The River Beyond the World

Overview

Luisa Cantu is a girl from a Sierra Madre mountain village. After being impregnated in a fertility ritual of ancient ofigin, she leaves Mexico to work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas as a housemaid for Mrs. Eddie Hatch, a woman with a strong will and a narrow worldview. Their complex relationship-by turns mystical and pragmnatic, serious and comic-reveals the many ways human beings can wound one another, the nautre of love and sacrifice, and the possibility of forgiveness.

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Overview

Luisa Cantu is a girl from a Sierra Madre mountain village. After being impregnated in a fertility ritual of ancient ofigin, she leaves Mexico to work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas as a housemaid for Mrs. Eddie Hatch, a woman with a strong will and a narrow worldview. Their complex relationship-by turns mystical and pragmnatic, serious and comic-reveals the many ways human beings can wound one another, the nautre of love and sacrifice, and the possibility of forgiveness.

 

The River Beyond the World is a 1996 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Megan Harlan
"Miss Peery...luminates...on the mysteries of creation and lost, of forgiveness and love, of betrayal and what she calls the 'complex living heart of grace'." -- The New York Times Book Review
Richard Eder
"Lavishly written...Peery is charting the mutual need of two nations and two national characters....She does it with fictional grace." -- Los Angeles Times
Sharon Oard Warner
"Lush...a beautiful novel, richly evocative of time and place, ambitious in scope, and flawlessly written." -- Dallas Morning News
Kirkus Reviews
A lyrical, dramatic first novel, from the author of a well- received story collection (Alligator Dance, 1994), traces the passages and passions of women's lives with an ardent empathy that will remind many of the fiction of Barbara Kingsolver.

Peery's richly detailed story is set in Mexico and southwest Texas over the past 50 years. It begins with the rough journey toward womanhood of (María) Luisa Cantú, who grows up in the impoverished town of Salsipuedes, both victimized and shaped by her family's ill luck and her culture's self-denying religiosity. Later, when she's a young unmarried mother and again pregnant, Luisa is hired by Texas farmer Thomas Hatch and becomes maid to his arrogant, abrasive wife Edwina ("Eddie"). Both mistress and servant deliver babies soon thereafter, and their own fates and those of their children become forever entwined. Peery creates an eloquent contrast between the imperious Eddie, who'll live out her days regretting and atoning for the harm she can't stop causing, and the serene (though not servile) Luisa, who will keep for many years the secret "don Tomás" entrusts to her and will survive, in her fashion, the loss of loved ones and her realization that girlhood dreams dissolve in adult compromises and disappointments ("I thought I would be better than I am"). The novel is flawed by occasional sentimentality and infrequent intrusions of melodramatic contrivances (e.g., Vietnam, draft-dodging, and pot-smoking) that seem to betray a determination to make its episodes representative of the several eras it covers so capably. Other episodes, however—such as Eddie's confrontation with a gang of Mexican kids who claim her car has run one of them over—vibrate with energy and tension.

A strong story, peopled with credible, complex characters with whom we come, in some cases despite ourselves, to identify.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312169862
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/15/1997
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 612,700
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Peery is the author of the collection Alligator Dance, and her stories have been widely published. In addition to being a National Book Award Finalist, she has received an NEA Fellowship, the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Whiting Foundation Writer's Award, and her stories have been twice cited in Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize XVI and XVII. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Reading Group Guide

Set in the Texas/Mexico border country, a desert made lush through human will, The River Beyond the World spans nearly half a century in the lives of two very different women and their families.

After leaving her Sierra Madre village, Lusia Cantú finds work in the Texas border town of Rio Paradiso as a housemaid for Eddie Hatch, a woman of strong opinions and a narrow worldview. The two women begin an intimate battle of wills as Eddie asserts her place of privilege while Luisa, subtly but stubbornly, risking the loss of the spiritual power she knew as a girl, tries to assert her own. By turns mystical and mannered, comical and deeply affecting, the story of these to women moves through decades of change, until their complex relationship reaches a painful moment in which each must decide what matters and what can be forgiven.

Discussion Questions:
1. The title of the novel, The River Beyond the World, holds many meanings. What do you think Peery had in mind with the phrase, "Beyond the World?" Is it a religious reference to heaven, or does she refer to something much more material?

2. So much of this book concerns entrances and exits, death being balanced by life. What other themes balance each other throughout the story?

3. What advantage, if any, does Luisa gain by being submissive to Eddie throughout their relationship? Is it merely a question of remaining morally superior, of rebelling, or does she gain something more deeply valuable?

4. Besides the Texas/Mexico border, what other lines and boundaries exist in the novel? How do they deepen one's understanding of character?

5. Luisa originally leaves Mexico after being impregnated in a fertility ritual. By remaining in the Hatch household, away from her own culture, does her life grow more or less fertile?

6. The novel is told from three pints of view, Antonia's, Eddie's, and Luisa's. How does this storytelling method enrich the experience of the novel? What do we as readers learn from hearing the differences in these three voices?

7. It could be argued that place acts as a character in this novel. What sort of character would that be -- benevolent, malicious, mercurial, male or female? What other novels can you think of that use place in the same way?

8. What role, if any, does Antonia play in her mother's redemption? Are there any parallels with her own mother's adolescence?

Janet Peery, in her own words:
On the Origins of her novel:
"On trips to the Rio Grande valley for family visits, I began to notice the way the cultures mixed or failed to mix . . . it fascinated me and I began to ask questions about how it could happen and how it would feel. And I later learned that if there is any identification between me and the Luisa character, it comes from the years that I spent as a housewife."

On her two main characters, Eddie and Lusia:
"A difficult narrative task was treating a character [Eddie] who was so insensibly thoughtless and mean, giving her some kind of measure of humanity, and then with Luisa, not making her too good, giving her subversive methods, helping her find a way to keep her ego intact."

On writing her first novel:
"It was six years of turmoil and joy . . . One thing that was difficult to me, coming up in writing short stories, was learning to luxuriate in moments. So I just put this thing together the way I did, and now I think, "OK next time, I'm just not going to be afraid."

On what it means to be human:
"I don't think any real explicitness exists in human encounters. We aim for it. But there is so much beneath the surface that makes things not what they seem to be . . . If I have a message, it's that it's hard to be human. We go about it in such complex and often bumbling ways."

About the Author:
Janet Peery is the author of Alligator Dance, (forthcoming from Picador USA), and her stories have been widely published. In addition to being a National Book Award finalist, she has received an NEA Fellowship, the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Whiting Foundation Writer's Award, and her stories have been twice cited in Best American Short Stories, and the Pushcart Prize XVI and XVII. Ms Peery holds a B.A. in speech pathology and audiology, and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Wichita State University. The short story, "Nosotros," which was the inspiration for her novel, received the Pushcart Prize XVI and the Jeanne Charpiot Goodheart Prize. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia.

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