It is rare when you pick up a first novel by an unknown writer and find yourself immediately transported into a world which is inhabited by fascinating people. This is what happens when you read The River Witch by Kimberly Brock. She is so good with her words that you sink completely into her story about a woman who goes to an island off the Georgia coast seeking forgiveness and redemption. You don't come up for air until you have read the final page.
Brock's main character is Roslyn Byrne, a young woman who has had a professional life as a ballerina until that career was halted due to a car wreck. She has also been engaged in an affair with a married man that resulted in a pregnancy. It ended with a miscarriage. Now damaged and confused as to the purpose of her life, she flees to Manny's Island, a spot of land off the coast of Georgia.
Roslyn rents a house from the Trezevant family and seals herself away from the world -- or at least she expects to do that, but the world and nature keep intruding. One of the people who pops up first is Damascus Trevezant, the 10-year-old daughter of the owner of the house. She walks into the house and into Roslyn's life without hesitation.
There is a mysterious man in this story. His name is Urey and he is Damascus' father. He has had a lot of tragedy in his life and this has made it impossible for him to communicate with his daughter. So she has not only lost her mother to cancer, she has also lost her father by his failure to communicate.
Brock does a masterful job of giving a sense of moist habitation to the location of the story. You can almost feel the wet grass underfoot and hear the movement of the alligators as they stalk their prey. Then she descriptively paints the mood and manner of the people who come in and out of Roslyn's life. She is also adept at going inside Roslyn's mind and letting us see the struggles that are there.
It is unusual to find a story so complex and engrossing in a first novel. This is a story told with assurance. It reminds us it is the talent and not the time that is on display here. Brock does not need to write a couple of novels before she hones her craft. She felt with The River Witch she had a story to tell and that is what she does -- directly, expertly and with a true feeling for the words that are needed.
The River Witch tells a story of the deep South with all its mystery, strangeness and distinction. Its essence brings to mind memories of the stories of Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers. All the signs are there to indicate Kimberly Brock could very well be a strong presence in the future pantheon of gifted Southern writers.
The River Witch is published by Belle Books. It contains 246 pages and sells for $14.05.
Jackie K Cooper