The River Beyond the World

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in The Valley, that strip of land in south Texas where Mexico officially ends and the United States official begins, THE RIVER BEYOND THE WORLD brings the two cultures into sharp and telling contrast. Luisa Cantu, a young Mexican, loses her virginity to Uncle Chu, a shaman, in an ancient fertility rite that involves her being engaged sexually with him seven times. This involvement virtually guarantees the pregnancy that is the culmination of the rite. Luisa, pregnant and dressed in white, rides a tame bear through the streets in a Christmas ritual. When her son, Gustavo, is born, however, she bolts from Salsipuedes over the border to The Valley, where eventually she becomes Eddie Hatch’s servant.

Eddie, cherishing illusions about Virginia’s first families engendered by her upbringing in Lynchburg, Virginia, is past her prime when, more out of desperation than passionate commitment, she marries Thomas Hatch, a Texas farmer. Their marriage is sexually restrained but not miserably unhappy.

Within Eddie, however, the fires of passion burn irresistibly so that when she meets Bobby Israel, a California rancher on an extended stay in The Valley, she falls into a liaison with him although she is fourteen years older than he. A pregnancy results and Thomas is conned into thinking that he is the father of Raleigh, the fruit of Eddie’s passion. At this point, Luisa also becomes pregnant again, giving birth to Antonia.

As the story unfolds over the fifty year period from 1941 to 1991, the two women, although never really at peace with each other, realize how interdependent they are. Their children, Raleigh and Antonia, also form a close bond.

A finalist for the 1996 National Book Award, this novel, Janet Peery’s first, is sensitive, delicate, and above all, unfailingly interesting from start to finish.

Sources for Further Study

Boston Globe. December 13, 1996, p. D12.

Chicago Tribune. December 15, 1996, XIV, p. 1.

Detroit News and Free Press. November 10, 1996, p. F6.

Houston Chronicle. November 3, 1996, p. Z28.

Los Angeles Times. October 7, 1996, p. E3.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, November 10, 1996, p. 23.

The Washington Post. December 10, 1996, p. E2.