The River by Starlight

Written by Ellen Notbohm
Review by Janice Ottersberg

In the early 20th century, Annie Rushton is shamed in her small Iowa town as a divorced woman and a failed mother. She is not allowed to be part of her baby’s life. She accepts an invitation from her brother to join him in Montana on his homestead. There she meets Adam Fielding. The two have a strong chemistry, and Annie is persuaded to remarry as a condition of taking over her brother’s farm. The couple has big plans and dreams for a successful truck farm while their passionate marriage thrives. Annie becomes pregnant and hopes are high, but things come crashing down when the pregnancy ends. Their lives are completely turned upside down when postpartum psychosis takes over Annie. This is what destroyed her first marriage, and again it rears its ugly head. Adam desperately wants a child, but each subsequent pregnancy and miscarriage repeatedly sends Annie into the same psychotic state. Annie is a resilient woman and Adam is a patient, loving man, but both are at the mercy of Annie’s illness and their dreams of family are jeopardized.

Ellen Notbohm weaves a mesmerizing story with beautiful prose. The story moves from hopeful to devastating many times. A marriage is portrayed with all its ups and downs: jealousy, love, passion, fights, and reconciliations. But when mental illness takes over, it becomes more that any couple can weather. For women with mental illness prior to modern-day medicine, ignorance and social stigma dictated their treatment. They were often hidden away in asylums. This novel reminds us of how the issue of postpartum depression, as much a reality of the past as it is now, profoundly affects both men and women.