River of Hidden Dreams

Connie May Fowler, Author Putnam Publishing Group $22.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-399-13912-3

The power of stories and myths to shape our lives is the leitmotif of Fowler's second novel, as it was in her well-received Sugar Cage , but this novel lacks the vibrancy and distinctive narrative voice that made the earlier book so memorable. This is the chronicle of a troubled woman's journey to find herself, a voyage both emotional and physical. Like her grandmother and mother, Sadie Hunter shuns permanent emotional commitment, a family pattern that began when her grandmother repudiated her parents, Plains Indians who had been held captive in Florida, to live instead with a white woman who adopted her. An affair with a young black man resulted in the birth of a mulatto daughter, Sadie's mother. As ethnic outsiders, both women passed on to Sadie a need for independence and psychological distance. Pressured by her passionate Cuban lover to acknowledge her need for him, Sadie eventually travels the waterways from Key West to her native St. Augustine, and during the odyssey she begins to understand the meaning of her family legends. Central to the plot are a ``magic'' chicken named Miss Raison, the mummified body of a baby discovered in a floating casket, a visit from St. Christopher and a sacred white alligator with sapphire eyes. These visitations do not lift the story to a higher level, however; the bland narrative holds few surprises. Rhapsodic descriptions of Florida's natural landscape are welcome, but bad-tempered, mercurial Sadie and her stubborn forebears do not elicit the reader's sympathy or interest. Author tour. (Apr.)