After River

( 6 )

Overview

Before River, everything was perfect. . . .

Growing up on a Canadian dairy farm less than two miles from the American border, fifteen-year-old Natalie Ward knows little of the outside world. But her loving, close-knit family is the envy of young and old alike in the nearby town of Atwood. Natalie adores her three brothers—especially Boyer, the eldest, whom she idolizes. But everything changes one hot July afternoon in 1966 when a long-haired stranger appears at their door—a ...

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After River

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Overview

Before River, everything was perfect. . . .

Growing up on a Canadian dairy farm less than two miles from the American border, fifteen-year-old Natalie Ward knows little of the outside world. But her loving, close-knit family is the envy of young and old alike in the nearby town of Atwood. Natalie adores her three brothers—especially Boyer, the eldest, whom she idolizes. But everything changes one hot July afternoon in 1966 when a long-haired stranger appears at their door—a soft-spoken American, a Vietnam War resister, who will test the family's morals and beliefs, and set in motion catastrophic events that will shatter Natalie's relationships with those she most dearly loves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this debut from Canadian Milner, a nostalgia as "rich and sweet as... freshly churned butter" belies the lingering bitterness of family tragedy. Natalie Ward is a thrice-married writer forced by the imminent death of her mother to return to the town she left in shame at the age of 16. She recounts her golden childhood growing up on a busy farm "carved out of a narrow mountain valley deep in the Cascade Mountains." But when a handsome Vietnam War resister named River Jordon ambles up the family's dirt road in 1966 and offers his services as a farm hand, this innocent simplicity begins to curdle. The Ward family quickly falls in love with River, each finding some essential need filled by his gentle personality, but these bonds drag the family deep into tragedy. The frequent evocation of long-past shocking events is used to drive this story, but when those events are finally revealed they seem slightly artificial, and the author relies on clichéd notions of "the healing balm of letting go" to imply that in the end, though "life is messy... it all comes out in the wash." Despite these oversimplifications, this novel's solidly crafted settings and characters, blended with optimism, make it a charming if sometimes over-sugary read. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Adult/High School

This novel with multiple voices chronicles different points in a woman's life. The main narrative follows Natalie Ward, who leads a charmed life in Prince George, BC, during the 1960s. It is only a matter of time before reality interferes with the idyllic. The political uncertainty of the era comes knocking on her family's door in the form of a draft resister, Richard "River" Jordan. His resistance to the war in Vietnam causes tension on the Ward homestead. The plot moves somewhat predictably through Natalie's relationship with him, as well as her changing relationships with her brothers and parents as she moves toward adulthood. What begins as a vivid picture of the turbulence of the period devolves somewhat into a problem novel with a historical backdrop. The consequences of war, homosexuality, and early promiscuity are explored through Natalie's eyes, but the details seem almost trite. Teens might enjoy the depiction of Natalie's early life in the 1960s, but they may be turned off by other narrative threads, especially that of the adult Natalie, now grown and alienated from some of her family, dealing with her dying mother's illness. Milner's novel will appeal to teens who have raided their parents' shelves for psychological, plot-driven fiction by writers such as Sue Miller or Anita Shreve.-Caitlin Fralick, Ottawa Public Library, ON

Kirkus Reviews
In a debut that mixes hothouse melodrama with the eventual getting of wisdom, a Canadian farming family is shattered by the arrival of a charismatic draft dodger. What happened at the Ward farm during that summer of 1966, when American "River" Jordan (a Paul Newman look-alike) worked there, that ended up driving a deep wedge between mother Nettie and daughter Natalie, separating them for decades? Then again, what didn't happen? Milner's first novel initially evokes an idyll of remote rural life and a happy family, whose dynamic is completely rearranged by the inclusion of dope-smoking, free-thinking, kindhearted River. Narrated some three decades later by restless, exiled Natalie, heading home to see her mother (whose deathbed reveries also round out events), the story moves from a sunny small-town scenario to something far darker. Natalie "seduced" River one night, only to later find him in bed with her beloved eldest brother Boyer. River gets lost in the mountains and dies, and Natalie is raped by the creepy mayor who blackmails her into silence by threatening to expose the homosexuality (a crime in Canada until 1969). Nevertheless, abuse triggered by homophobia threatens the family; Boyer is horribly damaged in a fire that burns down his cabin; and Natalie finds herself pregnant and, after giving birth to a stillborn child, leaves town. In a tear-jerking, lengthy resolution, Natalie and her family put all the pieces back together as the narrative once again swings between the soapy and the sensitive. An intermittently heavy-handed parable of redemption.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061463013
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 729,398
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Jonas Milner lives with her husband in British Columbia. After River is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

After River
A Novel

Chapter One

He came on foot. Like a mirage, he rose in a shimmer of heat waves above the winding dirt road leading to our door. I watched him from the shadows of our enclosed porch.

I was fourteen on that hot July day in 1966, would be fifteen in less than a month. I leaned against the porch doorway and squinted into the sun while the last dregs of water drained from the wringer washer behind me. Outside, the week's laundry hung limp and motionless on the three clotheslines stretched across the yard.

Sheets, hurtfully white in the brilliant sunshine, created a backdrop for the orderly procession of our family's attire. Mom stood out on the wooden laundry platform, her mouth full of clothes pegs, her back to the road. She reached down and plucked a denim shirt from the wicker basket at her feet, snapped out the garment with a crack of wet fabric and pegged it to the line.

There was something different about my mother that day. On washdays she usually wore a kerchief tied in a rolled knot in the middle of her forehead. That afternoon, bobby pins and combs held up her hair. Wayward blonde locks and wispy tendrils escaped around her face and at the nape of her neck. But it was more than that. She was distracted, flushed even. I was certain she had applied a touch of Avon rouge to her cheeks. Earlier, she had caught me studying her face as she fed my brothers' jeans through the wringer.

'Oh, this heat,' she said, then pushed back her hair and tucked it behind her ears.

Her attention was not on the road though, as she hung the last load, and I saw him before she did. I watched as he camearound the bend by our bottom pasture. He crossed over the cattle guard, through the flickering shadows of poplar trees, and back into the naked glare of the day. He carried a large green duffel bag on one shoulder and a black object slung over the other. As he got closer I saw it was a guitar case bouncing against his back in the easy rhythm of his unhurried steps.

Hippie. It was a new word in my vocabulary. A foreign word. It meant oddly dressed young Americans marching beneath peace signs that urged, 'Make Love, Not War!' It meant Vietnam War protesters sticking flowers into the gun barrels of riot police. And it meant draft-dodgers. Some of whom, it was rumoured, were entering Canada through the border crossing a mile and a half south of our farm. Still they were nothing more than rumours.

Rumours, and the snowy images from the hit and miss television reception in our mountain valley. I'd never seen one in the flesh. Until now.

'What's wrong?' Mom's voice broke my trance. She stepped in from the laundry platform and handed me the empty basket. Before I could answer she turned to look down the road. As she did, our cow dog, Buddy, lifted his head, then bolted off the bottom porch step where he had been sleeping in the afternoon sun. The border collie leapt over the picket fence and raced past the barn, a blur of black and white, barking a belated warning.

'Buddy!' Mom called after him. But by then the long-haired stranger was kneeling in the dust on the road, murmuring quiet words to the growling dog. After a moment he stood and, with Buddy at his side, continued up to the yard. He smiled at us from the other side of the fence as the border collie licked his hand. Mom smiled back, smoothed her damp apron and started down the porch steps. I hesitated for only a moment before I put down the laundry basket and followed.We met him at the gate.

She was expecting him.

She wasn't expecting the heartache that would follow like a cold wind.

After River
A Novel
. Copyright © by Donna Milner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

After River
A Novel

Chapter One

He came on foot. Like a mirage, he rose in a shimmer of heat waves above the winding dirt road leading to our door. I watched him from the shadows of our enclosed porch.

I was fourteen on that hot July day in 1966, would be fifteen in less than a month. I leaned against the porch doorway and squinted into the sun while the last dregs of water drained from the wringer washer behind me. Outside, the week's laundry hung limp and motionless on the three clotheslines stretched across the yard.

Sheets, hurtfully white in the brilliant sunshine, created a backdrop for the orderly procession of our family's attire. Mom stood out on the wooden laundry platform, her mouth full of clothes pegs, her back to the road. She reached down and plucked a denim shirt from the wicker basket at her feet, snapped out the garment with a crack of wet fabric and pegged it to the line.

There was something different about my mother that day. On washdays she usually wore a kerchief tied in a rolled knot in the middle of her forehead. That afternoon, bobby pins and combs held up her hair. Wayward blonde locks and wispy tendrils escaped around her face and at the nape of her neck. But it was more than that. She was distracted, flushed even. I was certain she had applied a touch of Avon rouge to her cheeks. Earlier, she had caught me studying her face as she fed my brothers' jeans through the wringer.

'Oh, this heat,' she said, then pushed back her hair and tucked it behind her ears.

Her attention was not on the road though, as she hung the last load, and I saw him before she did. I watched as he camearound the bend by our bottom pasture. He crossed over the cattle guard, through the flickering shadows of poplar trees, and back into the naked glare of the day. He carried a large green duffel bag on one shoulder and a black object slung over the other. As he got closer I saw it was a guitar case bouncing against his back in the easy rhythm of his unhurried steps.

Hippie. It was a new word in my vocabulary. A foreign word. It meant oddly dressed young Americans marching beneath peace signs that urged, 'Make Love, Not War!' It meant Vietnam War protesters sticking flowers into the gun barrels of riot police. And it meant draft-dodgers. Some of whom, it was rumoured, were entering Canada through the border crossing a mile and a half south of our farm. Still they were nothing more than rumours.

Rumours, and the snowy images from the hit and miss television reception in our mountain valley. I'd never seen one in the flesh. Until now.

'What's wrong?' Mom's voice broke my trance. She stepped in from the laundry platform and handed me the empty basket. Before I could answer she turned to look down the road. As she did, our cow dog, Buddy, lifted his head, then bolted off the bottom porch step where he had been sleeping in the afternoon sun. The border collie leapt over the picket fence and raced past the barn, a blur of black and white, barking a belated warning.

'Buddy!' Mom called after him. But by then the long-haired stranger was kneeling in the dust on the road, murmuring quiet words to the growling dog. After a moment he stood and, with Buddy at his side, continued up to the yard. He smiled at us from the other side of the fence as the border collie licked his hand. Mom smiled back, smoothed her damp apron and started down the porch steps. I hesitated for only a moment before I put down the laundry basket and followed.We met him at the gate.

She was expecting him.

She wasn't expecting the heartache that would follow like a cold wind.

After River
A Novel
. Copyright © by Donna Milner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2011

    Wonderful

    Grabbed me from the very beginning. Highly recommend this book to those who enjoy reading about coming to terms with life and the past.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful

    I was captured from the moment I started reading. Milner keeps us in suspense about how this tight knit family is torn apart after River came into their lives. Throughout the novel, little nuggets are thrown to the reader which only entice you to continue reading. The characters are real, you feel their joy and pain and make you think how life can change with just one decision.
    I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys excellent writing, suspense and drama.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    Stunning Debut

    It's summer 1966 in British Columbia, a stone's throw from the U.S. border. Fifteen year old Natalie Ward, her parents -Nettie and Gus and her three brothers live on their dairy farm in a secluded valley. Natalie is happiest within the enclave of her family. Their lives seem idyllic, both to themselves and to their friends and neighbours. When the need for a new handyman arises, Nettie hires a young American draft dodger - River Jordan. 'She was expecting him. She wasn't expecting the heartache that would follow like a cold wind'. Milner's masterful use of foreshadowing throughout this novel is never overdone, rather it leaves the reader hungering to follow the story. We are tantalized by some future cataclysmic event, that will change the seemingly perfect lives of the Ward family. River Jordan's arrival seems to be the momentum that begins the change..... After River tells it's story flipping between the past and the present. We relive the past through Natalie and Nettie's memories. In the present it is 2003 and Nettie is dying from cancer. She needs to see Natalie before she dies. Natalie has been estranged from her family for over 25 years. 'The unnamed resentment I carried with me out the door the day I left. I carried it every day, like some animal clinging to my back that wouldn't let go because I kept petting it, stroking it, enjoying the perverse pleasure of letting it hang on'. What could have happened to this family to create such a rift? I will not spoil the book for future readers by detailing the events that lead up to this rift. Rather, I encourage you to experience this hauntingly beautiful book for yourself. Everyone will be able to relate to and reflect on the complexity of family relationships detailed in this amazing first novel. Milner's writing is quite simply, beautiful. 'My favourite memory is of my father and brothers working in the fields. I carry a mental picture of them drenched in the golden glow of the late summer sun. I keep this precious gem hidden deep in the dark closet of my mind, behind all of life's stored clutter. I take it out rarely, cautiously. Like a fragile object stored in opaque tissue, I unwrap it with slow trepidation. I turn it this way and that, trying to see more, to see beyond the faded edges of memory'. Milner was a real estate agent until her husband encouraged her to start writing. I'm very glad he did. 'Milner is an important new voice in Canadian literature.

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    Posted August 10, 2010

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