Towns Without Rivers

Towns Without Rivers

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by Michael Parker

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In his evocative new novel, Michael Parker explores the wild and boundless terrain of the human heart. Revisiting the small North Carolina town of his first novel, Hello Down There, he introduces a proud woman struggling to extricate herself from the haunted landscape of the past.

Released from jail where she served time for a murder she did not commit,

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In his evocative new novel, Michael Parker explores the wild and boundless terrain of the human heart. Revisiting the small North Carolina town of his first novel, Hello Down There, he introduces a proud woman struggling to extricate herself from the haunted landscape of the past.

Released from jail where she served time for a murder she did not commit, Eureka Speight sets her sights on escape. But to embark on her journey toward fulfillment, Reka realizes that her own triumphs may come at the expense of the brother she raised.

With subtle detail and sharp sensuality, Parker brilliantly illuminates the clash between family and the self, between the pain and desire for freedom and for love.

Editorial Reviews

Charlotte Observer
Parker displays the eye for subtle detail and nuance of character that has invited comparisons to Faulkner and Reynolds Price.
Library Journal
In this sequel to Parker's acclaimed debut, Hello Down There, dirt-poor siblings Reka (short for Eureka) and Randall Speight leave the family shack in Trent, NC, cross the country in search of themselves and each other, and finally wind up where they started. After doing time for a murder that she did not commit, Reka goes to Montana to sell books, where she finds love, loses it, finds it again in Seattle, and then ultimately leaves it in search of Randall. Meanwhile, Randall welds, hitchhikes, works as a nude model in Chicago, heads to Montana in search of his sister, and returns to Trent and a bout with insanity. At the end, Reka is pregnant, and Randall is pawing through paper scraps of the drawings made of him out in the yard as the shack burns maybe a hopeful new beginning, maybe not. The two characters are especially bonded, and both travel long ways literally and figuratively not a problem, though the book does begin and ends in medias res. In between, readers will encounter interesting characters, tons of plot, and evocative writing. This is from Daniel Woodrell territory, but without the hard, hard edge. Recommended. Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A large-scale, romantic sequel to Parker's debut novel, Hello Down There (1993), follows two siblings searching for each other across America as the 1960s begin. Previously, a wealthy, small-town southerner died of a morphine overdose and Reka Speight, his teenaged lover from the wrong side of the tracks, was accused, tried, and convicted of murder. Now, in 1959, Reka has just been released from prison. Desperate to better herself and flee her dead-end prospects at home in Trent, North Carolina, she pretends she's a college girl in order to get a job selling educational books in Montana. Her only regret is leaving behind her younger brother. Reka practically raised the naturally gifted, painfully innocent Randall, who was deeply involved in her earlier troubles. She extracts a promise from their illiterate, drunken father to give a note to Randall (away in Norfolk working in a shipyard) explaining how to contact her. For his own reasons, Daddy hides the note until an indelibly poignant scene in which Randall reads Reka's message while his father enjoys his first—and last—swim in the ocean. The rest of the story intertwines Reka's search for a new life with Randall's search for Reka. She is a quick-witted realist, a survivor who is also, on her own terms, a moralist. He is much more fragile: his unschooled brilliance, his childlike openness, and his imagination combine with his desperate loneliness to tragic effect. It is impossible not to love these characters. Although they make horrible choices with heartbreaking consequences, there are no villains. Everyone here, in however minor a role, is driven by a fully developed, nuanced complex of motivations; each works hard forwhatever scraps of happiness this dark yet emotionally generous novel allows. Parker takes southern gothic clichés and turns them on their heads: a powerfully original work.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.17(d)

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Chapter One

Listening to the coeds brag about how much money they planned to save in a summer of selling books out west, Reka Speight considered the phrase "freedom of speech." A right of all Americans, guaranteed by the Constitution according to the correspondence course in Civics she'd taken while serving time for injecting her lover with a lethal dose of morphine, yet who was ever free to speak as they wished? Sitting in the back of the classroom on a muggy morning in April 1959, pretending to be a college student, Reka felt doubly inhibited: Not only could she not say the things she thought, but she had to slave over the way her words sounded lest some niggling rhythm or swampy pronunciation reveal who she really was.

She'd had to teach herself to talk again. She spoke slowly since her release, and said little. The man she'd served five years in prison for killing had taught her a lot, but the most powerful idea that lingered from her brief time with him was the irrevocable power of words. With him it had been the words themselves, what damage they might do if allowed to convey what he really felt. In the years since his death, she had learned to disguise not only what she thought, but the pitch and timbre of those thoughts. Reka spoke with the halting precision of a traveler trying to pass as native in a foreign land. Some people thought her dim-witted, or at least speech impeded.

If she was to get this job — and she longed for it with a passion she'd not felt since Edwin's death — she would have to appear glib. Words were the only currency; if you could not talk yourway past a threshold, you would end up stranded and penniless in some windswept Nebraska town, said the man leading the information session. A representative for the McMillan Book Company, he had come to Greenville to recruit summer crews from among the coeds at the state university. Reka happened to be walking across campus — she spent her Saturdays in Greenville, reading in the university library — when she'd seen a flyer posted on a telephone pole. NEED MONEY FOR SCHOOL? EARN YOUR TUITION IN WEEKS WHILE TRAVELING IN THE WESTERN U.S. Because it combined two of her dreams — to go to college and to travel westward — Eureka found the classroom where the recruiting session was being held, and tried to pass herself off as a coed.

She was fortunate enough to look much younger than her twenty-five years, despite a life that should have wrinkled and toughened her skin, turned her hair limp and gray. Her hair was so inky black that strands of gray had already appeared in a vibrant afternoon light, but even if visible her face was so open and unblemished that graying hair seemed an anomaly. She'd been told by her co-workers at the laundry that she looked seventeen still, which made sense to her, as she was seventeen and a half when Edwin died, and her own life had hesitated for the five years she spent in prison and the two more sluggish ones since she'd returned to Trent.

The recruiter intimidated her, as did the perky girls clumped in groups around the classroom. After explaining how his company worked, and promising vast sums of money for a few hours of work each day, the recruiter asked each girl to take a stab at selling him a set of encyclopedias. He swore this was not a tryout — whoever wanted to could sign up, no one willing to work hard and see the scenery would be turned away — but Reka was skeptical. If everyone was welcome, why put the girls through such trouble? The others seemed to think it was a joke. They took it lightly, without the slightest show of nerves, but Reka felt on the verge of hyperventilating even when there were a dozen girls in front of her.

It wasn't what to say — she felt confident that she could talk her way into any stranger's house, for despite her silence she was adept at putting people at ease if need be. Reka did not want to reveal who she was — a high school dropout, a convicted felon, the daughter of a drugstore janitor and sometime farmer, a resident of that part of Trent bordering Johnsontown, where no respectable collegebound girl would set foot. She wanted to believe that she was as smart as anyone in the room, tried to convince herself that she was as smart as the recruiter, a sharply dressed man about her age named, incredibly, Bob Smart — but she'd learned all she knew from books, in silence, in the gloomy privacy of a prison cell. History, evolution, literature: ideas needed to be consummated, like passion, but she felt too much the unrequited lover, as she'd had no one to talk to about what she read save for Memory Wright, a wealthy lady who volunteered at the prison, and Edith Keane, the mother of the man she killed, who'd come to visit her faithfully during her entire sentence. Memory was so kindhearted that she didn't really count — she would talk to her purse, and accepted so guilelessly the abiding good in everyone that she would never pass judgment on someone because of how she talked. As for Edith Keane, Reka suspected she had never heard a word Reka had said in all their hours of tortured conversation. She wasn't there to listen, and she appeared so self-conscious about what she doubtlessly considered the charity of her visits that what passed between them could hardly be called conversation.

"How about you, in the back?" said Bob Smart. Reka looked up to see the room staring back at her corner, the girls twisted in their seats to see whom he'd chosen...

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Meet the Author

Michael Parker is the author of the novel Hello Down There a New York Times Notable Book and the short story collection The Geographical Cure, winner of the Sir Walter Raleigh Prize. Parker teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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Towns Without Rivers 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book shines. I loved it. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a very good book. the charecters are exellent and believable and the writing sparkles!!!! Michael Parker is a southern writer that deserves much attention . Read this book!!!!!