Title: The Salty River Bleeds
Author: Steven Page
Length: 96 Pages
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
My Review of The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page
The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page is a story told in verse about the lives of Johnathan and Teresa and the ranch on which they live. Using both poetry and poetic prose, the author makes the story come to life.
Page’s writing is as gritty as the sandy prairie and he does not shy away from coarse language or difficult topics. Page has created something raw and gritty that is full of local flavor. The reader can feel the heat of the pounding sun and smell the scent of the farm animals. Life on the ranch is hard and oftentimes painful; as such, Page’s writing will cause readers who would prefer to imagine an idealized version of the American West to be uncomfortable. His writing forces his readers to reckon with the harsh realities of life and how we treat the environment.
As the story progresses, the protagonist must deal with both the daily challenges of life on the ranch as well as his own internal struggles. There are no easy answers, and as such, the book leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling. It is this same discomfort that makes the book so powerful and so memorable. I found myself slowly reading and rereading Page’s words as I worked to understand their multiple layered meanings. In the end, Page takes his reader on a journey into America’s heartland as well as into our problematic past. Is there a future for Johnathan, Teresa, and their ranch? Or will the Salty River, along with the rest of the natural world, continue to bleed?
Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Synopsis of The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page
This is a story in verse and poetic prose about Jonathan and his wife, Teresa, as they daily battle unethical business partners, thieving employees, and the powers-that-be the right to keep their rather large ranch/farm profitable and eco-friendly—grass-fed free-roaming ranch animals (cows, horses, and chickens) free from antibiotics and feedlots, farm plants free of environmentally harming herbicides/pesticides, and their land beauteous in that it is mottled with lakes, marshes, streams, wood patches, and feral lots full of local flora and fauna (a wildlife refuge) . . . not to mention a river running alongside it that is a tributary running into one of the biggest rivers in the country that runs into the Atlantic Ocean. This book picks up where “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River¨ leaves off, yet it stands alone as a story in itself, with its own beginning, middle, and end—a climax and resolution. The basic plot is such: Jonathan is again on the edge of Wood—a real yet mythical place where his ephemeral muse resides. He often has a rough time entering Wood, or so he thinks. There are many new characters/bad guys in this book, and some of the previous bad guys reappear (if even in the memory of Jonathan). Sometimes, as soon as Jonathan rids the ranch of one gaucho who is a thief, rustler, or malingerer, a new employee with an angelic face takes his place and begins to commit the same crimes. Then there is the economic and legal pressure from greedy people—those in power, business partners, and family who want him to turn his profitable idyllic paradise into an even more profitable sea of soy bean. They want him to knock down all the houses and barns, chop down all the trees, fill in the marsh lands, ponds, and streams, then till all the terrain and plant a genetically modified soy bean wasteland, where fauna and flora killing pesticides/herbicides will be regularly sprayed, leak into the water table and eventually into The Salty River, making the land uninhabitable for anything and anyone except soy (the pesticides/herbicides used on genetically modified soy have been world-widely proven to kill local flora and fauna, and have been linked to birth defects in humans), and further poison the already noxious world environment. Jonathan will have no part of this. But, after years of hard work, stress, and sleepless nights, he falls into self-destructive behavior, fantasies of retaliation, until . . .
In a sense, the book´s form—an unremitting movement from verse/poetry to prose—reflects Jonathan’s pull from existing with nature and a push towards conformity with the status quo (however soul-damaging that may be for Jonathan), something that Jonathan . . .
About the Author
Stephen Page is part Apache and Shawnee. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of three other books of poetry – “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River,” “The Timbre of Sand,” and “Still Dandelions.” He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. His literary criticisms have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald, How Journal, Gently Read Literature, North of Oxford, and the Fox Chase Review. His fiction has been published in Quarto, The Whistling Fire, and Amphibi. His haiku and senryu has appeared in Frogpond, Hedgerow, brass bell, Black Bough, Bravura, Brussels Sprout, Cicada, Haiku Headlines, Heron Quarterly, Japanophile, Our Reader’s Quarterly, Piedmont Literary Review, and Point Judith Light. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, family, friends, long walks through woodlands, communing with nature, reading, spontaneous road trips, throwing cellphones into lakes, dog-earing books, and making noise with his electric bass.
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