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Where the River Ends

Where the River Ends

4.3 86
by Charles Martin

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A powerfully emotional and beautifully written story of heartbreaking loss and undying love

He was a fishing guide and struggling artist from a south George trailer park. She was the beautiful only child of South Carolina’s most powerful senator. Yet once Doss Michaels and Abigail Grace Coleman met by accident, they each felt they’d found


A powerfully emotional and beautifully written story of heartbreaking loss and undying love

He was a fishing guide and struggling artist from a south George trailer park. She was the beautiful only child of South Carolina’s most powerful senator. Yet once Doss Michaels and Abigail Grace Coleman met by accident, they each felt they’d found their true soul mate.

Ten years into their marriage, when Abbie faces a life-threatening illness, Doss battles it with her every step of the way. And when she makes a list of ten things she hopes to accomplish before she loses the fight for good, Doss is there, too, supporting her and making everything possible. Together they steal away in the middle of the night to embark upon a 130-mile trip down the St. Mary’s River—a voyage Doss promised Abbie in the early days of their courtship.

Where the River Ends
chronicles their love-filled, tragedy-tinged journey and a bond that transcends all.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Lovers of love stories, get ready to cry you a ‘River.’”„ŸUSA TODAY

“This tale is a pleasure to read because it eloquently pictures unquestioning, steadfast love.” „ŸFayetteville Observer
Publishers Weekly

In this sentimental story about a terminal cancer patient's demise, Martin (When Crickets Cry) examines the lengths to which a loving husband will go for his dying wife. Doss Michaels, a portrait painter with a "trailer trash" background, marries Charleston, S.C., debutante Abbie Eliot Coleman, raised primarily by her demanding U.S. senator father after her mother died of ovarian cancer when Abbie was two. A decade after Abbie and Doss's marriage, her father and stepmother will still have little to do with Doss. Abbie develops breast cancer that later metastasizes to her brain, and tensions rise when Abbie's parents want her to spend her last days with them. But Doss and Abbie, armed with Abbie's top 10 wish list and fistfuls of medication, begin a 129-mile river journey from the small town of Moniac, Ga., on the St. Mary River out to the ocean. Martin brings to life the varying flora and fauna of this often fraught journey, while he captures the singular atmosphere of life on a changeable river as it traverses through varying Georgian and Floridian terrain. In the tradition of Nicholas Sparks and Robert James Waller, Martin has fashioned a heartbreaking story. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A Southern writer who has been compared to Nicholas Sparks, Martin wrote his sixth novel after hearing of a man divorcing a wife dying of breast cancer. Doss Michaels, a fishing guide and part-time artist in Charleston, SC, is willing to face possible kidnapping and other serious charges generated by his disapproving father-in-law to fulfill his wife Abbie's last wishes for one more adventure together-a 130-mile trip down St. Mary's River. Filled with stereotypes (Abbie is the beautiful daughter of a Charleston senator who considers Doss trailer trash) and stretching credulity at times (a woman dying of cancer surviving even a day in a canoe), this story might win over readers nonetheless with its theme of husbandly devotion. The many nice ideas and images throughout, such as the use of the river journey as a metaphor for life, and Abbie and Doss's loving 14-year marriage chronicled in alternate chapters also compensate. Yet the abundance of nature/wildlife detail may detract from the story for some readers. But Abbie's top-ten wishes for her last year will make readers consider their own. Purchase where Martin is popular.
—Rebecca Kelm

Kirkus Reviews
Defying her powerful father, a husband honors his dying wife's wish for a wilderness canoe trip, in Christian-fiction author Martin's secular debut (When Crickets Cry, 2006, etc.). Doss Michaels, raised poor in a Georgia trailer park, is a starving art student working and living in a cold-water studio in Charleston, S.C. When he rescues supermodel Abbie, daughter of upper-crust Charlestonian Senator Coleman, from a boardwalk thug, she visits Doss's studio and makes him her personal gentrification project. Abbie and Doss, both 21, marry in a civil ceremony, alienating her father and stepmother. Abbie becomes a successful interior designer, eclipsing her father's fame, at least among Charleston's elite. Doss's decor-friendly paintings also take off. Abbie leads Doss on a grand world tour of museums where he's exposed to Renaissance work he'd only seen in art books. After ten years of marriage, while visiting New York City, the couple is horrified when a lump in Abbie's breast is discovered. Four years of "slash, poison and burn" cancer therapy leave Abbie a mutilated, desiccated remnant of her former self, but with her indomitable spirit intact. Sentenced to hospice, she urges Doss to take her down the St. Mary's River, where Doss once worked as a guide. Equipped with two canoes, one for supplies including a stolen cache of sophisticated opiates, they embark on Abbie's final to-do list: ride a merry-go-round, sip umbrella drinks on a beach, etc. They narrowly escape ambush by four psychopathic rednecks right out of Deliverance. Further downriver, after Doss and Abbie encounter a friendlier group of classic-rock-loving, beer-swilling biker types, the bad rednecks return to a desertedboathouse where the duo has sought shelter. In a sensationally off-putting scene, the thugs discuss whether to rape Abbie, and Doss, this time, can't intervene. Considerable longueurs result from much nature gazing on the river, and the least stereotypical character, Bob, a crop-dusting defrocked priest, appears too briefly. A gruesome ordeal unredeemed by wit or much drama. First Printing of 150,000

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Read an Excerpt

MAY 30

I climbed the final step into my studio, sniffed the dank fireplace and wondered how long it would take an errant flame to consume everything in here. Minutes I should think. Arms folded, I leaned against the wall and stared at all the eyes staring back at me. Abbie had tried so hard to make me believe. Even taken me halfway around the world. Introduced me to Rembrandt, poked me in the shoulder and said, "You can do that." So I had painted. Faces mostly. My mother had planted the seed that, years later, Abbie watered, nurtured and pruned. In truth, given a good flame and a tardy fire department, I stood to make more money on an insurance payout. Stacked around me in layered rows against the four walls lay more than three hundred dusty works--a decade's worth--all oil on canvas. Faces captured in moments speaking emotions known by hearts but spoken by few mouths. At one time, it had come so easily. So fluidly. I remember moments when I couldn't wait to get in here, when I couldn't hold it back, when I would paint on four canvases at once. Those all-nighters when I discovered Vesuvius in me.

The last decade of my life was staring back at me. Once hung with promise in studios across Charleston, paintings had slowly, one at a time, returned. Self-proclaimed art critics pontificating in local papers complained that my work "lacked originality," "was absent of heart" and my favorite, "was boring and devoid of artistic skill or understanding."

There's a reason the critics are called critics.

On the easel before me stretched a white canvas. Dusty, sun-faded and cracked. It was empty.

Like me.

I stepped through the window, along the side of the roof, and climbed the iron stairs to the crow's nest. I smelled the salt and looked out over the water. Somewhere a seagull squawked at me. The air was thick, dense and blanketed the city in quiet. The sky was clear, but it smelled like rain. The moon hung high and full, casting shadows on the water that lapped the concrete bulkhead a hundred feet away. The lights of Fort Sumpter sat glistening in the distance to the southeast. Before me, the Ashley and Cooper rivers ran into one. Most Charlestonians will tell you it is there that the two form the Atlantic Ocean. Sullivan's Island sat just north, along with the beach where we used to swim. I closed my eyes and listened for the echo of our laughter.

That'd been a while.

The "Holy City," with its competing steeples piercing the night sky, lay still behind me. Below me stretched my shadow. Cast upon the roof, it tugged at my pants leg, begging me backward and pulling me down. The ironwork that held me had been fashioned some fifty years ago by local legend Philip Simmons. Now in his nineties, his work had become the Charleston rave and was very much in demand. The crow's nest, having ridden out the storm, had come with the house. In the thirteen years we'd lived here, this nine square feet of perch had become the midnight platform from which I viewed the world. My singular and solitary escape.

My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I checked the screen and saw the Texas area code. "Hello?"

"Doss Michaels?"


"This is Anita Becker, assistant to Dr. Paul Virth."

"Yes?" My breathing was short. So much hung on her next few words.

She paused. "We wanted to call and . . ."--I knew it before she said it--". . . say that the oversight committee has met and decided on the parameters of the study. At this time, we're only accepting primary cases. Not secondary." The wind shifted and swiveled the squeaking vane. The rooster now pointed south. "Next year, if this study proceeds as we hope, we're planning on adding a study on secondary . . ." Either she faded off, or maybe I did. "We're sending a letter recommending Abbie for a study with Doctors Plist and Mackles out of Sloan-Kettering . . ."

"Thank you . . . very much." I closed the phone.

The problem with a Hail Mary pass is that it hangs in the air so long, and most are dropped in the end zone. That's why they invoke God.

Because it's impossible to begin with.

The phone rang a second time, but I let it ring. A minute passed and it rang again. I checked the faceplate. It read, "Dr. Ruddy."

"Hey, Ruddy."

"Doss." His voice was quiet. Subdued. I could see him, leaning over his desk, head resting in his hands. His chair squeaked. "The scan results are in. If you two could get around the speakerphone, thought maybe we'd talk through them."

His tone of voice told me enough. "Ruddy, she's sleeping. Finally. Did that most of yesterday. Maybe you could just give them to me." He read between the lines.

"I'm with you." A pause. "Umm . . . they're uhh . . ." He choked. Ruddy had been our lead doctor since the beginning. "Doss, I'm sorry."

We listened to each other listening to each other. "How long?"

"A week. Maybe two. Longer if you can keep her horizontal . . . and still."

I forced a laugh. "You know better than that."

A deep breath. "Yep."

I slid the phone back in my pocket and scratched my two-day stubble. My eyes stared out over the water, but my mind was a couple hundred miles away.

Empty-handed and lungs half full, I climbed down and back through the window. Running my fingers along the trim tacked to the wall, I crept down another flight. The staircase was narrow, made of twelve-inch-wide pine planks, which at nearly two hundred years old, creaked loudly--tapping out a story of age and the drunken pirates who once stumbled down them.

The sound lifted her eyelids, but I doubted she'd been asleep. Fighters don't sleep between rounds. A cross breeze slipped through the open windows and filtered across our room, raising goose bumps across her calves.

Footsteps sounded downstairs, so I crossed the room, closed the bedroom door and returned. I sat next to her, slid the fleece blanket over her legs and leaned back against the headboard. She whispered, "How long have I been asleep?"

I shrugged.


"Almost." While we could manage the pain with medication, we couldn't deter its debilitating effects. She would lie still, motionless for hours, fighting an inner battle in which I played helpless spectator. Then for reasons neither of us could explain, she'd experience moments--sometimes even days--of total lucidity, when the pain would relent and she was as normal as ever. Then with little warning, it would return and she'd begin her own private battle once again. It is there that you learn the difference between tired and fatigued. Sleep cures tired, but it has no effect on fatigued.
She smelled the air, catching the last remnants of aftershave that still hung in the air. I lifted the window. She raised an eyebrow. "He was here?"

I stared out over the water. "Yup."

"How'd that go?"

"About like normal."

"That good, huh? What is it this time?"

"He's"--I lifted both hands in the air making quotation marks with my fingers--" 'moving you.' "

She sat up. "Where?"

More quotation marks. " 'Home.' "

She shook her head and let out a deep breath that puffed up her cheeks like a blowfish. "For him, it's my mother all over again."

I shrugged.

"How'd you leave it?"

"I didn't. He did."


"He's sending over a team of people in the morning to . . . 'collect you.' "

"He sounds like he's taking out the trash." She pointed at the phone. "Give it to me. I don't care if he is four heartbeats from the President."

"Honey, I'm not letting him take you anywhere." I flicked a piece of paint off the windowsill.

She listened to the sound of footsteps downstairs. "Shift change?"

I nodded, watching a barge slowly putter up the Ashley.

"Don't tell me he talked to them, too."

"Oh, yeah. Really put everybody at ease. Basically read them the riot act disguised as an 'attaboy.' I just love the way he gives you what he wants you to have under the pretense of your best interest." I shook my head. "Sleight-of-hand manipulation."

She wrapped her leg around mine, using it as leverage to push her head up, allowing her eyes to meet mine. The once fit thighs now gave way to bony knees, thin veins and sticklike shins. Her left hipbone, the once voluptuous peak of the hourglass, pointed up through her gown, which hung loosely over the skin. After four years, her skin was nearly translucent--a faded sun-drenched canvas. Now it hung across her collarbone like a clothesline.

The shuffling downstairs faded into the kitchen. She stared at the floor. "They're good people. They do this every day. We've only got to do it once."

"Yeah . . . and once is enough."

Our bed was one of those old, four-poster, Southern things that Southern women go gaga over. Dark mahogany, it stood about four feet off the ground, was bookended by steps on either side and Lord help you if you rolled off it at night. There were two advantages: Abbie slept there, and when I laid on my side, my line of sight was above the windowsill, giving me a view of Charleston Harbor.
She stared out the window where all the world rolled out as a map, the green and red channel lights blinking back. Red right return. She slid her fingers into mine. "How's she look up there?"

I loosened the scarf and let it fall down across her shoulders. "Beautiful."

She rolled toward me, placed her head on my chest and ran her fingers inside my button-down where both my chest hairs grew. She shook her head. "You need to get your head examined."

"Funny. Your father just told me the same thing." I stared back out across the water, blindly running my finger along the outline of her ear and neck. A shrimp boat was working her way out to sea. "Actually, he's been telling you that for almost fourteen years."

"You'd think by now, I'd listen." The boom lights of the shrimp boat rolled slowly east to west, seeming to skim the ocean's surface as she reached the larger swells.

Her eyes lay sunken, the lids dark and dim, as if eye shadow had been tatooed in. "Promise me one thing," she said.

"I already did that."

"I'm being serious."

"Okay, but not if it involves your dad." She pressed thumb to index finger, snatched down and plucked out one of my chest hairs. "Hey"--I rubbed my chest--"it's not like I've got a surplus of those things."

Her fingers, like her legs, were long. Now that they were skinnier, they seemed even longer. She pointed in my face. "You finished?" She fingered a circle around the opening in my shirt. " 'Cause I see one more."

That's my Abbie. Thirty pounds lighter and still making jokes. And that right there is what I held to. That thing. That finger in the face--the one that threatened strength, promised humor and said "I love you more than me."

She scratched my chest and nodded at the picture of her father. "You think you two will ever talk?" I studied the picture. We had taken it last Easter as he christened his new darling, Reel Estate. He stood, broken bottle held by the neck, champagne dripping off the bow, white hair ruffled by the sea breeze. Under other circumstances, I would have liked him, and sometimes I think he would have liked me.

I glanced at his picture on her dresser. "Oh, I'm sure he'll talk."

"You two are more alike than you think."

"Please . . ."

"I'm serious."

She was right. "He still rubs me the wrong way."

"Well, me too, but he's still Daddy."

We laid in the darkness listening to the footsteps of well-intentioned and unwelcome strangers shuffling below us. "You'd think," I said, staring at the sound coming up through the floor, "they'd come up with a better name than 'hospice.' "

She rolled her eyes. "How's that?"

"It just sounds so . . ." I trailed off.

We sat awhile longer. "Did Ruddy call?"

I nodded.

"All three?"

I nodded again.

"No better?"

I shook my head.

"What about the guy at Harvard?"

"We talked yesterday. They're still a few months out from starting that trial."


I shook my head.

"What about the website?" Two years ago, we'd created a website for people with Abbie's condition. It had become a clearinghouse of information. We gleaned a lot from it. Got to know a lot of people who led us to a lot of really knowledgeable people. A great resource.


"Well, that just sucks."

"You took the words right out of my mouth."

Silence again, while she studied a fingernail absent of polish. Finally she looked at me. "Oregon?"

The Oregon Health & Science University, or OHSU, was on the cutting edge of developing some new systemic therapy that targeted cancer at the cellular level. Real front-lines stuff. We'd been in contact with them for several months, hoping for some sort of clinical trial in which we could participate. Yesterday, they had established the parameters for the trial. Because her disease had moved out of her organ of origination, Abbie didn't qualify. I shook my head.

"Can they make an exception?"

I shook my head a second time.

"Did you ask?"

It had taken so much. And yet, all I could do was sit back and watch. While I held her hand, fed her soup, bathed her or combed her hair, it had no quit. No matter what you threw at it.

I wanted to take it back. Wanted to kill it. Slice it into a thousand painful pieces, then stamp it into the earth, grind it into nothing and eradicate its scent from the planet. But it didn't get here because it was stupid. It never shows its face and it's hard to kill something you can't see.


"And M. D. Anderson in Houston?" I didn't answer. She asked again.

I managed a whisper. "They called and . . . they're still two, maybe three, weeks from a decision. The uhh"--I snapped my fingers--"oversight committee couldn't meet for some reason. Some of the doctors were on vacation . . ." Looking away, I shook my head.

She rolled her eyes. "Another holding pattern."

I nodded. A single piece of yellow legal paper lay folded in thirds on the bedside table. Abbie's handwriting shone through, covering the entire page. Beneath it sat a blank envelope. A silver Parker ballpoint pen rested at ten o'clock and served as a paperweight.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

CHARLES MARTIN is the author of six novels. He and his family live in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Where the River Ends 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was enjoyable...it centered around life experience... The circumstance was believable, the characters seemed real, the journey was a true commitment of love.
wendywr More than 1 year ago
Another great book by Charles Martin.... Enjoyed the story. As always he makes you feel an intense tenderness for his characters... although I felt the river portion went a little long, he is a great storygteller. If you're new to Charles Martin, try Wrapped in Rain and When Crickets Cry; these are my favorites.
am2155 More than 1 year ago
there is so much to say and much more to think about when u read this book. it took me 3 days to finish this book and good amount of tears , like they promise on the cover , it cannot be more real. its awesome breaking heart and every piece of ur body and soul , just by thinking about what they been through, and there is people that going through this in real life everyday, there is so much that i would like to add , but its hard , i would remember this book for a long time as a AWESOME READ!!! EVERYBODY MUST READ IT!!! hope u will like it.
Templehog More than 1 year ago
It never ceases to amaze me the quality of writing produced from this author. Read all of Martins' books. You won't be dissappointed. Trust me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I own all of this authors books and all are wonderful. This book was pure joy to read and I will be looking for more books in the future. This is a book I would recommend to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was a little slow moving and hard to believe but when it got to the end it all made sense and had so much wisdom in it. I keep thinking of all the phrases in it which were so meaningful. So I guess I could say,' Wow he has done it again' and I am looking forward to the next book. I am still trying to paddle out of my black hole from my husband's death and the phrase that got me was 'this is our last good-bye but not our last hello.' Please keep the books coming.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unbelievable! Emotions are described so vividly that one gets swept into the story. Tears, laughter, anger, frustration...all are communicated brilliantly. Once again, Charles Martin, shows the true value of a person beyond their outward appearance, status, and wealth.
JFromke More than 1 year ago
When I finished the last page of this book, I closed my eyes and felt . . . complete. It’s not that he tied every tiny item up too perfectly, it’s just that my experience of the story was everything I needed as a reader. There is a wholeness at the end of the story. When you read about all the brokenness throughout, you feel it, and you’re filled with the longing and hope and struggles of the characters. So when Mr. Martin ends the story, he somehow managed to achieve wholeness in the midst of the broken. Does that make sense? How does he do it? Martin’s writing leaves me breathless at times, and stunned at others. This story traces the last days of a woman’s life and paints the portrait of a man who loved his wife with everything he had. Martin writes about men who act like real men should. They take responsibility for their actions, admit their flaws, and love sacrificially, while hitting rock bottom at times and making colossal mistakes at others. He writes male characters rooted in difficulty, who find hope in unlikely places. I want to read stories about people mucking through the difficulties of life, who stick to their guns, stake their lives on what they think is important, and win or lose, come through the experience holding on to something true. We see throughout this story, the love of a man for a woman. But what’s beautiful about the whole thing, is how she loves him back. I promise this does not give away the story. While you might disagree on the surface, there is nothing boring about a married couple who loves each other, especially in Where the River Ends. Who says we need abject depravity for something to be interesting? Challenging? Beautiful? Seems like all the good movies/stories deal with relationships before the marriage and leading up to the wedding. But any good love story continues long after the wedding day. Why can’t we have more stories about “staying married?” Isn’t that what people dream of when they say “I Do” anyway? Read Charles Martin. Tell me what you think. You won’t be disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story of unconditional love between a husband(Doss) and his wife(Abby).They have faced everything together. Everything from parental interference and hatred,to cancer, chemotherapy, double mastectomy, and impending death. Abby has a list of top ten wishes for the year and during her last days, she and Doss set out to fulfill these wishes. And it all starts with a trip along the St. Mary's River. My favorite characters in Charles Martin's books are the quirky secondary characters. And this book is no exception. Bob Porter, an ex-priest and airplane pilot has a lot more to offer Doss and Abby than they would ever imagine. I have had three family members(dad, uncle, cousin)and a good friend succumb to cancer in a five month period and I thank Mr. Martin for his honest portrayal of cancer victims and of those who love them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To date, I have read all of his books, and he just keeps getting better and better. Superbly written, full of compassion, insight, and honesty, Charles Martin is truly an outstanding writer. His descriptives make you feel that you are there. Living in North Florida, I especially enjoy his info. on the geography and history of the area.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in two sittings at the beach. With all the interesting things to do at the beach, I just couldn't stop reading Martin's latest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Here is yet another reason that Charles Martin is my favorite author. He writes so clearly that you can picture his characters and what they are doing and what they are feeling. His main character in this book is another of his very likeable guys that you would treasure as a friend. For me, Charles cannot write books fast enough!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I start a Charles Martin novel, the kleenex stay near. This book was set-up to be sad from the first chapter but all through there was currents of hope, love, sweet memories. A view of these with anger at some uglier sides of humans. Loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again Charles Martin does not disappoint with 'Where the River Ends'. He is indeed an artist with words as he leads the reader on an unforgettable journey of laughter, determination, and unfailing love. His character development is amazing. I feel as if Doss and Abbie are dear friends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got in the boat during the Prologue, rode it with laughter, joy, and tears to the end of the Acknowledgements. Charles Martin's gift for writing never ceases to amaze me. For days after finishing his books the characters stay with me. This one is no exception. The last sentence of the acknowledgements fully expressed what I felt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great,sweet, sad love story. Couldn't put it down.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Light and dark joy and pain up and down. These are Gods gift to us. It is better fo us to pass through sorrow that we might know the happiness of eternal life. This book encompassed all of these.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is both heart breaking and heart warming at the same time. It delves into some very serious matters; child loss, infertility, adoption struggles and guilt. Read with your tissues close by.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where the river ends had a different impact than most of his other novels. Dont get me wrong, I enjoy all of Martin's novels,but this one gave me a longer head-scratcher mentality post ending. I for one get spoiled with happy endings and consequently, miss out on deeper, more meaningful learning points, and possible life truths. But this book delivered a happy ending in a different form. It reminds me of the common phrase "love hurts". Love is suppose to hurt at times, especially when you lose someone you love. The kicker is why would anyone want to forsake that love? I know the temtation for anyone in Doss's position would be to try to get over their lost loved one, but when you think about it, thats a pretty selfish way of thinking. Its those memories that keep you alive and breathing. Its the glue that holds you together, and will eventually bring joy and laughter to your spirit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago