What This River Keeps, a novel by Hoosier author Greg Schwipps

I’ve been reading this novel which is one of many novels being loaned to book and community groups by Indiana Humanities, Inc.  as part of its Novel Indiana program.  It will be of interest to many Heart of the River sympaticos because it provides a story of community response to a proposal for a new dam which would require significant land acquisition via eminent domain.  From the back cover: “In the rolling hills of southern Indiana, an elderly couple copes with the fear that their riverbottom farm – the only home they have ever known – will be taken from them through an act of eminent domain. The river flowing through their land, the current the old man has fished nearly every day of his life, may be dammed to form a reservoir. … This beautiful and heartfelt novel examines what it means to love a place and a family, and the sometimes staggering cost of that affection.”

One portion (in Chapter 29) describes the public meeting convened by the Army Corps of Engineers is particularly poignant:

“Someone asked about the price offered to landowners and got a long answer about market value and fluctuating worth.  Another asked about the timetable and Dunkirk (the ACE’s Project Manager) replied: “The whole process – the building of the structure, the preparation of the land, all the various procedures and so forth — takes years.  But we are prepared to move on this right away. We expect to be begin contacting landowners to notify them of their offers to purchase next week.”

Again the room lit up with voices.  “Next week!” someone yelled.

Dunkirk said nothing.  He stood there, as still as a statue of as great man, one erected in a town or square.  A founding father perhaps.  “Within one year, all the necessary property will be in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” he said finally.

The crowd was explosive now—some yelling at the stage, others talking to those around them….

“Ladies and gentlemen, please”, he said.  “On behalf of the United States of America, I ask you to trust the Army Corps of Engineers to do their job for the betterment of the community…”

But Frank was already walking out, Ethel behind him.  He hadn’t joined no goddamn army.


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