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Excerpt from Riverine by Angela Palm, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Memoir from Anywhere but Here

by Angela Palm

Riverine by Angela Palm X
Riverine by Angela Palm
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 224 pages
    Aug 2016, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

"You shouldn't look at it that way," my mother said, and drove the car a little farther down the road. I looked out the back window at the river behind us, the river that, over time, would thrill me, claim me, disappoint me, and save me. It wasn't a wavy blue line like its cartographic representation, but brown with muddy water that ran quickly westward. It gave me the sense that the water was the only thing that would ever get out of this place. And it was in a hurry to do so. We were isolated by our coordinates, by the where of us. Where we lived was rural, in the broadest and most specific senses. Isolation was a measure of that fact. Our address was Rural Route101. The in-between space on the map was a real place that had been there all along. Not unclaimed, not up for grabs, but completely inhabited by the parts of the two towns that were beyond "town limits." Address over here, phone number over there, missing from the map. Energy contained. Separate. Because we were beyond limits, isolated and insular, rural and unclaimed, we became unassuming outlaws of sorts. We were both on the map and o*it at the same time. We were the entropy of the two towns, the junk particles of the nucleus with its own status. But even so, there was a pulse that connected us, a bloodline of sorts. In our in-between-towns land, population forty, there were nights of whiskey-fueled fireside revel, when everyone sang sea shanties and knuckled washboard rhythms beneath full moons. There were archery lessons and tomahawk throws and jewelry-making lessons. There were gourd paintings and firecrackers and canoe races. there was a band of kids who swung from the thick vines that draped our very own Sherwood Forest.

Decades later, I would find that it's in places like these that I am truly comfortable—in the square half inch of yellow paper between pink dots. the in between here and there, where damp moss grows and people sometimes live in tepees. Where a boy turns his bedroom light on and off to send an SOS signal across a small patch of grass to a lone girl who sits on a rock with a book and cannot save anyone. Where hologram children play forever and eat electric blue Popsicles and never wash their hands and sometimes spear fish with arrows. Where things stay a little bit broken. On maps, you notice, they never put a line. Between countries and states and counties, yes, but not in the yellow space between bright pink dots. But sometimes the yellow is green. Sometimes it is white. Sometimes it is brown river water, rising above the flat line of the land to prop up the identity of a tiny village.

When I came back to this spot twenty years later to see what had become of the riverbed, to see what ghosts would rise from its eroded banks, it was all still there. The road had a new name, the one-way arrow of time expanding here as it was anywhere else on Earth, but the defining entropy of the place was the same. There was no aftermath through which I could proceed as story, as I'd hoped for—no obvious tale waiting to be told. There was only stasis and the recapitulation of a contained present tense, moving toward a future that bears scars of the past. I glimpsed Earl, older now than ever, still adding scrap-made structures that outcropped around his aging trailer. Corey's parents remained, though their little white dog was no longer yapping on the front steps and Corey himself was in a prison hours away from the river. The blue house with the accidental magenta door, where I'd lived for fourteen years, was still there, the way my father had left it when we moved. the people, the who of the place, still bore the unmistakable marks of rural folk—that telltale dichotomy of endurance and neglect, active and passive states happening at once.

If there was a fixed point from which every other happening here flowed, it was when the river was recoursed, its snaking dregs drawn taut in the 1800s. Beyond that, there is no single human crisis, no single lens, from which this place can be understood. "We begin with the trouble," Kyle Minor writes in Praying Drunk," but where does the trouble begin?" In my story, the uncle does not blow his brains out. He threatens to, but it never happens. And where is the story in that? "Nothing is going to happen in this book," writes Dillard. "there is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time." Violence clips the corners of my past, and language sets me free. But there is more than that. Flowers bloom and drown. Dogs die. A friend kills. The sediment is dredged for valuable metals. the water rises and recedes. Everyone hangs on, waiting for a god to deliver a life preserver or else not. A girl becomes a woman, nearly normal. Not quite. the girl, our girl, makes it out of the riverbed, but she carries traces of brown water in her lungs and sediment in her pockets so she knows the river is still there, despite all her moving on.

Excerpted from Riverine by Angela Palm. Copyright © 2016 by Angela Palm. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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