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Reviews - What do customers think about The Woman in the River: A Case of Abortion?
McKinley shows Excellence is Multiple Apr 16, 2004
When I began THE WOMAN IN THE RIVER I doubted that James McKinely could equal ACTS OF LOVE, his marvelous book of short stories. I wondered if the "case of abortion" would be another usual murder mystery or social analysis. But it certainly didn't feel slick, which is one of the reasons I stayed with it.
What I discovered was a rare novel for these days, certainly much more than "a good read." That's the phrase marketing people usually use. I've always suspected that they turned the verb "to read" into the noun formulation because they didn't have the energy or skill required to deal with work complicated enough to be worth anything.
THE WOMAN IN THE RIVER demands reading of the classic kind, real engagement on many levels. It's the kind of novel great writers have always tried to write. It does more than entertain. It asks consequential questions about motives, about good and evil and the nature of society. the influence of place, the ambivalences and contradictions inherent in man and woman. It's the kind of book that makes one realize that one reading is not enough, that you must go back again, not just to savor but to comprehend. To write such a book requires great craft as well as integrity.
We are lucky that in this literary climate, devoted as it is to the crass and to the buck, there are still writers like James McKinley who keep tracking what matters and keep making the real thing.
Engaging Journey into the Recent Past Nov 9, 2003
The narrator journeys into the past, the 1930s and 1940s, in an attempt to discover the motives behind his grandfather's participation in an abortion that goes wrong. The narrator projects himself into the consciousnesses of those involved with the "crime" and the investigation and trial that follows.
Like the best realist fiction, the novel portrays in detail the social context of the events, making it clear there are no simple answers to explain human behavior, and there are no simple judgments to be made.
If you grew up in the 1940s, you will recognize things you thought you had forgotten.
An artfully done, suspenseful novel.
Great Book - Kansas City Star Says: Aug 27, 2003
Posted on Sun, Aug. 24, 2003
Abortion tale told from another perspective By DAVID WALTON Special to The Star
The title character in James McKinley's The Woman in the River is Millie Benton, 19, a salesgirl in a florist's shop in Omaha, Neb., who as the novel opens has just been fished from the Missouri River near Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The year is 1946, just after World War II, and the coroner rules that Millie has died of peritonitis and exsanguination, resulting from an illegal procedure to terminate a pregnancy.
Detectives, "not unaccustomed to cases involving women caught in an unwanted family way," trace Millie's death to a local doctor, Phillip Sanders, who practiced with the town's leading physician, Jerome Henderson. The novel is narrated by Jerome Henderson II, grandson and namesake of the doctor convicted in the case.
Most novels deal with the issue of abortion from the perspective of the woman. McKinley's novel focuses on the doctors, why and how they practiced abortion at a time when it was strictly illegal. Millie's death is the novel's central event, but the doctors, police and lawyers in the case are part of a highly codified, hypocritical social apparatus that leads to deaths like hers.
The two doctors are very different people, driven by very different motives, united one by the desire, the other by the need for money. The grandson, reconstructing the story of his grandfather's ruin, searches a whole network of personal and social connections that brought his grandfather into the case. The focus is broader than the usual true-crime reconstruction, deliberately so, for the author wants to portray Millie's death as the crime of a whole society, the result of a complicated pattern of social, class and legal hypocrisies.
The Woman in the River is not an "issue" novel -- it would be difficult in fact to say where the author, a former head of the University of Missouri-Kansas City's professional writing program, stands on the abortion issue.
The narrative is rich in period detail and captures especially well the two-sidedness of the late 1940s: the high standard of conduct demanded by respectable society and the hypocrisy and cynicism that kept that society operating. Defendant and judge alike bear responsibility for Millie's death.
Her death, as reconstructed 50 years later by the grandson of the doctor who either killed her, or tried to save her life, haunts Dr. Jerome: "He saw, though he had never actually seen it, the girl's white body surfacing through the brown water, slowly turning in the currents...the simple gray dress, like a novice's, and the doughy, frightened face...puffed with the first gases bubbling from the subcutaneous tissues..."
The sometimes clinical, often reflective tone of the narrative, the subtitle A Case of Abortion, the almost-generic character of Millie's life, work inversely to heighten the poignancy and the dramatic impact of her terrible fate, and provide this deeply felt novel with its emotional center.
Kudos for The Woman in the River Aug 10, 2003
Beautifully written and profoundly conceived, it deserves to win a Pulitzer, National Book Award, all the prizes. Paul Spike, novelist, London, England