The River Wife
Jacques’ Landing, Missouri, on the shore of the Mississippi River, is a place where life is lived hard, and for some of its inhabitants, lived long. In 1811, in the aftermath of an earthquake, Annie Lark is rescued from her home, after fallen beams have pinned her down and her family has left her. She had thought her life was over, and so is very kindly inclined to French fur-trapper Jacques Ducharme, the man who has rescued her. Jacques and Annie’s life starts out well, despite the hardships they face. However, after they start to build their house on the river, their relationship becomes more troubled. Indeed, troubled relationships are a hallmark of this story, which shares with us the lives of some of Jacques’ descendants, though Jacques himself stays a major character for a surprisingly long period of time.
The book begins with first-person narration by Hedie Rails, who has just married Clement Ducharme, Jacques’ grandson. He has brought her to Jacques’ Landing, where she discovers the journals and sketchbooks left by Annie Lark. As Hedie tells of her life with Clement, interspersed with scenes from the life of Jacques, we begin to see parallels: violence and deceit abound. Violence is a way of life at Jacques’ Landing, and some readers may find a few of the scenes early in the book difficult to read.
Agee has written a book that is solidly grounded in place. The time periods vary from the early 19th century to the Civil War, the last decade of the 19th century, and then again in the Depression. The details she provides create an authentic feeling to the eras, although there is something timeless about Jacques’ Landing, too.