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Monday, December 29, 2008

Where the River Ends

A couple of months ago, I picked up the latest novel from Charles Martin called Where the River Ends. I’ve never read any of his books, but this one really caught my attention. It’s a love story that seems to be cut from the Nicholas Sparks school of story-telling, in that it’s about a husband who is is trying to help his wife, who is dying of cancer, to accomplish the things she most wants to do before she dies.

As I read the introduction the other day, I knew that I would eventually read every novel Martin has ever written. Let me show you why. The introduction depicts a mother talking to her ten-year-old son (who grows up to be the man in the love story). Their life is chaotic because she’s with the wrong man (not the boy’s father), but she feels trapped for financial reasons. One day, she’s looking for a way to encourage her son about the future as they sit on a bench next to a river. She knows he has a talent for painting, so that’s what she targets:
“People come to this river for lots of reasons. Some of us are hiding, some of us are escaping, some of us are looking for a little peace and quiet, maybe trying to forget, anything to ease the pain we carry, but . . . we all come thirsty.” She pushed the hair out of my eyes. “You’re a lot like this river. In your fingertips, you got what people need. So don’t hold it back. Don’t dam it up. And don’t muddy it.” She flipped my hand over and spread her palm against mine. “Let it flow out, and one day you’ll find that people from all over will dive in and drink deeply.”
Imagine how different the world would be if everybody received such encouragement at a young age. I think the woman did more than just encourage her son to paint though. She also gave him a lesson in studying humanity. If he were to paint a picture of a man sitting by the river, he would paint him differently after thinking about what his mother said, depending upon why the man came to the river. If the man was there to hide, he might be under a tree. If he was there to escape, he might appear to be lost in some little detail—like a fish jumping out of the water. If he was there for peace and quiet, he might be lying on his back in the grass with his hands behind his head. Understanding motivation adds layers to art.

And that’s what Martin has done in this wonderful introduction. I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the book because I’m only in chapter one, but I still have a feeling that I’m going to end up owning every book Martin has ever written.


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