Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Follow the River by James A. Thom

Image from National Parks Service
Follow the River is the fictionalized story of the true tale of Pioneer woman Mary Draper Ingles who survived a raid on her village one sunny summer day by Shawnee Indians only to be kidnapped by the warriors, along with her sister in law, neighbor and two sons and one unborn daughter (she was 9 months pregnant). The Shawnee warriors take the captives all the way to Ohio where they continue to inflict torture on the captives. On the way there Mary gives birth on the forest floor, hops back on horseback, and keeps on trucking through the backwoods. Finally, right before winter Mary decides enough is enough and starts walking back to Virginia via the New River with a blanket, a dress and an old Dutch woman she thinks might be named Ghetel. Smart plan. Very well thought out. So, with almost 1,000 miles to go and the weather plummeting into the teens at night Mary begins the long walk back home by following the river.

Title: Follow the River
Author: James Alexander Thom
Publication Date: 1986
Pages: 406
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Where I got it: Used from Amazon
Dates I Read It: January 18 - January 21, 2013
Read it For: Book Club
Number of Stars: 3.5/5

I enjoyed this book. I hate to say it, but it really was a page turner. I had to know what was going to happen to ole' Mary. Even though I knew that she made it back home I had to know HOW she was going to do it because, honestly, I would never have thought she'd be able to. The story, though it is a fictionalized account of a true event, was very unbelievable and I think that Thom may have taken several liberties with his telling. The story seems almost fantastical and just when the worst is about to happen some kind of primitive trail magic appears for the two women and they are given a little boost to keep them going for the next hundred miles or so. Since there are no official records of what actually took place on the journey back, Thom had to use his imagination to fill in the gaps and the dialogue that happened on the trip. Many times in sleet and snow the women would cross the river up to their waists deep and how did they NOT get pneumonia or hypothermia and die? Towards the end of the novel Mary is literally naked having lost her shoes and dress to the elements and climbs a mountain in a snow storm. Though this is a true story, you do need to suspend your disbelief quite a bit and just go with the flow (pun intended). I read this book so quickly because I just honestly did not believe that they could survive a winter in the mountains with a blanket and each other only for warmth. The trials and tribulations that these two women experience is nothing short of remarkable, both the actual event and the story itself. The hardships and dangers and fears that they had to endure just to make it to freedom. Several times the women are driven mad with starvation and turn on each other. Mary had a husband to return home to, but what was Ghetel aiming for? The book is worth a read if for nothing else, just to gain an appreciation for modern advancements and for a warm home and clothes!

The characters were the most frustrating part of the book. I was so angry at Mary. Why in Hell would you choose right before Winter to try to escape and walk 1,000 miles in the mountains?! I know that it was a dangerous situation being a captive, but my God, woman, wait a few months and save yourself from almost freezing to death MANY times! Ghetel was a stubborn woman who only thought of how hungry she was and was a miserable traveling companion for both myself and Mary. Talk about gripping and moaning the WHOLE trip. Had I been Mary, I sure would have turned right around and left her with the Indians! Mary's husband was no better, he only half-assedly tried to ransom her back and failed miserably at that (Mary was able to ransom family members back after she had hauled her ass through the woods and almost died). She should have dumped him flat. She was the stronger of the two and he was driftwood. Upon being reunitd with her, he found himself disgusted at how emaciated she had become and was hung up on the fact that she had probably been "ruined" by the Indian men. This is after he watched her being kidnapped and ran for the hills basically saying "save yourself, woman!" She's sure got herself a real winner there. As I was reading, Mary continually reminded herself that she was making this awful journey to be reunited with him. She would have been better off becoming a Squaw. The only character I could tolerate was Mary's young son Tommy who braved the kidnapping, braved the captivity, showed some spunk, and eventually became a Shawnee Warrior high up on the totem pole.

The story is not the best writing one can hope for, but I didn't expect it to be. Whenever a character speaks dialogue, Thom writes it in what he believes would have been their "accent" (Mary is from Ireland and Ghetel is from Germany) sparing no typical lingo that would be expected. It can be difficult to decipher some of the phrases. The grammar is poor and Thom would have benefited greatly from an editor or two. However, with my many gripes about the book, I did enjoy it enough to give it 3.5 stars and I have told all of my friends and co-workers about the outrageous story of Mary Ingles and encouraged them all to read the book as well. The book is not for everyone, but if you're in the mood for a survivor story to top all survivor stories with a little bit of capricious storytelling mixed in, then this is the book for you!

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