Reviewed by Elizabetta
TITLE: Into This River I Drown
AUTHOR: T. J. Klune
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 400 pages
BLURB: At once an exploration of grief and faith, Into This River I Drown is one man’s journey into the secrets of his father and discovering the strength to believe in the impossible.
Five years ago, Benji Green lost his beloved father, Big Eddie, who drowned when his truck crashed into a river. All called it an accident, but Benji thought it more. However, even years later, he is buried deep in his grief, throwing himself into taking over Big Eddie’s convenience store in the small town of Roseland, Oregon. Surrounded by his mother and three aunts, he lives day by day, struggling to keep his head above water.
But Roseland is no ordinary place.
With ever-increasing dreams of his father’s death and waking visions of feathers on the surface of a river, Benji’s definition of reality is starting to bend. He thinks himself haunted, but whether by ghosts or memories, he can no longer tell. It’s not until the impossible happens and a man falls from the sky and leaves the burning imprint of wings on the ground that he begins to understand that the world around him is more mysterious than he could have possibly imagined. It’s also more dangerous, as forces beyond anyone’s control are descending on Roseland, revealing long hidden truths about friends, family, and the man named Calliel who Benji is finding he can no longer live without.
If anyone ever needed a protector, that would be Benji Green. He’s lost his best friend, his beloved father, Big Eddie, an almost bigger than life figure, in a car accident. Down a steep grade, his truck tumbled into a river where he then drowned in six feet of water. For five years Benji has been stuck, drifting. So steeped in his grieving that he has slowly shut himself off to the world. He holds onto his father by holding onto the pain of that loss, it acts as a conduit. At times the loss expressed here is so profound that I am struck by the author’s sensitivity, and, of course, pulled into the abyss.
But… with time, healthy grieving should help ease the pain. Eventually, Benji’s loss and his expression of it— a wallowing— becomes difficult to read. It seems there must be more going on here. This young boy becomes so limited, so self-centered, that he can’t find a way out of his grieving, and he seems on the precipice of becoming a danger to himself, even surrounded by the caring people of his hometown, Roseland.
“Sometimes I float along the river,
for its surface I am bound,
and sometimes stones done fill my pockets, oh lord
and it’s into this river I drown”
The thread that makes the story work is Benji’s belief that there is more to his father’s death, he can feel it. It’s the not knowing that holds him in limbo, haunted by dreams of the river and its pull, an effective analogy for his own drowning in the grief. It’s when the story follows this thread that we all get some relief. The car accident, never satisfactorily investigated, is the harbinger of deeper troubles in Roseland, a kind of every-town with its own secrets. The author weaves the tension of this mystery into Benji’s sleep-walking life, finally jarring him out of it. Triggered by a mysterious winged man falling to earth near the mile-77 marker of Big Eddie’s crash, there starts a sequence of events that unlock Benji’s misery and, really, leave you tied to the page.
There are chunks of achingly beautiful writing here: Benji recalling his earliest memory, at four-years-old, with his father gently pushing them around a merry-go-round while sharing a milkshake, and his father rubbing away the ‘brain-freeze’ on the top of his head; early teen-age memories of their rebuilding an old Ford pickup, or building a small house together; so many quiet shared moments between a young boy and his doting father. All illustrate the depth of Benji’s loss and, indeed, our own.
My little quibbles… I would have liked fewer over-drawn and repetitive passages which, for me, marred the shaping and flow and sometimes left a feeling of the over-dramatic, something I don’t think the author intended. The best writing is selective for the sake of the whole— a little goes a long way— and the breathing spaces allow us to ‘get it’ on our own.
There is a sweet, slowly unfolding romance here, too (though it seems that Benji is replacing a protective super father figure with a protective super lover). More important, I take away this message: to allow that leap of faith and look for the magical, to appreciate what we have in the here-and-now. This is a very moving story and one not soon forgotten.
Elizabetta is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.
To read all her reviews, click the link: ELIZABETTA’S REVIEWS