Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The River King, by Alice Hoffman

Good stuff. A novel about a town and a school, and subsequently about certain persons who cross lines to be in both places.

The town is Haddon and the school Haddon School. For various reasons, the townspeople do not embrace the school and there is a rift between the two that few cross. An incident at the school brings the two together in a way, an uneasy way.

Carlin Leander, a naturally beautiful scholarship student from Florida, attracts the attention of Gus (August) Pierce, a sloppy awkward freshman who has not yet met his family's expectations, on the train coming to the school. The two make an odd couple but they share characteristics that make them best friends. When the school's prize senior persuades Carlin to go out with him, the relationship between Carlin and Gus changes. These changes lead, in a way, to a horrific event.

Meanwhile, new photography teacher Betsy joins the school because she has almost unthinkingly become engaged to one of the teachers there. Like Carlin, she is an odd one out, beautiful in her way but not engaged to that beauty. She is forever getting lost in the small town and in more than one way takes her own path.

Abe, a police detective, meets Betsy, and the two share a moment of deep attraction. This attraction threatens to destroy Betsy's relationship with her fiance as well as the school, and she resists more than once. There is a push-pull nature to the hidden "romance", adding to the suspense that kept me reading.

I became easily attached myself, to all of these characters as well as to one of the side characters, another teacher, stricken ill. I was also intrigued by the swans that had been placed in the area behind the school, whose bad natures were legend. I wanted a little more of them, in fact.

The story has an odd twist - something sort of paranormal but not in the usual way. The melding of the natural with something else, accepted by some but not others. It seems to be a way to point up problems and to indicate when they are resolved.

Altogether I found it a satisfying book, beautifully and clearly written.

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