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The Patience of Rivers
review by Dan Wickett

Emerging Writers Network review #15

With "The Patience of Rivers," Joseph Freda has put it all together. The story of the summer of 1969 in the Upper Delaware Valley in New York and the Lauria family captures the setting, place and characters perfectly, vividly drawing a landscape of farms and campgrounds and the river that cuts through it all. Those who recall the era will certainly recognize the language and attitudes, both of the young and their elder two generations.

The story that Freda tells is compelling, that of the Lauria family and their business, as well as that of the country in general at that anxious time of Vietnam. It is specifically a coming-of-age story about Nick, during the summer prior to his freshman year in college. The fact that the family farm is only minutes away from the farm that would host Woodstock in August only adds to the plot. "The Patience of Rivers" even contains a slight bit of mystery that while foreshadowed well, still offers a bit of surprise near the end. Once I began reading, I was only able to put the book down once and couldn't stop thinking about it, even after picking it up again and finishing it.

The Lauria family is co-owner of a campground with former neighbor Ted Miles. Ted is a go-getter from day one – always out looking for funding to bring in more business, develop a larger business, take over other campgrounds, etc. He's rarely around – stopping by only to show Francis the latest and greatest new deal he's found to 'save' them tons of money. The Laurias by contrast are much less communicative, and are happy with the business as it is able to sustain them and allow them to save for college for their three children – Nick is the oldest of the three. Ted's son Charlie is Nick's best friend, spending each of his summers at the campground.

Nick and Charlie are canoe racers, and it is obvious that this is a passion of Freda's, or else he's done fabulous research. His descriptions of the two of them gliding through the water is both detailed and economical, a great combination. He is technical enough to allow a reader to visualize their movements, without getting into an instructional level of writing. The scenes were enough to make me want to find a lake with canoe rentals sometime soon.

Nick's parents, Francis and Kit, have seemingly fallen into a comfort level of not needing to communicate their feelings and needs to each other, however Freda allows small signs to develop into full explanation throughout the story of their problems in these areas. Nick does his best to just get out of the way and enjoy what he feels is his final summer before adulthood. Major American issues from that era are covered through Nick and Charlie, as they turn eighteen and have to register for the draft; Nick gets letters from a friend who is in Vietnam, which both explain the nation's situation and allow Nick to contemplate his life and potential for having to go and what he would do; Woodstock is coming and the boys plan on attending; and Freda even includes a scene where the two and some others watch the moon landing while at the town bar.

Nick comes across as a more common version of an American eighteen year old during that era than is usually written of. He's undecided on many things – the war and school as well as his future in general. He is also searching for love, and not diving into the free love process. Most authors go all out in one direction or the other – creating overly conservative (though this is rare) or ultra-hippies. Freda has chosen a more difficult path in my opinion – writing about the majority, those who didn't completely rebel against their parents, community and country, but did have long hair, did smoke pot and more, did look for sex, and questioned their parents, community and country.

While taking on this challenge, he has come up with a great setting with the campground and the farming community surrounding it. He's also allowed the other characters to fulfill the need of having the complete hippies, the pro-government-no-matter-what crowd, and they are all fully developed and consistent. Freda has also come up with a story that makes the reader not want to stop turning pages – what is Ted Miles up to? Will Nick find love? What is going on with Francis and Kit? It all wraps up extremely nicely – not every scenario is as most readers might wish as they read through, but that's life. It all does fit together well without feeling forced at all. Freda has given his readers no reason not to like his novel, and plenty of reasons to make sure they read it.

5 stars

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