Pushing the River by Barbara Monier is a family drama that highlights many of the difficulties we all face in our busy lives as we try to hold our families together, especially as our children grow and leave the nest to spread their wings. Madeline is a typical suburban middle-aged mother. Now in her mid to late fifties, with her ex-husband departed several years ago and her children grown up and living away, she lives alone in the big, old house she grew up in. Despite its size, Madeline uses just a few rooms, with the remainder still containing the memories and collections of a family’s lifetime. Over a short period of time, Madeline’s solo and lonely existence begins to change. She meets a new man, who then suddenly decides he’s moving in with her and an empty house begins to fill, as first her daughter-in-law and then her daughter-in-law’s pregnant fifteen-year-old sister arrive, seeking help. Suddenly Madeline goes from being all alone to managing a new relationship as well as providing comfort for a teenager and her baby. Madeline faces the upheaval and the associated angst with a mixture of terror and determination as she seeks to “push the river” and meet all her family’s needs and demands, whilst still looking after her own self.
This could well be the story of any modern family, broken by dislocation and divorce. As a Mother, Madeline feels the need to hold her fractured family together and to keep and recreate the many traditions that defined them as a family. I particularly enjoyed author Barbara Monier’s description of Christmas together, as the new cast of characters sought to compete with and dispute the traditions of Madeline and her children, who had also returned home for the holidays. Looking at Pushing the River, as a social commentary on the family structure, I have no doubt many readers will identify with, particularly Madeline and the struggles she has to begin a whole new adventure at an age when she should be relaxing and enjoying the fruits of her labour. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks to Madeline’s mother and Madeline’s life as a child, which shaped the woman she was today. This is a very readable book and one that reminds us that we are not alone in our own struggles with family and the desire to keep it together and alive. Madeline’s abiding love for others is what comes through most strongly in the narrative and I am sure we can all identify with that.