Working summary: Eloise meets Jason in a Romance Writer’s Club that Zooms weekly. Eloise likes him but is convinced that after two failed marriages, the right thing to do is not get involved; her mental health would make it unfair for a new partner. But she explores a committed relationship in the romance novel she is writing. Perhaps the third time is a charm?
A tale of abolition, THE HARD SIDE OF THE RIVER, engulfed me in the immediacy of the characters, their lives, and their demons.
Certainly, this is a tale of setting Jacob Pingram, a slave, free. Two abolitionists, Dana Curbstone, a proprietor and headmistress of a finishing school, and Cal Fenton, a preacher called by God to free slaves, set out to help Pingram escape. They are tracked by Dan Baskin–the protagonist; a famous, expert slave tracker who is so entrenched in the historical and realistic slave-focused world created by Johnny Payne, that it takes an intimate encounter with a “Yoruba girl”, Abejide, a seventeen year old slave, to crack open his heart to the idea of love.
THE HARD SIDE is not only the story of one man’s escape from slavery, from being owned and at the mercy of another simply for being “an inferior race”. It’s a narrative about the enslavement of human beings to their own demons, and THE HARD SIDE brings every character to their knees and their breaking point. How will they abolish what has become the internal norm for them, and be set free? Not every character does.
The quest for freedom in Johnny Payne’s novel is a quest for healing love. Even Jacob Pingram, who successfully escapes, is a slave in his mind and owned by his deepest regret. Dan Baskin is faced with the chance to escape the solitary hard life he has spent years building that leave him empty. Dana Curbstone wrestles with passions that threaten to consume her soul, and Cal Fenton faces the totality of himself and his calling–will it break his sanity?
The lives of secondary characters echo this quest for healing love. Will Rae, a slip of a young girl, escape dysfunction and poverty and embrace those who care for her? Will Leora, a prostitute that has pined for Dan for years, be set free from the hard existence life forced her to choose?
Johnny Payne’s THE HARD SIDE OF THE RIVER, will snatch you right out of your comfy chair and bring you into a hard world that only men that abuse their privilege seem to thrive in. When all looks bleak and hopeless, you will find yourself turning page after page seeking redemption and justice for these characters.
THE HARD SIDE OF THE RIVER left me feeling drenched in the sweat of their struggle, shocked and sorrowful for those that remained enslaved, and deeply satisfied with the freedom won by those that fought hardest for it.