Sarah Tallentire is in a difficult position: she is the daughter of a wealthy strip-miner in Rivertown, and the man she is involved with is an avid environmentalist who opposes everything her father represents. Lance Glover–a hill-person who rose above his roots and became a local school teacher–has always been fascinated with her. Then, suddenly, Sarah and Lance find themselves a married couple, living under her father’s roof. Sarah never anticipates the anger roiling through the Rivertown community until the strip-miners dig up the bodies of two children whose parents wouldn’t give up their land. This callous event leads to a bitter conflict between the hill-people and miners, Yankee welfare workers and conservative local factions, and Lance and Sarah. As the battle heats up, Sarah finds herself being ripped to pieces–to whom must she be loyal? Her father . . . or her husband?
Rivertown is a disgusting, disgusting book. I wish I had put it down after the first few chapters.
What turns me against this book most effectively is Lance Glover, the supposed hero. It is impossible for me to like any romance novel where the hero is a rapist and an abuser. In the early chapters of Robert’s book, Lance takes Sarah on a “date” in the back country, just before the roads are conveniently washed away. Then, he rapes her in a cave, multiple times. It’s a big deal, of course, because she’s a virgin. But somehow, she likes it. Or she enters severe denial.
Then, Lance and her father push her into marriage, and she convinces herself that she loves her new spouse. Every step of the way, Lance exhibits the classic signs of being an abusive husband–yet we are supposed to sympathize with him?
The expectations of how men and women should behave have clearly changed a great deal since 1972. Sarah is given little to no choice about anything in her life. I won’t fault Sarah for being spineless. How can I blame a woman for being a confused and messed up when she’s been assaulted, forced into a fast-track marriage, and torn in different directions by her father and cousin on the one hand, and her [insert swear-word of choice] abusive husband on the other?
Another deeply distasteful aspect of the book is the potentially sweet romance between hill-person Jeannie, who is confined to a wheelchair and lives in terrible poverty, and the Polish, immigrant welfare-worker, Adam. Sarah expresses an understandable concern that when Adam moves on to his next assignment, Jeannie will be heart-broken. But then, it’s all ok–Adam will marry Jeannie after all. There’s no problem, you see, with her having a disability! Because Adam’s genitals were damaged by the Commies and he can never have (penetrative, or one gathers, any other kind of) sex! They are perfect for each other!
I am silently screaming as I type about this abomination. Why must Roberts deny the sexuality of people with spinal (or other) injuries? Why does Roberts have to castrate Adam in order to justify him and Jeannie falling in love and marrying?
As a palliative, I present this hot video of Ali and Blake in the music video “We Found Love” from the Glee Project. Ali is actually paralyzed (and had to learn to sing without being able to use her diaphragm!), yet the video beautifully shows her and her “beau’s” connection and chemistry.
The only good thing I can say for the book is that Roberts does develop Sarah somewhat, so that when it becomes necessary to do something, she is able to perform heroic acts with her father to solve the (transparent) mystery of “why-are-so-many-awful-things-are-being-done-at-the-mine-when-I-know-my-daddy’d-never-do-this-stuff!”
Rivertown is clearly hampered by the time period when it was written. In the past, I have put cautious “trigger warnings” on books that didn’t directly depict sexual assault. Rivertown, however, is explicit and graphic in its portrayal of rape. Three times.
All in all, Robert’s book is not sexy. The characters are despicable. The gothic/mystery aspects are not nearly good enough to justify reading it. After Black Horse Tavern, I had higher hopes for Roberts and her Pocket Goths. I hope her next book is better. After Rivertown, I would never read another book by her–if I didn’t already have them sitting on my “to review” shelf.