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  january 22
2004
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Keep Our Deserts Clean!
Trashy Romance Clutters Confluence
 
by Jordan Scrivner

Confluence: Love and Adventure in the Wild American West
Susan Morgan
Imprint Books
298 Pages
$14.99
www.readconfluence.com

Convenience.

It’s a very common element in many, many stories. Sometimes the right elements fall into place, and the characters are able to get what they want, almost without even trying. It’s a convenient coincidence that Eppie winds up in the care of Silas Marner’s doorstep in “Silas Marner” as much as it is convenient that R2-D2 and C3PO wind up on Tatooine in “Star Wars.” In fact, convenience is a necessary aspect of nearly every story you’re going to come across in your lifetime. It’s these easy coincidences that give these stories a sense of mystery and other-worldliness. It also presents a free pass for the storyteller, letting his or her characters have the magic to get out of a sticky situation because luck, or a deus ex machina, is entirely on his or her side.

The convenient coincidences certainly run deep in Susan Morgan’s Confluence: Love and Adventure in the Wild American West. The best way I can think to describe Morgan’s first novel is to take Utah’s Best Hiking Trails with the steamiest, goofiest Danielle Steel novel ever written. A documentary on the national parks of Utah-meets-“Melrose Place” gives you Confluence.

The novel is told in the first person from the point of view of Shari Deluca, a hiking and backpacking enthusiast who, while on a hiking trip through the deserts and mountains of southern Utah, meets up with Jon Reeves, a very handsome and sensitive landscaping architect, and instantly falls in love with him. The only problem is that Shari is already married to a fairly decent chap named Mark. So what does Shari do? What would you do? (The latter question being the overall theme of Confluence.)

In the meantime, the characters will stop the action completely to give the readers random bits of information on hiking trails, rivers, natural monuments, environmental politics, and the bear population of Montana. I don’t want to say that the characters discuss these things for no reason at all because it feels incredibly likely that these are the things that would come up in a hiking trip conversation. However, these random statements of facts often feel awkwardly placed at best. Morgan gives a list of materials she thanks at the beginning of the novel, including Desert Southwest Utah’s National Parks by Ron Adkison and “National Park Service publications,” and it honestly feels like, whenever Susan Morgan was stuck, she would turn to one of these books, flip through until she found something that she highlighted, and begin copying.
Here’s a snippet in a conversation that Shari and Mark have while driving past Montana’s Lake McDonald:
‘Trivia Question’ Mark said suddenly. ‘Now you might already know that Lake McDonald is the deepest and longest lake in the park, but do you know how long it is?’ I peered out the window at the massive sharp peaks reflected in the clear water. There were two rowboats out in the lake. ‘Five miles long?’ I guessed. ‘Nope, 10, good guess though.’
And so on.

Going back to the coincidences, the novel is chock full of them, almost to the point that you can predict when a certain character is going to die approximately two pages before he or she does, as I was able to do in Confluence. These fortunate coincidences that happen in the novel seem to happen because Shari decides to play the hand she was dealt. In this aspect, the novel becomes something of a morality tale. Because Shari decides NOT to cheat on her husband, everything falls exactly into place, and she ends up with a cute baby girl and the man of her dreams, who is great with children, is a “wonderful lover” and “keeps his apartment reasonably clean” even when he’s not expecting company! How lucky Shari is!

As far as the writing style goes, Confluence is actually a decently written book. Oh sure, it can get a little awkward at some parts, especially when Shari gets hot and heavy—with her “genitals throbbing in anticipation” and her “uterus contracting in delight.” And sometimes the characters will laugh at something somebody else does, whether it’s funny or not. Oh, and the dialogue is quite wooden. But Morgan does a very good job of describing the majestic national parks of America, and the emotional ferris wheel that Shari goes through. Morgan also keeps the pacing of the story very well, and the book certainly maintains the reader’s interest, with the exception of the occasional diverge into hiking brochure territory. And, for an indie book, there are impressively few spelling and grammatical errors.

If you are a hiking or a soap-opera addict, Confluence is the book for you. If you’re everybody else, however, you might want to search elsewhere to get your genitals to throb in anticipation.
jordan@red-mag.com



 
 

 

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