PUBLICATION DATE: April 6, 2012
he River Witch
he River Witchis an impressive debut novel by Kimberly Brock, full of emotion and atmosphere.
Rosalyn Byrne is a former dancer whose career has ended after she was injured in a car accident. When her pregnancy ends in tragedy, Rosalyn leaves her mother’s house, where she has been recuperating, and travels to a remote island in coastal Georgia. While her body needs to heal from her car accident, her spirit is in need of healing too– from losing her baby and the guilt over how she handled it.
Meanwhile, Damascus is a ten-year-old girl living on the island. She has lost her mother, and her father, Urey, isn’t sure how to handle her. The story alternates between these two narrators. As she adjusts to life on the island, Rosalyn strikes up relationships with Damascus, her aunt Ivy, and later, with Urey. She encounters a blind alligator and Nonnie, a woman who works at the island store and practices hoodoo, or “island magic,” which involves things like reading bones to tell people’s futures. In an attempt to help out Ivy, Rosalyn begins visiting Otis Greene, who lives at a nearby old folks’ home. Rosalyn learns various things from each of these characters whom she encounters on the island.
The novel is full of atmosphere–magical and Southern, almost a little creepy at times. Rosalyn enjoys listening to Sacred Harp music, sounds to which her grandmother introduced her years ago. She begins to realize that the songs are “universal in many ways.” You can hear anything in them “if you listen long enough.” In a way, Brock’s lyrical prose has a music of its own too.
As the story progresses, Rosalyn works out her feelings of guilt over her baby and reminisces about her Granny Byrne, with whom she was close. She even figures out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, now that her dancing career has ended.
Overall, The River Witch is a moving story full of emotional and beautiful writing.
The relationship between Rosalyn and Damascus is touching, and it’s easy to understand what Damascus is looking for. Rosalyn’s relationship with Urey is a little more difficult to grasp, but it’s written in a lovely way nonetheless.
The scenes between Rosalyn and Ivy depict a close friendship, but the dialogue seems overly long at times; when one person talks for multiple pages, it doesn’t seem all that genuine. Also, the plot in general is pretty slow-moving.
The theme of grace is repeatedly referenced throughout the story, and Rosalyn struggles with what she believes about God. She ends up explaining to Damascus, “”I believe what my Granny Byrne said. God is love and love is about changing, becoming something more.” “We can’t do anything but grab onto things while we can and try and squeeze something good out.”