Observant travelers along Tennessee’s highways may notice roadside signs denoting watersheds across the state. These are regions where water from streams, rivers and lakes provide power, recreation and clean, safe drinking water. The creation of one such watershed is the pivotal backdrop of Mark Barr’s powerful debut novel, appropriately titled Watershed.
In a rural Tennessee community in 1937, contractors from across the country have converged to construct a federal dam that will help bring electric power and prosperity to the post-Depression-era community. Into this setting comes one such contractor, Nathan McReaken, an engineer hiding a dark secret from his past. Nathan joins the crew at the dam on a probationary period and quickly learns that loyalty, hard work and diligence are no guarantee of continued employment when there are so many others begging for work.
Nathan takes up residence in a boarding house, where he encounters Claire, a local housewife escaping her abusive husband, Travis, who also works at the dam. On her own for the first time, Claire takes on an assistant role to a power company salesman, going door to door to get people signed up for electric service. As Nathan’s past catches up with him and Claire’s relationships with men reach a boiling point, their stories intersect in suspenseful, heartfelt fashion.
Watershed is the second title in the Cold Mountain Fund Book series, a collaboration between Hub City Press and National Book Award-winning author Charles Frazier. But more than that, it’s an eloquently written story of two people and their ambitions, yearnings and passions amid a key historical period.