Bridging the Sides of a Town in Crisis | Review of “The River Burns” by Trevor Ferguson (2014) Simon & Schuster Canada

I received a copy of this book via

Small communities are interesting microcosms when it comes to the issues and personalities that they have to deal with. Some residents are set in there ways, while others want change. Some are concerned with profit while others are concerned with deeper ethical matters. And when the community suffers a tragedy that has all sides pointing blame, flames are bound to erupt. That is the type of situation that Trevor Ferguson has documented in his novel The River Burns.

Page 94-95

Willis Howard never noticed himself being scrutinized. Across the street and few doors down, Tara-Anne Cogshill was seated upon a community bench. She took not of his arrival as the somewhat dowdy shopkeeper unlocked the front door to his shop, right on time. He wiped his feet before he took two steps back to cast a glance over the entire storefront, as though to confirm that the exterior trappings of his premises didn’t corrode overnight. He then stepped forward and wiped his feet a second time on the welcome mat – and wasn’t nice to live in a town, she considered, where a store’s mat could be left outside on the main street and not be stolen, the thief’s question being not Do I want it? but rather Why not steal what’s not nailed down? The door unlocked now and his feet well wiped, he continued to take time to evaluate the display window. Following this thorough deliberation, the shopkeeper seemed satisfied and the newcomer to town, half hidden behind a telephone pole, checked her smile. The fellow amused her, she allowed. She doubted that the presentation changed during a season, yet he still made a daily inspection under the suspicion that a few delinquent trinkets or curios might, in his absence, have spent the night carousing. When next he returned to the front door he wiped his feet yet a third time, removed the bundle of keys hanging from the lock, and entered.

Tara felt an affection for the man’s addiction to routine. As much as her amusement, that’s what initiated her smile. She herself didn’t suffer that gene.

Inside, he flipped the sing from CLOSED/FERME to OPEN/OUVERT.

Willis Howard was ready for business.

The book deals with the town of Wakefield and it’s historic, single-lane, covered bridge.  The towns folk are divided between those who want to keep the bridge as a tourist attraction and those who are frustrated with waiting to cross the bridge in order to go about their daily lives.

Page 20

Denny shuffled a stone around with his toe and munched an apple pinched from his lunch pail. He looked up as another logging truck, out of sight, geared down for the stop and the protracted wait.

He sneaked a deep breath of secondhand smoke.

Having shed his jacket, he was now feeling the heat of the sunlight on his bare forearms.

The driver of the last truck to arrive was another close pal, Andre Gervais, who came down the hill, swinging his arms high as he did whenever he walked down a slpe, as though he needed the motion to keep up with the momentum of his runaway hips, pulled along by his belly’s ample ballast. As he moved, the flesh on his face jiggled down into his jowls. He joined the trucker who were waiting for the bridge to clear – except it wasn’t clearing. A family stopped in the middle of the old covered bridge and the father was coaxing his kids from the car to gaze upon the rapids rushing below. The dad held up his youngest to spy the water above the half wall.

“Oh, pitch a tent, why don’t you?” Denny muttered, just loud enough for his pals to hear. Also waiting to cross from their side was a plumber’s van and a pair of sedans that appeared to be travelling in tandem. The drivers were out of their cars, gabbing, but neither smoked. To Denny they looked like men who’d never smoked, but he didn’t know why he thought that way or why the presumption made him feel indifferent to them. As though he’d never say hello unless they did first and probably they never would. Denny spoke so that couldn’t hear him, just his pals. “Play a round of mini-putt, for Pete’s sake. Cook up a barbecue while taking food out of the mouths of my kids.”

Ferguson has done a great job here by describing an element of small-town life. Strife occurs in these idyllic locales and he manages to cover all the facets of the arguments with perfect prose. But he also manages to describe elements of a small town that only a resident  would know and understand

Page 121

From this plateau, the Gatineau Hills concealed the horizon in all directions. No one could gauge a change in the weather with acuity,  although those who were preparing to play or settling into the stands to watch the game detected an electrical charge in the air. A languidness affected the motion of women whose slow, deep strides in the heat bore them along the dusty tire tracks up the hill to the plateau’s mown field, and affected the men as their arms arced through soft tosses, their gloves lazily sweeping the air for an easy catch. No player exerted himself for a ball slightly out of reach, no one drilled it, no one hustled, the air too humid, the day’s heat pervasive still. Breath felt difficult. Soon the sky would be ransacked by a cooling storm, although players and fans alike assumed that prior to matters becoming nasty they’d hear the approaching rumbles of thunder, spy a telltale black anvil cloud forming beyond the hills and so have to pack up and leave. With any luck the teams might sneak in five innings, enough to make the game count, and the boys would be back in the pub for a few cold ones before rain pelted down and violent wind and lightning chased them off.

The River Burns by Trevor Ferguson is an interesting novel about modern-day life in a small town. Ferguson’s words highlight not only personalities but also perfectly describe the situations.  A good book well worth the read.

Link to Trevor Ferguson’s Wikipedia page

Link to Simon & Shuster Canada’s page for The River Burns

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