cover image The River

The River

Helen Humphreys. ECW (PGW/Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $22.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-77041-255-2

In this unassuming but quietly affecting work, poet and novelist Humphreys (whose novel Afterimage won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize) examines the small portion of the Napanee River that runs near her cabin in eastern Ontario. Her mission%E2%80%94"to write about nature as it was, not as I wished it to be"%E2%80%94takes her on a remarkable journey into the worlds of the creatures whose lives intersect with this waterway. Serene in appearance, Humphrey's river is infused with danger, violence, and loss, home to treacherous whirlpools, fish-eating water snakes, and cast-off human belongings. In the past, the river attracted frog hunters and fishers; others came here to kill the herons whose feathers were once prized as adornments for women's hats. Humphreys artfully mixes vignettes about these individuals with historical research, archival photos, and artwork to show the many ways people have made use of the river and tried to tame it. Her own firsthand observations from years as a riverside resident focus more on the river's flora and fauna and its irrepressible wildness. Humphrey's spare and meditative text is perfectly complemented by Tama Baldwin's luminous, painterly photographs. Like the river itself, this work holds wonders below the surface for anyone willing to take the plunge. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates (Apr.)