By Cari Boatright Rerat
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Three Rivers Rising
By Jame Richards
Narrated by a multi-person cast
To be honest, I chose to listen to “Three Rivers Rising” because it’s short -- only three discs.
I was interested in the title, but I didn’t expect much from it. I just needed it to fill the mindless hours of a trip across the state. Luckily, “Three Rivers Rising” turned out to be an impressive story.
“Three Rivers Rising,” told in verse by different narrators, takes place before, during, and after the Johnstown Flood in May of 1889.
Celestia meets Peter, a hired boy from Johnstown, Penn., while she and her family are vacationing at the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club on Lake Conemaugh (pronounced con-uh-maw).
Celestia’s relationship with Peter begins as a quiet friendship on the shores of the lake and grows into more. Because of their class difference, the two must keep their love secret or risk Celestia being disowned by her family.
Meanwhile, Maura is a very young woman living in East Conemaugh -- down the valley from Lake Conemaugh. She is married to Joseph, a train engineer, and is left alone much of the time with their small children while Joeseph is on the train.
Her life is simple, if a bit lonely. She fills her days with making elaborate story quilts, caring for her children and musing about how much she loves her husband.
Kate, an emotionally wounded girl, has just lost the love of her life in a drowning accident. She is so consumed by grief and guilt that the only thing she can motivate herself to do is clean.
Her obsession with things being clean and orderly leads her to go to nursing school west of Johnstown, where she can be of use.
After years of neglect and a week’s worth or rain, the dam that held back the 20,000,000 gallons of water in Lake Conemaugh fails just before 3 p.m. on May 31, 1889. This catastrophic flood kills more than 2,000 people and destroys everything in its path.
This true event brings all of the characters in Richards’ fictional story violently together as they ride the wave of Lake Conemaugh down the valley, help rescue people trapped in the flood, and suffer the great losses that the flood brings.
Richards’ use of verse in her novel makes the book a quick, powerful read even with the slow buildup to the catastrophe. Her characters are well fleshed out and sympathetic.
She also does a good job of making her characters feel like they could have really lived during the time of the Johnstown Flood. They are loosely based on real people from the flood, so that may help.
Having never heard of the Johnstown Flood (or even of the town of Johnstown, Penn.), “Three Rivers Rising” sparked my curiosity, so I dug a little further. David McCullough’s book “The Johnstown Flood,” which the library owns, is a fascinating and well researched nonfiction account of the events surrounding the Johnstown Flood.
The library also owns a VHS account of the events that shows many photographs from Johnstown after the flood and gives a very good overview of the events that occurred. These two items are definitely worth checking out for those who are interested in learning more about this disaster.