Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Review: Across the Endless River
Title: Across the Endless River
Author: Thad Carhart
# of Pages: 301
I received this book for free to review.
I did not finish reading this book.
Jean-Baptiste Chardonneau is the son of Sacajawea, the famed Native American scout that helped Lewis & Clark on their expedition across America to the Pacific Ocean. His father is a voyageur, and so Baptiste grows up straddling two worlds- that of the native tribes of America and that of the American culture in St. Louis. When Baptiste is 18, he gets the opportunity to leave the United States and travel to Europe to help a German duke catalog his collection of North American flora and fauna. He spends his time visiting high society in Paris and attending all the pursuits of the leisurely class. Over time, and through his interactions with the people around him, he comes to terms with his own identity and his place in the world.
This book really had the makings to be right up my alley! But sadly, it was not. I read about 100 pages of a 300 page book and felt like I was still in the prologue, waiting for the action to begin. Carhart starts the book with Baptiste's birth in 1805, and the first 60 pages or so of the book really don't do much but summarize the first 18 years of his life. I don't think this was necessary- we didn't learn much about Baptiste or any other character. Carhart's previous book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, is a work of non-fiction, and I think Carhart is probably more comfortable in that genre. He shares a lot of imagery and history and facts, but his characters are flat and impenetrable. Baptiste spends more of his time observing the world and people around him than actively engaging with them. I couldn't get a handle on his personality- what motivated him? What excited him? What intrigued him? I don't know. I think that if Carhart had made this a non-fiction account of Baptiste's life and travels in Europe, it would have been more successful. Unfortunately, in this case, fiction- which usually opens up the possibilities for enriching and embellishing a story- does not work as Baptiste's letters and journals are dry, and his conversations with people seem wooden and formulaic. While the novel has its finer points- lush descriptive passages and the author's clear love for history- it fell flat for me.