Two Rivers by Naomi Williams

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Synopsis

The Low Country of South Carolina was a dark and dangerous place in the early days of the 20th century. Survival was serious business--especially for womenfolk forced to battle bravely against the age-old evils of poverty, ignorance, prejudice and parochialism so prevalent in the rural South in the days before the Great War.

But mere survival was not enough for Liza Marion Brown, the perky, precocious daughter of a hard-drinking bootlegger who dreams of a better life as a writer far beyond the murky swamps and scattered hamlets of the land between two rivers. The story of Liza's spirited struggle to break the bonds of stereotypical Southern womanhood is vividly portrayed in Naomi Williams' breathtaking first novel, Two Rivers, recipient of Harbor House's 2002 Golden Eye Literary Award.

Two Rivers flows through the reader's mind like a soft summer breeze--sweet and sensuous at times, brutally harsh and decadent at others. Set in the Low Country of South Carolina, Liza's spirit is reminiscent of such Southern women as Scarlett in Gone With the Wind and Rick Bragg's mother in All's Over but the Shoutin'. The scope of this powerful first novel ranges from Liza as a precocious, underprivileged child to Liza as a mature woman who has fought ignorance, bigotry and injustice as passionately as she has loved and suffered.

Threaded throughout the plot is an unforgettable cast:

* Nora, Liza's mother, who was ostracized from her plantation family when she married George Marion--fisherman, bootlegger, lover;

* Papa Gideon and Mama Minnie, Tom's parents--the father an uneducated but wise old philosopher; the mother, a shouting Baptist jealous of Liza who has stolen her beloved son.

* wily Uncle Joe, who cheated Liza's mother out of her birthright;

*Uncle John, the schoolmaster who opens up the world of books to Liza.

When a handsome young Anglican priest named Charles Westbrook saunters into the backwoods to take over a church, Liza's life is changed forever. In his presence, the budding, dark-eyed beauty finds the soul mate she never knew existed.

The minor characters are equally mesmerizing: Aunt Mae, the black "whisper woman" who can talk out fire but cannot save her son from the Ku Klux Klan; Birdie, a Cherokee half-breed who finds communion with The Great Spirit through her love of nature; Mattie, Liza's sister, who seduces the good husband but later becomes a Holiness preacher; and poor Jess, frustrated homosexual who commits suicide.

These are real people who vibrate with life as they seek meaning for their existence.

Central to all is Liza, beautiful and bewitching, who finds magic in the printed word and beauty in a wild violet or a quilt design, who abhors injustice and narrow-mindedness, who rejects fundamental religion, and who dares to travel the paths forbidden to women of her day. The story of her spirited struggle to break the bonds of stereotypical Southern womanhood will hold the reader in thrall in this bewigching land between two rivers.

Like Warren and Steinbeck, Williams writes luminously and sensuously about what it means to be human in a brooding, sometimes wistful, world. She raises profound questions about choice, fate and moral responsibility. her rhythmic river may seduce with graceful and hypnotic promise, but her characters travel fiercer paths to truth, pebbled with family secrets and rivalries, poverty, violence, loss and acceptance.

Two Rivers is such an eloquent blend of event, character and language that, by novel's end, we feel the journey has been ours.

 

About Naomi Williams

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Published October 1, 2002 by Harbor House (GA). 380 pages
Genres: Romance, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Liza's hardscrabble family life turns even rougher when her mother dies suddenly after a brief bout with breast cancer, and her father marries a feisty, cantankerous woman who fights constantly with Liza as the teenager tries to raise her siblings.

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