3 reviews

Where the River Ends
by Charles Martin

Published: 2008-07-15
Hardcover : 384 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 3 members
He was a fishing guide and struggling artist from a south George trailer park. She was the beautiful only child of South Carolina's most powerful senator. Yet once Doss Michaels and Abigail Grace Coleman met by accident, they each felt they'd found their true soul mate. Ten years into their ...
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He was a fishing guide and struggling artist from a south George trailer park. She was the beautiful only child of South Carolina's most powerful senator. Yet once Doss Michaels and Abigail Grace Coleman met by accident, they each felt they'd found their true soul mate. Ten years into their marriage, when Abbie faces a life-threatening illness, Doss battles it with her every step of the way. And when she makes a list of ten things she hopes to accomplish before she loses the fight for good, Doss is there, too, supporting her and making everything possible. Together they steal away in the middle of the night to embark upon a 130-mile trip down the St. Mary's River—a voyage Doss promised Abbie in the early days of their courtship. Where the River Ends chronicles their love-filled, tragedy-tinged journey and a bond that transcends all.

Editorial Review

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MAY 30

I climbed the final step into my studio, sniffed the dank fireplace and wondered how long it would take an errant flame to consume everything in here. Minutes I should think. Arms folded, I leaned against the wall and stared at all the eyes staring back at me. Abbie had tried so hard to make me believe. Even taken me halfway around the world. Introduced me to Rembrandt, poked me in the shoulder and said, "You can do that." So I had painted. Faces mostly. My mother had planted the seed that, years later, Abbie watered, nurtured and pruned. In truth, given a good flame and a tardy fire department, I stood to make more money on an insurance payout. Stacked around me in layered rows against the four walls lay more than three hundred dusty works--a decade's worth--all oil on canvas. Faces captured in moments speaking emotions known by hearts but spoken by few mouths. At one time, it had come so easily. So fluidly. I remember moments when I couldn't wait to get in here, when I couldn't hold it back, when I would paint on four canvases at once. Those all-nighters when I discovered Vesuvius in me. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. What does Doss’s mother teach him in the novel’s opening scenes? What gift does she give him through the words “if you ever find your well empty, nothing but dust–then you come back here … dive in and drink deeply”?

2. Doss recalls overcoming his suffocating asthma and growing up without a father figure. Abbie had to cope with the death of her mother and life with a domineering father. In what ways did Doss and Abbie heal each other through love?

3. Discuss the Saint Mary’s River as a character in Where the River Ends. What “personality” is reflected in the variety of scenes depicting the river? How does the timeless symbolism of water–as cleansing, life-sustaining, and ever-changing–shape its power in the novel? Where does the river ultimately take Doss and Abbie?

4. What versions of beauty are presented in the novel? What does Doss discover about himself by painting Rosalia in chapter 15? Why are some able to see inner beauty, or unconventional physical beauty, while others are not?

5. What makes Charleston and South Carolina appropriate settings for this novel? How do the region’s beautiful landscape and complex history, encompassing the grim slave trade as well as the rise of an exceptional aristocracy, shape the families depicted in Where the River Ends?

6. What does the novel indicate about modern medicine and its limits? What was Doss able to do for Abbie that no doctor could?

7. Doss’s first up-close encounter with Abbie occurs when he fends off her attacker. During their river journey, they must again defend themselves against other threatening characters. What is the nature of such evil in the world? What determines whether victims remain optimistic, like Doss and Abbie, or descend into a quest for vengeance?

8. How does Doss and Abbie’s journey down the river compare to their fantasy of it? What does it say about them that, despite the lack of creature comforts or security, they are able to savor every moment of the voyage? Why was Abbie better off without traditional hospice care?

9. Which of the wishes on Abbie’s list seemed the most difficult to achieve? Which one would have been the most exhilarating for you?

10. What does Bob’s history as a defrocked religious leader say about the frailty of human beings, and the power of second chances? How did the marriage ceremony he performed for Doss and Abbie compare to more lavish nuptials you have witnessed?

11. How was the storytelling enhanced by the author’s use of flashbacks? In what way did the timeline mirror the way memories are woven into the present?

12. Were you surprised by the scene of forgiveness in the end? What did Doss and his father-in-law ultimately have in common?

13. Describe the most important farewell you have experienced. Have you ever served as the navigator for someone who had to endure a difficult journey?

14. If you were faced with Abbie’s prognosis, what unfulfilled promises and unfinished wishes would you make haste to experience? What would it take to accomplish the dreams on this list even if you were not faced with Abbie’s fate?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

In 2007, I met a husband and wife who lost a daughter to cancer. As I stood, staring at her grave, I realized that she—a beautiful mother—and I were the same age. Something about the cruelty of that struck me deeply. I later learned that her husband had couriered divorce papers to her hospital room shortly before she died. That struck me deeper. Still does.

A few weeks late, paddling the St. Mary's River in my kayak, this story bubbled up. Hence, the setting. I remember gliding across the top of the water, the sun just breaking the skyline, and asking the question, "What about the guy who doesn't do that? What about the guy who hangs on? Who loves her even when she's bald and flat-chested?" As I began putting words to paper, I found myself crafting a patchwork threaded with both beauty and pain. The result is my new novel, Where the River Ends, and yes, parts of this story are painful, but I've found the beauty outweighs the pain.

Thank you for the invaluable role you play in the life of this story.

All the best,

Charles Martin

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Entertaining"by liz p. (see profile) 04/05/19

Doss grew up poor in Georgia. Abigail Grace was raised in a privileged life, the daughter of a powerful southern Senator. When a chance meeting happens they both realize they are soul mates,... (read more)

  "Where the River Ends"by Barbara M. (see profile) 04/29/14

The question was "where does the book end?" I am sorry but I couldn't even finish it. It was hard to get into, hard to follow, depressing, etc...But, I am not going to give up. Will attem... (read more)

  "truly a love story"by chris h. (see profile) 04/24/12

Beautiful story of how a loving husband helps his wife fulfill her bucket list before her death. Obviously a depressing scenario, but the love between them and their strength in fighting disease and disability... (read more)

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