Monday, June 20, 2011

The River Within by Baxter Clare Trautman

Book:  The River Within
Author:  Baxter Clare Trautman
Publisher:  Baxter Clare Trautman at Smashwords

Books have the capacity to be amazing creatures, sapient beings, really.  It’s a quiet, unassuming presence that transcends the simple form of setting, theme, character, plot, conflict, and point of view.  It’s much like a subtle, veiled prophet that transforms the words, sentences, paragraphs, and even whole chapters into something more essential.  Books can speak loudly of things like “truth”, “frailty”, “loss”, and “resurrection”, even without a voice.

Books can be that.  Books can do that.  A lot of books, though, never utter more than a few words or stilted phrases. Thirty-six hours after reading the last sentence, The River Within is still whispering furiously in my ear, bullying my other thoughts, and trying to squeeze the last bit of breath out of my emotional control.

And I wish it would stop, maybe bake some cookies or do a load of laundry, because it is seriously making me want to start chain smoking Twizzlers.

Foreign Correspondent Greer Madison has spent thirty years doing what few men could ever do, but life in a never-ending war zone has started to lose its luster. While trying to prove that she’s still relevant, still capable, still in the game, she takes a young reporter on what will become a deadly trip into Iraq.

Returning back to the States to recover at the home of her best friends, Doug and Darlene Richardson, she finds that home isn’t quite what she remembered.  Darlene, a war advocate, is struggling with the oppressive guilt that her political beliefs led to her son’s enlistment into the Navy, and his ultimate death in country.  Distraught by his tragic, senseless end, she erects a series of impenetrable walls around herself and his memory.  Spiraling downward, she keeps the details of her son’s death from her husband and her daughter, and carefully plans a tragic quid pro quo to atone for her sins.  Doug, secretly blaming his wife, as well, turns to the bottle and another woman for the solace he can no longer find at home.

Kate, Doug and Darlene’s headstrong daughter, mourns for the loss of her family, and aches to find someone who understands her need to talk about her brother. She has a wonderful fiancé that is handsome, sweet, and beloved by her mother.  But, deep down, she knows she doesn’t really love him, at least not now, maybe in the future.   

Darlene is living a lie. Locking herself into Chris’ room to read and reread his letters from Iraq, she retreats further into self-loathing and desperation. Kate and Greer, meanwhile begin to form a relationship, open up about their mistakes, their failures, and ultimately their darkest secrets.  Darlene mistakes their intimacy for what it could be, and the resulting explosion rips through every barrier erected to keep them each safe.  The thing is, without the barriers, they find there is strength, forgiveness, and healing in their numbers.

Baxter Clare Trautman’s The River Within is a fine piece of contemporary literature.  There’s no mystery or intrigue, there’s very little romance, and the only action involves drinking tea, flashbacks, and swimming naked in a pool.  While Greer is a lesbian that has had a few relationships with men, and Kate is temporarily confused, this book isn’t the least bit lesbian-themed.  And, while there is a bit of sex, it’s all straight sex.  This is all as it should be, because the book isn’t about any of those things.

To be perfectly honest, though, there are a few dollops of juicy tension, and references to a handful of naughtily little escapades - in these, hope springs eternal.

The River Within is a tough book to read.  That’s not to say it’s a bad book – au contraire, it’s really a well-done, original story that is complex and rich with strong, complicated characters.  Characters that you find yourself liking and rooting for, in spite of the lies, the deceptions, and the bad judgements.

However, it’s the kind of book where you read for a while, set it down, and arrange your composure.  Maybe walk the dogs around the block, surf the Internet for a bit, look in the refrigerator, fold a few socks, then pick it back up.  You do this every few chapters, because your chest is aching, and the pressure on your emotions is about to send you into vapor lock.  You don’t want to be hearing these private conversations, but you can’t stop yourself.  It won’t stop talking to you.  You can’t turn it off.  

The River Within is a book about the secrets we keep inside, and having the courage to look deep, deep down and say to our self, “I don’t like you very much”.  It’s about doing something harder than we’ve ever done, about stopping our own madness, and opening up to the honesty.  It’s about taking those first tentative steps to make things right with our self, and with those whom our lives affect. 

I strongly suspect that not everyone will experience the visceral impact I have, and that's fine - stories and characters impact everyone a little differently. 

The River Within, Baxter Clare Trautman’s first foray into e-book self-publishing, gets a strong 5.1 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale. It’s a really good story that has left a big piece of me grieving for innocence lost, and because no matter how much we want it, we can never change the past; we can only alter our future.


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  2. hey, i read The River Within, and it is one hell of a book. it should be a genre crossing book and i hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

  3. Hey, Anonymous. I couldn't agree with you more.

  4. All well and good, but the book is being sold as lesfic and it obviously isn't! I started it, got to the straight sex and binned it. Mis sold!

  5. Anonymous - Thanks for taking the time to voice your opinion. The debate rages onward as to what the definition of 'lesfic' is. The view I hold can be roughly boiled down to "books and stories by lesbians, for lesbians, and/or about lesbians." In my humble opinion, "The River Within" is batting three for three under that definition. Many accomplished lesfic authors have written straight sex scenes into their books, usually as an important element of plot or character development. I believe that is the case here. While this book may fall into the lesfic category, it is about so much more than a girl-on-girl booty call.

  6. Dear Anonymous - ditto what Salem said about taking the time to respond. I appreciate that some readers keep "lesbian fiction" in a fairly small box. Apprently my box is a little larger as I've never found lesbian and heterosexual sex to be mutually exclusive. I'm sorry you found the straight sex scene so disturbing and wish you had been able to move past it, as you might have found "The River Within" of more lesbian interest than not. At least thanks for trying.

  7. Hi,
    I've been back to The River Within and tried to read it again after what has been said. Although the storylines are good, I just hate all the straight sex. I buy lesbian fiction because I am a lesbian.
    I agree that other authors have included straight sex in lesbian books. I no longer buy books by those authors.
    There are plenty of lesbian books out there these days, so I buy what I wish to read. I don't even need to have lesbian sex scenes in a book to enjoy it. But I certainly have no wish to read about heterosexual sex scenes throughout a book sold as lesbian fiction.

  8. Hi Anon - I completely respect your preferences, and I know that you're not alone in your feelings about what you like and don't like to read. We're in a wonderful place in Lesfic history, where we have more talented authors than ever, and more variety to choose from than ever imaginable, even 18 months ago. Read what you like, like what you read, and please don't hesitate to stop by TRR and share your discoveries.