Read The River King Online

Authors: Alice Hoffman

The River King

Table of Contents
Praise for Alice Hoffman's
—Boston Herald
“A ripping yarn and suspenseful ghost tale ... Hoffman has a knack for smoothly wandering into the life story of each new character we meet, and then returning to the overarching narrative seamlessly.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Hoffman's faithful should be pleased with her latest effort.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
“The River King is far more than the standard tale of a
town-vs.-gown clash.”—
Louis Post-Dispatch
“Polished prose ... tightly plotted ... this is fiction that will please Hoffman's many fans.”—
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A rich, layered story.”—
The Irish Times

River King is proof that [Alice Hoffman} just gets better and better.”—
The London Times
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Pulls the reader in effortlessly ... Hoffman has the power to make you really laugh and really cry.”—
USA Today
“Moving and deadpan funny ... Epiphanies about passion, pain, and resiliency induce smiles and shivers in equal measure.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Written with great wisdom and compassion ... one of the finest fictional explorations of family love, and all those forces that threaten to undermine it, that I've read in many years.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A Wuthering Heights for the '90s ... profound.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Her books unfold artfully without feeling fussed over or writing-workshopped to death.... [In] Here on Earth, she plumbs the interior lives of, among others, a drunken recluse, a heartsick teenage boy, an angry daughter, a near madman, a cuckolded husband, and three wounded women, with such modesty and skill that she seems to witness rather than invent their lives.”—
Entertainment Weekly
“One of her most disturbing works ... Here on Earth will disappoint none of her fans, and proves again that to read Hoffman is to have one's life enriched immeasurably.”—
Rocky Mountain News
“A good, old-fashioned love story ... Alice Hoffman's writing at its precise and heartbreaking best.”—
The Washington Post
“An affecting love story, laced with humor.”
“Magical and daring ... very possibly her best.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Suspenseful ... a dark, romantic meditation on what it means to be human.”—
The New Yorker
“Hoffman tells a great story. Expect to finish this one in a single, guilty sitting.”
“Second Nature
may be best read at full speed, hurtling down the mountain, as if falling in love.”—
San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
—The New York Times Book Review
“A spectacular novel.”—Susan Isaacs,
The Washington Post World
“Hard to put down ... full of characters who take hold of your heart.”
San Francisco Examiner
—The Seattle Times
“She is a born storyteller ... and
Turtle Moon
is one of her best.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A beautiful, moving book about the power of love and the desires of the heart.”—
The Denver Post
“Splendid ...
Practical Magic
is one of her best novels, showing on every page her gift for touching ordinary life as if with a wand, to reveal how extraordinary life really is.”—
“Written with a light hand and a perfect rhythm ...
Practical Magic
has the pace of a fairy tale but the impact of accomplished fiction.”
“[A] delicious fantasy of witchcraft and love in a world where gardens smell of lemon verbena and happy endings are possible.”—
“One of the best novels to come out of the United States in a decade.”
—Annie Dillard
“An unmistakably gifted work ... Alice Hoffman flares with talent.”
Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Alice Hoffman ...
“Alice Hoffman takes seemingly ordinary lives and lets us see and feel extraordinary things.”—Amy Tan
“Hoffman seems certain to join such writers as Anne Tyler and Mary Gordon ... a major novelist.”—
“One of the brightest and most imaginative of contemporary writers.”
The Sacramento Bee
“Her touch is so light, her writing so luminous.”
The Orlando Sentinel
“Her novels are as fluid and graceful as dreams.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Showing the magic that lies below the surface of everyday life is just what we hope for in a satisfying novel, and that's what Ms. Hoffman gives us every time.”—
The Baltimore Sun
“A reader is in good hands with Alice Hoffman, able to count on many pleasures.”—Jane Smiley,
USA Today
“With her glorious prose and extraordinary eye ... Alice Hoffman seems to know what it means to be a human being.”
—Susan Issacs,
Books by Alice Hoffman
* * *
For Children
A Berkley Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
A division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of
the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2000 by Alice Hoffman
This book, or parts therof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
BERKLEY and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.
eISBN : 978-1-440-67424-2
PS3558.O3447 R-023870

THE HADDAN SCHOOL WAS BUILT in 1858 on the sloping banks of the Haddan River, a muddy and precarious location that had proven disastrous from the start. That very first year, when the whole town smelled of cedar shavings, there was a storm of enormous proportions, with winds so strong that dozens of fish were drawn up from the reedy shallows, then lifted above the village in a shining cloud of scales. Torrents of water fell from the sky, and by morning the river had overflowed, leaving the school's freshly painted white clapboard buildings adrift in a murky sea of duckweed and algae.
For weeks, students were ferried to classes in rowboats; catfish swam through flooded perennial gardens, observing the disaster with cool, glassy eyes. Every evening, at twilight, the school cook balanced on a second-story window ledge, then cast out his rod to catch dozens of silver trout, a species found only in the currents of the Haddan River, a sweet, fleshy variety that was especially delectable when fried with shallots and oil. After the flood subsided, two inches of thick, black silt covered the carpets in the dormitories; at the headmaster's house, mosquitoes began to hatch in sinks and commodes. The delightful watery vistas of the site, a landscape abundant with willows and water lotus, had seduced the foolish trustees into building much too close to the river, an architectural mistake that has never been rectified. To this day, frogs can be found in the plumbing; linens and clothes stored in closets have a distinctly weedy odor, as if each article had been washed in river water and never thoroughly dried.
After the flood, houses in town had to be refloored and reroofed; public buildings were torn down, then refashioned from cellar to ceiling. Whole chimneys floated down Main Street, with some of them still issuing forth smoke. Main Street itself had become a river, with waters more than six feet deep. Iron fences were loosened and ripped from the earth, leaving metal posts in the shape of arrows adrift. Horses drowned; mules floated for miles and when rescued, refused to eat anything but wild celery and duckweed. Poison sumac was uprooted and deposited in vegetable bins, only to be mistakenly cooked along with the carrots and cabbages, a recipe that led to several untimely deaths. Bobcats showed up on back porches, mewing and desperate for milk; several were found beside babies in their cradles, sucking from bottles and purring as though they were house cats let in through front doors.
At that time, the rich fields circling the town of Haddan were owned by prosperous farmers who cultivated asparagus and onions and a peculiar type of yellow cabbage known for its large size and delicate fragrance. These farmers put aside their plows and watched as boys arrived from every corner of the Commonwealth and beyond to take up residence at the school, but even the wealthiest among them were unable to afford tuition for their own sons. Local boys had to make do with the dusty stacks at the library on Main Street and whatever fundamentals they might learn in their very own parlors and fields. To this day, people in Haddan retain a rustic knowledge of which they are proud. Even the children can foretell the weather; they can point to and name every constellation in the sky.
A dozen years after the Haddan School was built, a public high school was erected in the neighboring town of Hamilton, which meant a five-mile trek to classes on days when the snow was knee-deep and the weather so cold even the badgers kept to their dens. Each time a Haddan boy walked through a storm to the public school his animosity toward the Haddan School grew, a small bump on the skin of ill will ready to rupture at the slightest contact. In this way a hard bitterness was forged, and the spiteful sentiment increased every year, until there might as well have been a fence dividing those who came from the school and the residents of the village. Before long, anyone who dared to cross that line was judged to be either a martyr or a fool.

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