Every well-wrought sentence in The River by Starlight is as beautiful as the Henry David Thoreau inspired title. Author Ellen Notbohm has penned a breathlessly epic, masterful story set in early 1900’s Montana in language so lyrically elevated you’ll want to commit much of it to memory but will have to get back to it later—you’ll be too busy turning the pages.
The River by Starlight is a starkly humanistic story. It’s an historical novel intimately and engagingly written in present tense concerning the sweeping life story of dark-haired and diminutive Annie Rushton, whose young marriage is permanently marred by what might be the time’s inchoate perceptions of post-partum depression. There are repercussions to Annie’s malady that propel her to leave everything behind in her home state of Iowa and hop a train to join her bachelor brother in the wilds of homesteading Montana, where she risks starting a new life. Shouldering her heartbreak, Annie applies her headstrong, fierce independence to helping her brother prosper, so when charismatic businessman Adam Fielding, a colleague of her brother’s, enters her life, theirs is a relationship forged on mutual ambition, but as the years wear on, they become two desperate souls unwittingly tossed by the unpredictable storms of life.
Life’s choices come into play, in The River by Starlight. Though Annie and Adam begin with hope and the best intentions, there is only so much one can weather in hope’s defeat by repetitious wounds that won’t heal. Through the years, communication errors and individual judgement calls are made that usher in divergent aims, and all the while is the roiling concern of Annie’s mercurial sanity.
Resiliency, perseverance, love of one’s children, and where to appropriately place one’s pledge are threads that weave the tapestry of this thoroughly realized story, whose themes, I believe, are timeless and universal.
The River by Starlight is a book for the ages. In my mind, it stands with the classics. The novel’s voice and three-part pacing are seamlessly crafted; its tone and mood are deep and oftentimes heart wrenching, so much so that the reader can’t help but be lured by emotional investment in characters so viscerally drawn they come to life on the pages.
The River by Starlight is for those discerning readers who demand excellence in language, craft, and story. It is a plausible, finely researched, resonant book ultimately about the taming of the spirit, set in tumultuous, untamed times.