Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River, by Janisse Ray

Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River (Univ. of Georgia Press, 2013) is not as well constructed as Janisse Ray’s earlier books, though it is just as interesting.  The first half is an account of a kayak trip down the Altamaha River.  Ray discusses the history of the river, the region that depends on it, the people and animals who live along the river, and the pollution and industrial development that threaten it.  Foremost among her concerns is a paper mill which pours toxic effluents into the river and the Vogle nuclear power plant.  The second half of the book is a series of short essays about wildlife, people, and places associated with the Altamaha.  For instance, there is a short chapter on bears that describes past and current ranges of bears in the southeast, and that suggests what must happen in order for their range to expand.  Many of these chapters are provocative, and they leave the reader not entirely satisfied and wishing for more information.  Ray has become an increasingly lyrical and effective writer over the course of her career.  Her poetic descriptive abilities are evident throughout.  Her passion and fierce commitment to nature and the environment are always apparent.  There are moments when she falters—one chapter ends with a quotation from a Tony Orlando and Dawn song, for instance--and she is occasionally too careless, too flippant, with her language.  Although I am sure that Ray thought carefully about the order in which she arranged the short chapters in the book’s second half, the effect is sometimes of randomness.

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