A Book Review, With an Assignment

This is a guest post written by the brilliant woman behind Arcane Matters. If you would like to write a guest post let me know!

In The Heart of the Canyon
Elisabeth Hyde

I am a big, big fan of those adventures-gone-wrong movies, like River Wild and such, so I was naturally drawn to In The Heart of the Canyon.

With apologies to the late great Estelle Getty, picture this: A rag-tag group of adventure seekers and three experienced guides spend two weeks on three rafts risking life and limb as the careen through white water rapids. There is a family of four; a mother and her sarcastic high school daughter; a single man looking for some river action; an elderly couple back for something like their twentieth (and last) river run trip; an annoying picture-taking know-it-all boor and his suffering wife and, finally, a brainy and quiet college professor. Then there’s the guides: JT, who is leading his 125th run; Dixie and Abo. Oh, the possibilities! The personality clashes; the chance for madness and mayhem and mischief. I started this book with such high hopes.

I finished the book pretty quickly, but not because it was un-putdownable, mainly because I was hoping to getting closer to What Goes Wrong. The entire book, I waited for a bunch of jewel thieves to show up and hijack the boats, taking all as prisoners. Or for the group to take a hike and get stranded in a deep dark cave. Or for a maniacal escaped-from-jail serial killer to stalk the group. But this book is much more subtle that that. The traumas are more emotional than physical, and the lion’s share of the action is of the internal variety. Instead of thieves and scary caves and marauders, we are dealing with even scarier things: crumbling marriages; broken hearts; facing the end of life; dealing with Alzheimer’s; being an overweight teenager in a viscous high school world. Scary stuff, indeed.

The writing is not nearly sublime enough to be of the literary variety, but isn’t fluffy enough to be a guilty pleasure either. It exists somewhere in the middle. Some of the river-running details and descriptions of this Grand Canyon read at times like a Wikipedia entry. And all that skipping between characters forced m to consult the front-of-the-book character guide on more than one occasion. What kept me reading was the promise of something going wrong.

Perhaps it was wrong for me to assume that a river adventure must include massive mayhem, but that is what I wanted. Mayhem never really ensued, but there is a little twist, a shocker of a storyline that I suspect the author wanted to take us by surprise, to make our jaws drop open and our minds race with thoughts of “Now what?!” The thing is, though, I figured out what the twist was in the very beginning of the book, and the many, many dropped hints scattered throughout only supported my early conclusion and made the writing seem contrived. Those hints stuck out like sore thumbs, and it all felt so cheap. Am I especially astute? Or is the writing especially flawed? You decide, and if you do read it, tell me exactly the page you figured out the shocking twist. I have a feeling it was probably very early in the book.