|'The Patience of Rivers'
the Woodstock Generation comes of age
by Mary Greene
The River Reporter, Feb. 27 Mar. 5, 2003
A "coming of age" novel usually has several elements. A young person falls in love after discovering what love is not. He or she learns that different paths will lead to different ends and finds out what truth means, the hard way. These elements are all present in Joseph Freda's new novel, "The Patience of Rivers" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). But Freda's novel has several other, very special elements. The first is that it takes place in fictitious Delaware Ford, right near Callicoon, during the "Summer of the Perpetual Buzz" 1969. Which means all you baby boomers and righteous Woodstock Generation members out there this is not just any coming of age story. This is our coming of age story.
Another element that sets "The Patience of Rivers" apart is the voice of 18-year-old Nick Lauria, the novel's young hero. Nick is employed, along with best friend Charlie Miles, at his parents' campground along the Delaware River. They spend their days maintaining the campgrounds, helping hapless city folk negotiate the wilds and congregating evenings in bars or outdoors with friends. Nick is smitten with the youngest of the wealthy and somewhat mysterious Van Vooren sisters. He and Charlie compete in love, and in canoe races, spending much satisfying time together training on the river. And, there are rumors of a tremendous rock concert to take place nearby.
This may be paradise, but a dark undercurrent is brought into the landscape by letters from a classmate fighting in Vietnam. And, there is an ominous mystery taking shape around the doings of the Laurias' business partner, Ted Miles (father of Charlie), a man more gone than present, who shows up at odd times and inappropriately takes cash from the till. But what is he really stealing and what has he already stolen?
At the heart of the novel is Kit, Nick's mother, a hard-bitten and tough horsewoman with a tender heart, who reads the pulse of events more accurately than her husband. You may recognize her in the aisles of Agway, critically appraising the price of farm boots and grain. She struggles to maintain her faith and good humor in the face of dubious odds, and in the end catapults the book toward its climax with her valiant, if foolhardy, actions.
Readers will enjoy the local towns and landmarks that populate "The Patience of Rivers" and they will also recognize Nick's Delaware, a force that is more than it seems. The Delaware's deceptive look of calm and treacherous depths, flooding from the incessant rain that fell that summer, has its own wisdom to impart on young Nick, providing a very real sense of responsibility, challenge, adventure and, finally, understanding.
"The Patience of Rivers" is a wild ride, a fun read in the very best sense, and it is also much more, anchored by Nick's hard-won battle to keep his center in the midst of tempting and turbulent times. This book remembers and illuminates the specific icons of the late 60s and how they reflected experience. It was a time of purple haze and confusing questions about sex. It was a time when the rules were suspended, when the guidebook for growing up was being rewritten. It was a crossroads for many, marked by a scary edge. What if you went too far? Where would you fall? And of course, there was the Woodstock that always seemed about to happen, rock music underscored with a sense of joyful chaos, togetherness, abandon, and possibility.
"The Patience of Rivers" is a book to give to our children, the new generation of rebels and dreamers, and say, "Here, here is how it was for me."
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