That Deep River Feeling
That Deep River Feeling is a brother’s best friend (with the brother in question being dead) Alaska-set romance that’s simple and easy to read, if a little unsubstantial.
Zeke Montgomery has arrived in Deep River, Alaska charged with a mission: his recently deceased friend and business partner, Cal, has left him a letter asking Zeke to care for Cal’s sister Morgan. Morgan is a West, part of the family that has historically owned the postage-stamp-sized town of Deep River. But Cal willed the town to his three army/business buddies, including Zeke. Morgan isn’t bothered by this, but what she is bothered by is the looming prospect of outsiders interested in Deep River’s most easily lucrative asset – oil. Preserving Deep River as a town and not simply a drilling site is her secondary job, after that of Village Public Safety Officer, something she describes as being “the Alaskan rural equivalent” of a police officer. She’s not overjoyed at the arrival of Zeke, who’s determined to fix her house and be otherwise useful, but they have an instant affinity for each other they can’t deny.
Zeke is famously forthright and tends to isolate, while Morgan is a self-described practitioner of “aggressive caregiving” who lives submerged in her community. They both, however, come from parents who judged them mercilessly and conveyed to them that who they were was undesirable. The song says all you need is love, but for Morgan and Zeke love specifically means kindness, and they get it at last from each other. They have a cute dynamic – he calls her “sunshine girl” and she calls him “bear”. Her interpretation of him as a large, grizzled herbivore is borne out by Zeke’s entertaining tendency to see her as positively appetizing: he adores her “apricot hair”, her personality with its “tartness, like an almost-ripe peach” and her scent of “sugar cookies”. Morgan, for all that she self-critically describes her caregiving as aggressive, is a real sweetheart, and Zeke has a sleeper talent for a romantic gesture (having a bath in the middle of the Alaska wilderness while eating chocolates and surrounded by candles is a new life goal for this reviewer).
The story has a sense of intimacy to it. The first twenty percent consists entirely of Zeke and Morgan on Morgan’s property and they don’t come into contact with another soul. When the story does move into town, it still stays low key. There are the protagonists from earlier books, and the requisite Cute Old Grumpy People, but there’s no deluge of characters and secondary storylines. The main external conflict is whether the town will become an oil town, but even that ultimately plays out in a very measured and reasonable way. While it’s a pleasant surprise how little predictable drama occurs, the downside is that it leaves a lingering feeling that nothing really happened.
The story’s real preoccupation is with emotion not action (perhaps hardly a surprise since ‘feeling’ is in the title). Morgan is determined that she can “heal” Zeke, but his emotional recovery comes not at Morgan’s hands, but through one of the town’s Cute Old Grumpy People, who dispenses wisdom of such incredible potency that it takes Zeke mere minutes to see the light after their conversation. This speed takes the healing from simply miraculous to vaguely ludicrous, and even Ashenden is aware of this fact, going so far as to call it out. “I gave you fifteen minutes to change your mind,” the Cute Old Grumpy Person says to Zeke, “and you took twenty”. Brevity is perhaps the book’s most significant shortcoming; not only is the third-act drama compressed, but the whole story is a little restricted at just under three-hundred pages.
All that said, I can confirm that the feelings evoked by That Deep River Feeling are by and large ones of pleasure, gentleness, and contentment, though the hasty conclusion and short page count prevent it from being as satisfying as it might have been.