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Reviewed by Francis Mont for Readers' Favorite
Of Ripeness & The River by Mary F. Burns tells the parallel stories of two women in alternating chapters with date headings. Mary Ferguson was the daughter of a wealthy banking family, happily married to a young carpenter. Her story is told from 1893, when she is expecting her first baby, and ends in 1950 when she is a grandmother. Throughout, she had been a prolific poet. Clare Yates is a professor of English Literature in the late summer of 1982, where her story plays out. The two women never meet, yet there is a deep connection between them. It initially manifests in a recurrent nightmare that Clare cannot explain and is brought to the forefront by a passage in a Jack London book that she finds strangely compelling. As Clare researches the meaning of that passage, she is reunited with a former lover, meets Mary’s daughter and granddaughter, and learns a great deal more about Jack London, whose letters and articles form one of the threads stitching their histories together.
The uncanny bond between the two protagonists is expressed through poetry, flashes of second sight, and The River. That symbolic River of Life, personified by three ordinary mid-western rivers, is the other thread binding these two very different women’s experiences into a single, coherent structure. Of Ripeness & the River has its share of human tragedy, of loss, death, war, sickness, and privation, but these events are related without sensationalism. Far more prevalent are smiles and hugs and acts of loving-kindness. I found both central characters and the secondary personalities credible, engaging, and sometimes unexpected. Mary F. Burns skillfully mirrors some element of each scene in the different settings; landscapes and interiors are described so deftly and concisely that moving between two worlds and time frames is as easy as walking from one room to another. The narrative voice is articulate and sensitive, adapting to each character’s time and personality while also being evocative and often lyrical. This novel has sorrow and pain, but nothing ugly, crude, mean, or cruel. Enter, gentle reader, without trepidation. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend Of Ripeness & The River by Mary F. Burns to connoisseurs of high-quality literary novels.