Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Book Review: The River King

When writing my book reviews, I often like to look at the review quotes sprinkled on the front and back covers of books. (This is especially helpful if it's been a few days before finishing and reviewing, and I've forgotten all I had to say about the book when I first finished!) In this particular case, I like what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has to say about Alice Hoffman's The River King: "Graceful, beguiling, and quirky." Exactly.

The book starts and stops at the beginning (or perhaps that was me reading at bedtime and then falling asleep) but once the characters are straightened out, the story picks up and quickly becomes "beguiling." The setting is Haddan: the town itself and the exclusive prep school at the edge of town. This dynamic presents one major conflict. And then there are a variety of relationship conflicts: the unpopular student, the scholarship girl vs. the rich kids, the local law enforcement vs. the school administration, a local man vs. a teacher. All of these are satisfying and "beguiling" stories in and of themselves, but they all revolve around a body found in the river.

And with a body come ghosts—ghosts of the past and perhaps a real ghost, as well. After reading this book, I realized something about myself that surprised me a little: I love a bit of a ghost-story element. Perhaps that stems from my childhood habit of memorizing ghost stories to tell in the evenings to the neighborhood kids or from my teen years of reading great chunks of horror novels. Other books that have this same element of ghost are Beth Gutcheon's More Than You Know, Lisa See's Peony in Love, and Diana Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. All of these books have another common feature: all their authors are "graceful" writers. If you read my reviews regularly, you know that I love an author who takes joy in the craft of writing lyrically. And Hoffman does this well.

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