Title: I Wish I Had a River
Author: Martha Reynolds
Genre: Women’s fiction / Literary fiction
Anna, a pediatrician in her prime, is left reeling after her husband Nick’s sudden death and makes a trip to Europe to honor his last wishes in Martha Reynolds’s I Wish I Had a River. She takes a year to travel: first to Portugal, then to Spain, then to Italy, and finally to France. While she grapples with troubling information about Nick and his family she finds out on the trip, it only adds to her grief that began before Nick died, and she must eventually try to find peace.
I Wish I Had a River has strong elements of women’s fiction. The protagonist is a woman who must face troubling circumstances mostly on her own, although she bonds with other women along the way. They build each other up with a sisterhood that women will identify with, especially when going through hard times.
The novel also stands as solid literary fiction due to its thematic nature. Themes of healing, grieving, fractured families, and forgiveness prevail throughout. While Anna embarks on her physical journey across Europe, she also takes an inner journey that proves much more challenging. She struggles deeply to reconcile some harrowing facts about Nick’s ancestry, but these facts about his family do not bring her as much grief as some of the choices Nick made, even up until his last few months. Anna also bears a heavy burden with her in-laws and lacks much close blood family, other than her brother. Because she has no parents and was never close to Nick’s family, she is very much alone in her grief, and it is only because of several kind and welcoming strangers she meets in Europe that she can begin to heal.
Martha Reynolds has some lovely descriptions of the countryside in the different regions Anna visits, which leads the reader to believe she either has visited these places or has done thorough research. She captures the cultural differences as well, including Anna’s struggle with foreign language. All these details bring the reader into the story with their authenticity.
While I Wish I Had a River is a satisfying tale, at only 50,000 words, it is on the shorter side for a novel. It easily could be twice as long, to allow for more depth and more detail, both inwardly and outwardly for Anna’s journey. The pace feels rushed at times. We just meet a new character who Anna starts to bond with, and the next thing we know, Anna is leaving to move on to the next leg of her trip. The experience is jarring, at times, and we would enjoy spending more time with Anna as she sips wine with southern France’s countryside in the background or when she grapples with forgiving her late husband. The four countries she visits could be broken into four separate novels in a series, and this may provide the reader with an even more satisfying read.
I Wish I Had a River has strong elements and themes that lovers of women’s and literary fiction will enjoy. Martha Reynolds captures a dual journey with tantalizing details that pull the reader in. The protagonist, Anna, is compelling, relatable, and beautifully flawed.
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