Ain't No River
Ain’t No River is a combination of sub-genres that normally would have me striding rapidly in the opposite direction: it’s an African-American inspirational romance. Yet reading this book reinforced my belief that sometimes it can be a rewarding experience to read something outside of my normal boundaries. It’s an engaging story of what happens when two troubled people leave the bright lights of the big city and return to their Tar Heel hometown.
DC lawyer Garvin Daniels has been handed a piece-of-garbage case no one else in the firm will handle. Then, when her manipulative boss arranges to have her put on administrative leave, Garvin gets a mysterious phone call from Jacks Creek, North Carolina, warning her that an attractive younger man is chasing after her grandmother. She has nothing else to do, so Garvin returns to Jacks Creek to save Meemaw from this gold digger, GoGo Walker.
GoGo is a former NFL star who left a wild life, and a long trail of women, behind him when he abruptly resigned from football. As a child he spent his summers in Jacks Creek with his grandparents, and now he’s tooling around in his flashy sports car, passing himself off as a “personal trainer” and charming the sweat socks off the old ladies in town. Garvin is not about to let Meemaw get fleeced, so she sets out on a mission to unmask GoGo for the fraud she believes he is. Of course, nothing is the way it appears, so Garvin’s in for a big surprise, and GoGo learns he can’t run from his past anymore.
This was an interesting couple. GoGo is not at all what Garvin thinks he is, and what he and Meemaw are really doing when they’re together is not what you’d expect. He’s walked away from a lot of fame and attention, and his adjustment to a new life is not an easy one. Garvin has lots of things on her mind, and at first she’s single-minded in pursuing them, refusing to hear what Meemaw is trying to tell her. She may be in small-town Jacks Creek, but her brain is still working in DC-lawyer mode.
And then there’s Miss Evangeline – Meemaw. Although her frame is slight, her spirit is strong. Over the summer, Garvin learns many surprising things about her grandmother, about the troubles she’s known and how she made it through difficult times, including the death of Garvin’s mother. She has an amazing amount of faith, and some of it can’t help but rub off on Garvin, in spite of the young woman’s best efforts to avoid it. Besides, Meemaw’s got a Powerful Ally in her mission to help her granddaughter! Everybody should have a Meemaw like Miss Evangeline.
Once I got into it, the book was amazingly easy to read. It has a wonderful conversational tone – Foster writes great, natural-sounding dialogue, throwing in just enough of the backcountry vernacular to make it sound real without being distracting or condescending. The secondary and even minor characters are engaging. I liked them all: Big Esther, who owns the beauty shop and is Garvin’s best friend in town; the ice-cream man Smitty, GoGo’s confidant; the regulars at the beauty shop; Monique, a troubled teen with a painful past and a shame she’s still living with. Even a fading town floozy and a pathetic crack addict are drawn with sympathy. I get the feeling that Foster has known all these people and has found at least a smidgen of good in each of them.
At times the text got a little too preachy for me, but it made sense in the context of the story, and the faith life of all these people is so intrinsic to their characters that I probably would have missed it if it hadn’t been there. Foster deals with more than religious belief as well, offering her perspective on the effects of racism on her characters without turning it into a political tract. While I enjoyed the book, however, the resolution of Garvin and GoGo’s relationship came a little too quickly for me. But please – don’t let this minor quibble keep you away from a different and interesting read. Even though the romance may get short shrift, there’s enough happening in the story to keep you going to the last page.