The Beauty of Nature and the Dullness of Man
Review: Songs for a River
Fiction/Media - Stories
Knut House Press: pp. 241
Cost: $35.00 (full color edition)
$15.00 (black and white edition)
What really shines in Songs for a River are the eloquent descriptions of Washington State forests and communities, with beautiful watercolor illustrations and photographs to accompany them. Joseph McGahan and his wife Janet incorporate serene portraits of the local wildlife encountered in the novel using art techniques that the characters address. Photographs provided by Eugene Beckes function similarly in snapshots that fit with certain scenes in the novel. What makes these pictures stand out more so than a standard art featurette are the places they appear in the book: each image directly corresponds with an idea or statement within the chapter, enhancing the story through the imagery. This weaving of the written and visual make Songs for a River an effective lens that focuses on location, and overall increases the interaction the reader has with the story.
The interactions between these characters are what move the plot along, with the point of view switching between Miller and Constanza. Despite the unrequited lust between these two people, much of their characterization remains underdeveloped. The reader is aware of the conflicts each character must endure to keep the status quo, but there is nothing exceptionally unique to their journey or their motives for keeping mum until both have grown families of their own. Even Seri, who is viewed by the other characters as the most agreeable person of the group, is actually a weak-willed woman until the major crescendo of conflict that occurs almost toward the novel’s conclusion. Nigel’s change from a self-righteous artist to a more self-aware father-figure is reluctant but more apparent than those that McGahan forces the reader to spend thoughts with. As a result, it is difficult to feel anything, including sympathy, for these four people caught in emotional webbing.
Though dry and flavorless at times, Songs for a River is a culmination of human interactions, whether through the ebb and flow of relationships or how an individual perceives the natural world around them. The worlds of art and nature collide more so than any direct human-to-human relations, but perhaps that was McGahan’s ultimate goal. Coupled with the paintings and photographs, this novel reveals an intimate connection that can involve humans with the nature of the wilderness in ways that are unexpected, yet meaningful.