To be charmed and swept along. To feel both the emotion of the writing and the powerlessness of the characters.
The river weaves the stories together but Lambert doesn't always allow the reader to become part of the flow. While I rarely want an author to spoon-feed me, I did feel that Lambert could have left better clues or shadows or crumbs to lead us along on the journey she intended.
This is beautiful writing, and there is gold to be dug. A reader with patience and a heart for seeing this beauty will be rewarded.
Sandra Gail Lambert's fiction and memoir have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies including New Letters, The Weekly Rumpus, Arts & Letters, and the North American Review. Excerpts of this, her debut novel, have won prizes from Big Fiction Magazine and the Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest. She lives in Gainsville, Florida, a home base for kayak trips to her beloved rivers and coastal marshes. Visit her website.
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