January 2006

The aftermath of a fateful night

By Alison McGhee
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Rose and Ivy Latham are sisters, friends and companions, until one winter night when a new driver in a blue truck slides off a mountain road into their car. Eighteen-year-old Ivy was driving, but now she is in a coma in a convalescent home. Though she is not technically brain dead, doctors find virtually no brain function. When she is experimentally taken off the ventilator, Ivy tries to breathe and convinces her bereft mother that she wants to live. So her life continues. She is fed by a stomach tube, her hair grows, her eyes stay closed, even when her sister sits with her for hours and hours, reading and talking to her.

Anyone who has lived through the horror of a traumatic brain injury will recognize the survivors. First we have 17-year-old Rose, who relives the terror of the accident every day. She wakes up, hoping that this memory is nothing more that a terrible nightmare. But it isn't. Every quiet moment is filled with the blue truck, the brakes, the rainy road, the blood, the terror and the emptiness. It can not be filled by the hours and hours spent visiting Ivy and reading to her. It cannot be filled with gratuitous sex. Nothing can make her feel anything. The weight of the accident is too much for Rose as she is consumed with memories and the thoughts of what she would give up to have Ivy back. Would she sacrifice even her life?

Then, we have their mother. She fills her day at the brewery, righting bottles, straightening labels and blindly working. At night, her hands are busy, too. She is obsessively folding 1,000 paper cranes, folding and folding as if that will save her girl. She does not fill her days visiting her comatose daughter, however. In the words of her compassionate neighbor, William T., she is doing the best she can.

Though Rose's mother is living in denial and in her own pain, William T. and a childhood friend, Tom Miller, recognize her pain and help her move toward healing. Little by little, Rose comes to realize that Ivy was someone who lived her life like a rushing river, while Rose has to rely on her inner lake of calm to restore herself.

All Rivers Flow to the Sea presents a sad, touching and altogether realistic story. The first-person narrative can, at times, be almost too painful, too close. But McGhee's voice is always clear and honest.

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All Rivers Flow to the Sea

All Rivers Flow to the Sea

By Alison McGhee
ISBN 9780763625917

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