The River Wife

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2008-05-27
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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From acclaimed novelist Jonis Agee, whomThe New York Times Book Reviewcalled "a gifted poet of that dark lushness in the heart of the American landscape,"The River Wifeis a sweeping, panoramic story that ranges from the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 through the Civil War to the bootlegging days of the 1930s. When the earthquake brings Annie Lark's Missouri house down on top of her, she finds herself pinned under the massive roof beam, facing certain death. Rescued by French fur trapper Jacques Ducharme, Annie learns to love the strong, brooding man and resolves to live out her days as his "River Wife." More than a century later, in 1930, Hedie Rails comes to Jacques' Landing to marry Clement Ducharme, a direct descendant of the fur trapper and river pirate, and the young couple begin their life together in the very house Jacques built for Annie so long ago. When, night after late night, mysterious phone calls take Clement from their home, a pregnant Hedie finds comfort in Annie's leather-bound journals. But as she reads of the sinister dealings and horrendous misunderstandings that spelled out tragedy for the rescued bride, Hedie fears that her own life is paralleling Annie's, and that history is repeating itself with Jacques' kin. Among the family's papers, Hedie encounters three other strong-willed women who helped shape Jacques Ducharme's lifeOmah, the freed slave who took her place beside him as a river raider; his second wife, Laura, who loved money more than the man she married; and Laura and Jacques' daughter, Maddie, a fiery beauty with a nearly uncontrollable appetite for love. Their stories, together with Annie's, weave a haunting tale of this mysterious, seductive, and ultimately dangerous man, a man whose hand stretched over generations of women at a bend in the river where fate and desire collide. The River Wiferichly evokes the nineteenth-century South at a time when lives changed with the turn of a card or the flash of a knife. Jonis Agee vividly portrays a lineage of love and heartbreak, passion and deceit, as each river wife comes to discover that blind devotion cannot keep the truth at bay, nor the past from haunting the present. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Jonis Agee is an award-winning author whose novels include the New York Times Notable Books Sweet Eyes and Strange Angels. A native of Nebraska, Agee spent most of her childhood summers in Missouri near Lake of the Ozarks. She taught for many years at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After a long absence, she returned to Nebraska, where she lives north of Omaha on an acreage along the Missouri River and teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter 1 HER NARROW IRON BED, WITH ITS LOVELY WHITE SCROLLWORKA LUXURY somehow accorded a girl of sixteen though her father was against it from the beginningslid back and forth behind the partition as if they were on the river, the roar so loud it was like a thousand beasts from the apocalypse set loose upon the land, just as her father had predicted. Then the partition hastily erected for her privacy crashed to the floor. The cabin walls shook so, her bed heaving like a boat on rough waters. The stone chimney toppled, narrowly missing her brothers, who had leapt awake at the first rumbling and run outside in their nightshirts. "Mother!" she cried, for hers was the last face the girl wished to see on this earth if this were truly Judgment. "Mother!" knowing she was too old to be held like a babe at breast, but wanting it anyway, "Mother!" and the ancient oaks to the south of the cabin groaned and began to crash with mighty concussion and the horses and cows bellowed. She clung to the tiny boat of her bed, and therein lay her mistake. "Mother!" But her mother was busy with the young ones, rushing them in their bedclothes outside the cabin to join her father and brothers, who were on their knees praying while the ancient cypress shook like an angry god overhead, and the birds swarmed in screaming flocks, and the ground opened up. She could smell it, the cabin floor a fissure that stank of boiling sand and muck. There was a terrific hammering and squealing as nails popped from wood, planks pulled apart, and the roof split in two. "Oh my mighty Lord," she prayed, "take me to your bosom where I shall not want." Just then, as if in response, there was a deep rumbling, followed by a loud grating overhead as the roof beam pulled away from the walls with a sudden sigh and crashed down across her legs, numbing them with the sudden unbearable weight and pinning her to her grave. She tried pushing at the beam, but it was too thick and heavy. Still she pushed and clawed, tearing her nails bloody, hammered with her fists, tried to lift her legs and kick out, but they were helpless, unable to move at all against the weight that kept pushing her down, past the point where she could stand it. She screamed until she was hoarse, unable to make herself heard over the chaos. When the shaking subsided, her father appeared in the doorway holding a lantern, her brothers standing just behind, looking so frightened she almost felt sorry for them. "Annie? Annie Lark?" he called into the darkness full of dust and soot from the collapsed chimney. The ground shivered and she could hear her brothers pushing away. "She's dead!" the older brother cried. "Leave her" They never could abide each other, and now he would consign her to hell. "I'm in here," she called. "The roof beam has trapped me." She was certain that her father would rescue her then. "Here" Something flew through the air and thudded on the floor beside her. Although she stretched her arm, she could not possibly reach it, and the movement cost her a terrible tearing pain across her thighs. "Father!" she called as another shiver brought another section of roof crashing down halfway to the door. "Pray for strength, dear Annie, read the Scripture in the Bible and pray. He will deliver you!" Her father's voice began to grow distant as he backed away from the collapsing cabin. She called out again, "Help me! Mother, please!" The cabin groaned in a chorus with the falling trees and screaming birds. Then her father drew close aga

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