Cover image for A river out of Eden : a novel
A river out of Eden : a novel
Hockenberry, John.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2001.
Physical Description:
364 pages ; 25 cm
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Straight from today's headlines, a gripping thriller set amid the cultural and environmental wars rocking the Pacific Northwest byDatelinecorrespondent and bestselling author John Hockenberry. Francine Smoholla occupies a precarious position. As a U.S. government marine biologist, she is fighting to save salmon threatened by the dams that supply Washington's hydroelectric power. But as a Chinook Indian, she finds herself torn between the colliding forces of technology and environmentalism. She has seen the catastrophic effects the dams have on her tribe's ancestral lands, livelihood, and traditional ways of life. When power company workers and forest service employees start turning up dead with elaborate native harpoons in their backs, suspicion quickly falls on the Chinook. Wondering just how far her tribe will go to protect their community, Francine quietly begins her own investigation. As the death count rises, a right-wing extremist rides the wave of resulting violence to further his own twisted agenda. His son Duke is caught up in his plans but harbors a secret admiration for the Chinook and their traditions, an admiration that blossoms into something much deeper when he meets Francine. As heavy rains threaten the strength of the dams and old hatreds reignite, a long foretold Indian prophecy of apocalypse looms ever closer.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Journalist and memoirist Hockenberry's first novel is an intelligent, capacious, slightly gothic, and altogether provocative thriller set in the dramatically beautiful but culturally divisive Pacific Northwest. The Columbia River, once wild and gleaming with salmon, has been harnessed by dams and poisoned by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; now it's the site of a series of ritualized murders with an unmistakable Chinook theme. Francine Smohalla, a marine biologist and living symbol of the region's ecological conflicts as the granddaughter of the white man who built the Grand Coulee Dam and the daughter of a Chinook Indian dead-set against the white man's ways, discovers the first corpse, and meets Duke McCurdy, the son of rabid white supremacists, over the second. Their unlikely romance is set against unrelentingly high suspense as a flood threatens to overwhelm the dams; a disgruntled, mystically inclined nuclear chemist completes unauthorized work on a portable nuclear bomb; Duke's hate-crazed father takes on an Indian-run casino; the tribe plans a salmon festival; and Hanford's head of security, a black man enamored of Jimi Hendrix, catches on to a catastrophic terrorist plot. This isn't a perfect novel, but any kinks are easily forgotten in the torrent of Hockenberry's imaginative plot, ardent prose, knowledgeable passion for the land, and free-flowing compassion. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Like the Y2K apocalypse that never happened, this doomsday thriller goes bust. Hockenberry, Dateline NBC correspondent and author of Moving Violations (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award), tries to cram too many reportorial themes into his bulging narrative: the displacement of Pacific Northwest Chinook tribes, the questionable merits of salmon hatcheries and federal dams, the dangers of nuclear power and the threat posed by white supremacist fringe groups. There's a plot buried under the mountain of issues, but it's actually more of a highly convoluted premise. A Chinook warrior named Charley Shen-oh-way, long assumed dead, has begun slaughtering employees of a federal salmon hatchery to avenge the government's appropriation of sacred Indian ground. His half-Chinook daughter Francine, director of the hatchery, intuits Charley's involvement in the savage murders and withholds incriminating evidence, aided by her wildly improbable love interest, Duke McCurdy, a white supremacist radio provocateur with a secret heart of gold. Meanwhile, Jack Charnock, an unstable weapons researcher who's at last perfected a portable implosion device, has just been terminated from nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and isn't happy. These and other unsympathetic, one-dimensional characters link up implausibly to announce the novel's themes, even at the most intimate moments ("They have always betrayed me, my mother's eyes," she whispered. "Hate betrays me," Duke whispered back. "Who can escape his tribe?") Even Francine's semicomatose white mother stays on point, robotically intoning the Icelandic word for "big flood." Hockenberry, a one-time radio reporter in the Pacific Northwest, has enthusiastically researched the region, but this silly, pretentious novel doesn't show off either writer or culture to best advantage. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (May 17) Forecast: Hockenberry's first book, Moving Violations, was a national bestseller, but as a memoir, its sales bounced high off his fame as an NPR commentator and TV reporter who's also a paraplegic. Some attention will accrue to his first novel because of his continued media presence, and blurbs from Bill McKibben and William Dietrich will draw in browsers, but when all is said and done, he's not much of a thriller writer and, ultimately, sales will reflect this. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the center of this timely and topical work of ecofiction are the nusuh, Chinook for "salmon." As the salmon are endangered by the multiple dams of the Columbia River, so are the Native people and their traditions. Francine Smohalla is a marine biologist in charge of the salmon hatchery at the Bonneville Dam complex. Half-white and half-Chinook, she experiences the stress of living in two worlds. Complementing and escalating her emotional difficulties are four men who want to "free the river": her father, Charley Shen-oh-way, who has returned after being thought dead for 30 years and who is now killing people; Jack Charnock, a superannuated but brilliant weapons designer from the notorious Hanford Nuclear Reservation; Roy McCurdy, a virulent Aryan Nation type; and Roy's son Duke, who was raised to share his father's beliefs but falls in love with Francine. The plot is complex, the action violent and bizarre, the psychology believable, and the climax frightening and surreal. This is a strong first novel by a well-known journalist whose autobiographical Moving Violations was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Recommended for all public libraries. Jack Hafer, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



They swam like creatures of a single mind, their eyes inclined upward together, finding a point in common somewhere above the surface of the river. In perfect synchrony, they turned in the morning light, their motion confident and curious in equal measure, yet as indecipherable as the secret language of a storm. Their skin stretched taut beneath a coating of glassy scales as thin as frost; it rippled with muscle, tiny and perfect, as its web of nerves channeled sign and signal from the water. As long as they had existed as a species, the salmon had read the water, matching hints of seasons and patterns they had no need to comprehend in order to reach their destination. For tens of thousands of years, the salmon had decoded their river's songs and stirrings. They had inhaled its breath. Down the long canyon between its banks, time was told and foretold, and from great distances upstream it was possible for each fingertip-sized brain to hear the faraway voice of the ocean. In the same way, and two years hence as fully grown chinooks and sockeyes, they would sense the river's call from thousands of miles out to sea. The water gave them everything. In their lives they would take much and eventually give it all back. At this moment their offerings were speckles of color, jeweled signatures adorning each slender body like the daggers of a genie. Yet this water told them nothing. In precise formation the baby salmon probed for direction, seeking the current only to end up in the place where they had begun. All around them nourishment was hanging in translucent spirals off a floating mass in the center of the water, casting a faint, inert shadow below. The bits of torn flesh were reassuring. Salmon were born in water filled with the floating, shredded remains of parents who spawned and died, exhausted and broken from the effort. The pungent gravy of putrefaction and rot was, for these infants, a life force that had ushered them into the world. But they understood that the body floating amongst them was not of their lineage. They fed anyway. Through their skin they could hear the steady humming of machines pumping and circulating the water. This place matched nothing they were bred to understand. Only bits and pieces of their river could be deciphered from this water through the blood-gorged muslin of their gills and the nerves of their skin. The hatchlings swam forward, wary of predators, feeding gently off the body that bled slowly into the water around them. They puzzled together. Like tightly wound springs they were eager to take expected cues and hurl themselves back the way their long dead parents had come. But there were no cues, only the gnawing hunger as they circled; each time they encountered the walls of the tank they were surprised. Located about an hour's drive east of Portland and an equal distance west of Francine Smohalla's home along the Columbia River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers salmon hatchery was her responsibility and her passion. It was nestled next to the Bonneville Dam complex, thirteen dams away from Mica Dam upstream in Canada and the last dam on the Columbia before the river made its final turn to the Pacific. Francine walked by the six tanks without a glance, and locating a panel on the wall, she tripped the automatic dimmers that manufactured daylight for two hundred thousand hatchlings. Out the open window she could see the river from where she stood. Francine pretended that the baby salmon she took care of at the hatchery were family. She pretended when she packed her bag lunch every day that it was for someone besides her, that she would hand it to him on his way to some office and spend the day waiting for his return. Each afternoon when she ate lunch, she pretended that it had been packed not by her, but by someone that she would be going home to. It almost worked. Her emptiness remained at bay for as long as it took to pack and then eat each day. But since looking after someone and being looked after were conditions she had never known in her own life, she couldn't tell for sure how much she yearned for them, and the emptiness always returned. Bonneville was the largest of five federal dams between here and the Snake River junction. Its hatchery was the largest of four on the river. It adjoined the Bonneville locks, and Francine could watch the ships and barges from all over the world as she worked. The vast concrete arch of the dam stretched like a bridge to the Oregon side of the river. The halogen lights of the powerhouse cast arcs of white over the precipice, reflecting off clouds of spray rising up from the turbine penstocks. The wind teased Bonneville's clouds into wisps and ringlets. The whole effect was of a boiling cauldron, another spectacle credited to the unseasonably heavy rain. Like every other dam on the Columbia, Bonneville was at high water, and she was the last gatekeeper draining the interior of a continent into the Pacific Ocean. Bonneville allowed more than water through its various gates. Unlike the Grand Coulee Dam upstream, Bonneville had not completely sealed the river to migrating fish and commerce. It was a busy outpost and had actually been built with salmon in mind. Besides the hatchery there was a fish ladder, a series of concrete steps up which salmon could swim much more easily than they could jump the old falls that used to churn the river during ancient times. The craggy, treacherous falls that had bedeviled the white settlers for hundreds of years and were named for ancient characters in the creation myths of the river's Indians had also been the salmon's path into the interior. With the building of the dams, those falls had all been replaced, leveled into ladders, or more precisely riverine escalators more suited to the modern age. Excerpted from A River Out of Eden: A Novel by John Hockenberry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.