In his sixth novel, “Where the River Ends,” we meet Doss Michael, an artist who outpunted his coverage when he met, courted and married the daughter of a powerful South Carolina senator, Abby Coleman. The story is told in alternating chapters, examing their courtship, marriage and life together and their final journey together down the St. Mary’s River. Ten years into the marriage, Abby finds she has a devestating form of cancer, one that is eating her up inside. She’s made a list of ten things she wants to experience before she dies and Doss sets out to make them those dreams a reality.
The list isn’t a gradoise list, but a list of achievable goals such as skinny dipping or the trip down the river that had such an influence on her husband growing up.
However, the trip isn’t what her father wants. After four years of estrangement and refusal to deal with Abby’s choice of Doss as a husband, the senator want Abby in hospice to extend her life. Doss and Abby disagree and set out on the journey.
The alternating story from the Doss’s early life to the current trip works to propel the plot forward and keep the reader interested, all the while keeping the story from becoming too bleak or overwhelmingly depressing. Martin does a remarkable job of setting the story to follow the expected path, but also throwing in some unexpected curves along the way. At one point, art student Doss needs someone to model nude in order to finish up his degree program. Upon meeting Abby and saving her from an assault, one could assume the direction this story could head. Instead, Martin toys with that assumption and gives the reader a richer story because of it.
And even though we have an idea where this story can and must end (Abby’s death), her passing along isn’t the central point of this story. It’s about the story of Doss, his journey and the shared life he had with Abby. While the ending will create a lump in your threat, Martin wisely allows a few glimmers of hope and healing in the final chapters to keep the ending from being overwhelmingly grim.