I've been following Jake Rivers and his family since Jim Ainsworth's first book, "Rivers Flow."
The story of a young man trying to make his way in the world during the horrific drought of the 1950s touched my heart. I am particularly fond of Griffin Rivers, Jake's wise grandfather.
In his previous books, “Rivers Flow,” “Rivers Crossing” and “Rivers Ebb,” we follow the Rivers family as they battle drought and loss of their farm, see their eldest son, Gray Boy, charged with murder, and finally, be driven off the farm and to the flatland of West Texas, where Jake's father, Rance, finds work tending cattle for a wealthy cousin.
Jake has to deal with losing his home, leaving his school, his promising athletic career and all his friends. It's not an easy time for the young man, but he makes the most of it.
“Go Down Looking,” the most recent Rivers family installment, is a “novel inspired by real events.” The first and last chapters of the book begin in Jot 'Em Down, Texas, November of 2011.
I knew that I could locate the place where it happened. Everything about that day, that place, had been seared into my brain almost four decades ago. Time will never erase the scene that changed my life and so many others. …
I leaned on the fence as I had those many years before. But this time, I wondered about details I could not allow myself to consider then. What did he feel in those final moments? And who had removed the bodies? I walked the ground, looking for signs that only an archeologist might find, listening for a voice that only I could hear.
. . .
As I pull away, the sharp, bracing wind envelops me, bringing chill bumps and crowding out all other sounds.
We know this is Jake's voice, but what on earth has happened at this spot on the map crossroads?
In “Go Down Looking,” the Rivers family comes home, where Jake has a chance to finish high school with his buddies, but once back in East Texas, he finds everything changed. He doesn't fit in with his old friends and begins hanging with a rough crowd. Jake is scrappy – and smart – enough to handle himself, but will he get out before it's too late?
And, of course, tragedy strikes the family. What happened in Jot 'Em Down so many years ago? Who was lost? How did the family cope?
In my job, I come across books published by one of the “big” houses that are so poorly written and edited I cannot finish them. This summer, in fact, I got through a mere four sentences before tossing an advanced readers’ copy across the room. That book was released with much fanfare by Harpers last month, along with a large promotional budget.
And then there is Ainsworth, who has been writing quality fiction for several years, but can't get a meeting with the big guns. Please.
It's a mystery to me why talented authors like Ainsworth aren't being hounded to death by agents and publishers. Seems they'd want a good storyteller who brings great characters to the table – characters who have real conflicts and troubles and flaws – characters readers care about. I wade through tons of bad books to find one worth a review. Ainsworth has written five books that, with the right publicity machine behind them, could be on every best seller list in the country.
Although Ainsworth writes about North East Texas, his stories could be set in any rural area in the United States and not lose their appeal.
Who can resist the tale of a poor family, struggling to do better for their children – the first child going to college, getting a degree and working in a big tall building in the city, bringing with him all the common sense he learned in that ramshackle house without indoor plumbing to the glittering boardroom, making his parents – and Ainsworth's readers – so proud?
Though “Go Down Looking” seems to be the logical end to the Rivers' stories, I hold out hope Ainsworth sees fit to share some more of his family’s treasures with the reading world.
Lord knows we need more first-class inspirational fiction these days.
For more information on Jim Ainsworth, his books and the Rivers’ stories, visit www.jimainsworth.com
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