‘Whisper of the River’: stumbling across an old friend

Sometimes it happens in a bar or on a city street or maybe in a country far away, but there’s little that’s as simultaneously dangerously new and horrifyingly déjà vu as suddenly stumbling across an old friend. They’re the same as they were and yet they’re not, and during all the capsulized updates about everything the two of you have done “since then,” the mind struggles to understand just who this old friend is at this moment.

Now, suppose this old friend is a book, in my case, one that’s sat on my shelf almost unobserved for 36 years.

Ferrol Sams, the Georgia doctor who suddenly appeared in bookstores and the press in the 1980s when he published his first novel at 60, writes in richly detailed prose that accurately captures a depression-era age far away. He’s best known for his somewhat autobiographical Porter Osborn trilogy Run with the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, and When All The World Was Young.

Looking for something to read last night, I pulled The Whisper of the River off the shelf last night and thought about the positive impact his trilogy had on me when I first read the books. I wondered if I’d be disappointed and decide after a few chapters that the book hadn’t aged well.

But I’m enjoying the book. That’s a relief almost even though I’ve changed and the book has not.

Publisher’s Description: Young for his class and small for his age, Porter Osborne, Jr., leaves his rural Georgia home in 1938 to meet the world at Willingham University, armed with the knowledge that he has been “Raised Right” in the best Baptist tradition. What happens over the next four years will challenge the things he holds infallible: his faith, his heritage, and his parents’ omniscience. As we follow Porter’s college career, full of outrageous pranks and ribald humor, we sense a quiet, constant flow toward maturity. Peppered with memorable characters and resonant with details of place and time, The Whisper of the River is filled with the richness of spirit that makes great fiction.

Quotation: “If she hears anything, it’s tambourines, and nobody can march to them. You can’t do anything but dance to tambourines, and the likes of us will never catch the rhythm.”

Even though I’ve inadvertently started in the middle of the trilogy, I think I’ll stick with the book and then read the two others soon afterwards. I expect they’ll also be as good as I remember them.

Malcolm

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