Review: River Woman, River Demon by Jenn Givhan
What I especially loved about Jenn Givhan’s gripping new novel River Woman, River Demon was the blending and seamless explanation of magicks, how Givhan sustained and ratcheted up the tension incrementally, how names have power and meaning, and yes, even the unreliable narrator who depicts mental health struggles so well (whether from poor self-protection, too much drinking, dark magicks working against her, schizophrenia, or depression, has she ever come out of the post-partum?).
Eva, the protagonist, is complex – deeply damaged and convinced of her unworthiness to be loved purely and wholly by any adult because of the traumas of her mother, her father and then losing Karma. She\’s distrustful and in some cases resentful of the ones who love her most, too trusting of the individuals who give her too little, and in the book she emerges as a woman who doesn\’t love herself enough to believe she deserves to be loved well by anyone else and it shows in her choices.
She\’s a bruja who doesn\’t believe in herself enough to clearly \”see\” the truth.
She is the best mother she knows how to be given that she doesn\’t know mothering from a traditional source. This is a woman I want to shake and tell her Alba is there and to let her in. And then I want to tell her to stop burdening her babies who already know the weight of the world, but then I also know (and she knows) that there is no protecting Brown and Black babies and so forewarned is forearmed –it\’s the mothering we have to do. But damn I identified with her and felt it painfully too. I wonder if I am this woman. I love her like my sister, like my cousin, like my mother but that means also I\’m so mad at her too.
Jericho\’s love for Eva just so much exceeds anything and is so tangible and real even filtered through Eva\’s shifting perceptions. I see this protector man who is teacher, lover, and mentor to this damaged fierce loving woman, his dignity and devotion. And then to be confronted with his experiences with law enforcement, it was all too real and tangible. As a Black woman, I just clenched – full body, every time clenched my teeth so tight in anger and pain encountering the indignity he was treated to and his stoicism, pain, tears and the subtle microaggressions on the street. Oh, I felt it, I felt it so much that my right hand curled into a fist of anger before I realized I\’d done that.
From start to finish the story is an excellent mystery/thriller. This ball in the pit of my stomach just kept growing until there was a point where it felt like a watermelon lodged between my navel and my throat it was so big I could barely breathe. At one point I felt strongly bilious. The feeling of malevolence was so strong in points. I was invested all the way through and relieved to get to the end so that it could release me.
Growing up, my cultural framework ensured spirituality and magicks are deeply intertwined and daily lived for me. This book is a faithful representation of the complex ways these forces move in our lives. This book is layered, textured, and so real.
This book is a stunner. Thank you, Jenn Givhan, for creating a book of such power, spirituality, mystery, intersectional thoughtfulness, and resonance.
Photo credit: J. Andrew Givhan