For thirty years Foreign Correspondent Greer Madison has competed brilliantly in a man’s world. But the hardships of a life spent reporting from war zones have caught up to her and she returns to the States to recuperate at the home of her best friend, Darlene Richardson. Darlene has secrets of her own and for the first time in their thirty-year friendship keeps Greer at a distance. Kate, Darlene’s spontaneous, willful daughter is desperate to bring her struggling family together after the death of her brother, Chris.
The bonds the three women share are strained, reforged, and ultimately strengthened as they struggle to choose between the lives they think they should have and the lives they want. But first they must choose whether to stay on the safety of the known shore or to dive into the uncharted but healing waters of The River Within.
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THE SNAP OF a bullet over her left shoulder. A puff in the sun-baked wall. The sting of concrete ripping her cheek. She bolts, aiming for the ruined wall. If she can get to where it’s crumbled within a few feet of the ground, she can vault it. But Greer Madison is no athlete. She prepares for a graceless landing amid rebar and cinder block.
She pistons and scissors, her neck long and stretched, like the Iraqi policeman left dangling from the Karbala bridge. On her right is the broad expanse of dirt street where the shots come from. Where the round with her name on it may be slicing through the air even as she thinks it. The wall tumbles from eight feet to six. Four. As she gathers to leap, the toe of her boot snags the broken concrete and she falls. The pain in her knee is hot and queasy-making. She stands but the knee doesn’t hold. Her eyes record detail as she falls—a plastic bag skipping down the road; a comet-tailed smear on the wall; old bullet pocks. She wonders if the bullets slammed into the wall clean or gored. She lands in dirt that smells like eons of piss. Dragging her leg like a rotten log, she crawls through the rubble of an earlier skirmish.
She considers dropping, playing dead.
Never, she decides.
And in those eternal seconds playing out in the Mesopotamian dust, the forever sun burning her back, blood from her palms slaking the perpetually thirsting land, Greer knows without knowing how this moment is fated. It has been perfectly writ and scripted, waiting only for her to pass through it. If this is the moment she dies, nothing can stay the hands of the gods. If it is not the moment, nothing can move them. She crawls on her good knee, that much closer to the ruined wall. She anticipates the bullet with her name on it but is unafraid.
Until she sees Sigbrith running toward her, hunched over and reaching to help.
Greer screams, “Get back!”
A mortar explodes. Sig freezes, staring behind Greer.
“Get down, goddamn it!”
She motions for Sig to flatten but fear has petrified the young woman. Greer is maybe ten feet from her. She hates leaving the little cover she has but rises to launch herself at Sig, to drag her down into the cover of the rubble—
Greer turned to the stewardess.
“Are you all right? Do you need help?”
She looked around the empty plane. “No.”
She stood and collected her bag from the overhead bin. The motion caused a sick ache in her head, and she leaned against the bulwark a moment to let the pounding ease.
“Are you sure I can’t get you some help?”
“I’m fine,” she told the hovering stewardess. “Thanks.”
Greer deplaned and squinted into a bloody sunset. A line of taxies waited at the curb, and she settled in the closest one. Cabbies were high on her list of favorite people to talk to but she was grateful this one asked for no more than the address. She concentrated on familiar exit signs—Mission Street, State, Cabrillo, the famous Santa Barbara beaches.
The taxi swerved, and Greer instinctively slid to the floor, curled in a knot for the impending blast. The car straightened and slowed.
The driver twisted and peered at her. “Okay, Señora?”
Sure, she thought, crawling back onto her seat. Muy bueno. Everyone goes fetal when their taxi swerves.
Her adrenaline ebbed as the cab turned off the highway and wound into the foothills, up through coiled lanes interred in dusk and shade. She shivered and asked the driver to turn the heat on.
“Si, si,” he said, blasting tepid air.
She focused on the Thomas Kinkade homes rolling by. Even the shabbiest tear-down cost a million bucks, and she wondered what Hassan would have thought. A shard of memory caught her eye, a morning nearly twenty years gone, in a fly-bound, pissed-upon Peshawar bazaar.
Their gazes trailing after a beautiful, childless woman, Hassan had shrugged. “Vanity flowers but it doesn’t bear fruit.”
She had laughed. “Sometimes the flower is sweet but the fruit poison.”
Hassan. Greer rubbed at her eyes. Now there was a story.
Good translators required an articulate understanding of the languages they worked with, had to be willing to translate honestly, without bias, and be personable enough that people wanted to talk to them. In addition, they had to have the pluck and stamina to stick with a story no matter how nasty it got.
Inherited from a retiring BBC correspondent, Hassan Rahman had come with all that plus humor, patience, and an endless store of quotable maxims. He had saved her from warlords, thugs, and land mines. Most importantly he had saved Greer from herself.
Between Afghani assignments with Hassan she had covered Libya, Chernobyl, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and Pakistan. Over the years she would interview Barbak Karmal, Benazir Bhutto, Mikhail Gorbachev, even Saddam Hussein. She was in Berlin when the Wall fell and the Cold War thawed. She immortalized her stellar reputation by covering the first Gulf War live from a hotel in Baghdad. After that she hopscotched from crisis to crisis—Bosnia, Chechnya, Gaza, Kurdistan, Kosovo. In 1999 she was offered the job of Middle East Bureau Chief. It was the ultimate goal for a newsman, but after considering for less than twenty-four hours she declined the post.
Many times later—cold, wet, under fire—she’d regret her hasty decision, yet was still convinced that if she had traded action for analysis she’d have been long dead either from cirrhosis or a gin-induced car wreck. She was a war whore, a smoke jumper. Covering crises was all she knew.
She tried to think what Hassan would have advised now that she was pushing fifty and nursing her third concussion. Which platitude would he have offered with a shrug and gap-toothed grin? She pinched her eyes shut, as if that could squeeze out her last memory of him, body swollen and mottled, flies swarming the black nub where his tongue had been.
“As hard to avoid,” she could hear him say, “as a lion in your blanket.”
She opened her eyes to the passing view, taking in the verdant lawns pocked with oranges and lemons in the deep, bruising shade; purpling bougainvilleas and lantana hedges, each flower a miniature bomb blast; roses blooming crimson wounds and vines scrabbling over rock walls bearing flowers as violet as corpses.
The cab slowed. Greer recognized the tall wood fence covered in ivy, the top of the bone white house gleaming beyond.
“I take you up,” he offered.
“No. Aqui bueno.”
The cabbie shrugged, and she tipped him handsomely. He jumped out to carry her battered duffel bag but she waved him off.
Greer considered the driveway curving behind a line of broad oaks. Not all land mines were in war zones. One waited just up the drive, a potent explosive that could rip apart a very old friendship. After a moment she picked up her bag. With a slight limp, she made her way slowly up the Richardson’s drive.
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Title: The River Within
Author: Baxter Clare Trautman
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink
Date: March 13 2014
Reading this book gives you a sense of relationship, one that you can’t wait to get home to read and snuggle with. Characters so rich in feeling and a story that takes you on a journey of angst, love and transformation. Also impressive, is the setting in which the journalist’s character evolved from. A must read!! Pass it on!!
It is a poignant journey into the hearts and minds of a group of people who are grieving, for different reasons and in different ways, and by doing so are each cutting themselves off from those who might help them.
I was amazed by how much I loved this book; I’m not normally one to enjoy something with so much pathos, but this story engaged me from the first page and refused to let me go. The characters are all accessible, even when behaving in a manner that made me what to smack them, and carefully crafted and drawn to create a bond between them and the reader. Baxter Clare Trautman has done an amazing job in creating a story that walks the fine line between hope and despair, growth and stagnation, and I believe that almost anyone would take something great from this story.
One thing I particularly liked is that such a variety of people are included in the story. Greer is a self-described lesbian; Katie’s best friend Anthony is gay; Darlene and Doug has distinctly different, but compatible, personalities. We never actually meet Christopher, but get to know him through his letters home, which are sprinkled throughout the book and which provide us a very accurate portrayal of his personality and how it has changed through his time in the Middle East.
This is a book about facing the demons that haunt you, owning your short comings and coming to terms with who you are and what it will take for you to become who you want to be. Trautman has a gift for descriptive verse, her words suck you in, create vivid imagery, and often leave you wondering, wanting. A great read about love, loss and enduring friendship!
The River Within is a well written story about discovering who you are and being true to yourself instead of trying to please others. It is a bit heavy with the flashbacks from the war zones and the grief of a family who lost their son and brother. This is also not a love story and most of the sex scenes in the book are heterosexual in nature. Overall this is good book though and I would recommend it to others.
This will definitely be a book I will revisit often. I am familiar with Baxter Clare’s other work in the series about homicide detective La Franco.
I will be looking for more works by the wonderful author.
Other Books by Baxter Clare
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