Monday, November 17, 2014

Swift River

Title:  Swift River
Author:  R.C. Binstock
Publication Information:  R C Binstock Books. 2014. 364 pages.

Book Source: I received this book from the author free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "The trivial gradation of my losses over time is a game, a purposeless folly; in the end it doesn't matter. A life begins and goes one and at a certain time is over. And then it simply never was."

Quabbain Reservoir makes the list of the largest reservoirs in the United States. It is also one of the largest bodies of water inland in Massachusetts. A dam on the Swift River forms the reservoir. Built in the 1930s, the reservoir is the water supply for Boston and a number of surrounding communities. The project was approved in the 1920s and completed in the late 1930s.

The reservoir name originates from the name of a hill and a lake that existed in the area at the time. The names for those come from the Native American name meaning "place of many waters." Today, most of the land around the reservoir is restricted to protect the water supply. As such, it has become a preserved area, home to a wide variety of wildlife.

The darker side of this story is that four towns - Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott - were disincorporated and destroyed to allow for the construction of the reservoir. The people of these four towns fought the construction, taking the case all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. They lost.

The government offered some compensation for the land. Some residents took it and left. Some chose to stay until the bitter end, when properties were taken by eminent domain, which gives a government the right to take private property for public use, with compensation to the property owner.

Buildings in the towns were torn down. Cemeteries and memorials were moved to different locations. Holes for the cellars and roadways, however, remain. Even today, it is possible to follow a road right to the edge of the reservoir waters.

This book tells the story of one family - one girl in particular. In 1927, Polly McPhee is eleven and two thirds years old.  The fate of her home, her family's farm, and her town has already been decided by powers well beyond her control. Her parents make the decision - also beyond her control - to stay on the farm while they can. They do not sell. They refuse to sell even as others take the government compensation and leave to start new lives elsewhere. Others leave before the destruction of the towns starts, but the McPhees stay and watch the towns dismantle. Polly stays. "Who knows what put us off at first? Maybe we just couldn’t bear it. And after a while, you know the way—you don’t do something and don’t do it and don’t do it and it doesn’t take long before you can’t anymore. Because you didn’t before. Seems like a problem you could fix by just getting up your nerve but it isn’t that easy. I’m pretty sure you know the way.”

Polly's story really takes two paths. One is the coming of age story of a young girl - the dreams, the choices, the loves, and the losses. The other is of a life lived surrounded by impending doom. As the losses in Polly's life mount, her life becomes a metaphor for the towns themselves. People leave. People die. Places are destroyed. Piece by piece, things are lost, never to be regained.

This book is her diary - a first person account as she grows from child to woman and as her home is destroyed from town to nothing. Periodically, short sections interrupt Polly's musings. These sections are also first person narratives, but with no identification as to the person. Some can be inferred from the context; some not. These details seem to be just one more loss in a backdrop full of sadness and loss.

Polly to some extent reminds me of the protagonist in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Regardless of  the choices - even the self destructive ones - Polly makes, I care for her and for what happens to her. I find myself doing a lot of research on the Quabbain Reservoir and the construction project and trying to find information on what happened to the residents.

We know what happened to the towns, but what of the residents? As if this were a true history, I want to know what happens to Polly after the book ends. I hope that she is okay and has found joy and contentment in her life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment