Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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Foreword

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pp. vii-x

Few things ignite the imagination of a writer more than a river. The great American poet James Dickey told a generation of his students that he considered rivers to be the most stunning imagery of nature. In the best of Dickey’s fiction and poetry, you will find yourself navigating the steep rapids of the Chattooga or wading knee deep in the tide-swollen waters near Darien before...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

With sincere thanks . . .
to the good people at USC Press, and their quality work. Linda Fogle, Bill Adams, Suzanne Axland, Brandi Avant;
to Jonathan Haupt for giving it a chance and sending it forward;
to Pat Conroy for his kind words of encouragement;
to Peter Powlus for his help reading and for the company on all those...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-5

This benchmark is old brass, set into the bricks, simple, precise decoration, two hundred statute miles upriver from Savannah, the Tybee lighthouse, actually. They stand upon the very same earth, the path de Soto had footsore scuffed across four hundred fifty years before, with the four hundred horses and the six hundred men—a haggard, febrile aimless search for Cufitachiqui, ancestress...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 5-16

Verdery breathed deep into his lungs the wet, solemn air, remembering the taste of it. On the levee the air changed to the color of night, and a deep saturate blue hung like water smoke. At the old drawbridge he searched the far shore lights. There a houseboat had become more a lean-to, with a vapor streetlamp for a porchlight. Above that on the bank and into the trees, more...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 16-20

After two A.M., the fog was a rain. A fog that wets all things God grown and man built. The fog you breath into your lungs, and it comes off the river and takes all of downtown. With Rhind late, Verdery hauled half his gear, then waited drinking a beer that made him shake with cold and giddiness. Soon headlamps bounced and shone scattered by the body of the fog, and it...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 20-25

There is a time of the morning when all natural creatures sleep. Muskrat and great blue heron all silent, and the only worry something from a man. A car door slamming a chassis, wheels wearing the road, the drone of industry testament to work ethic, or simply a drunk not knowing to quit singing or crying. There is a time when all natural creatures sleep. Because it is...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 25-30

In Dan Rhind’s left hand was a bottle of cherry rail beer, and in his right a black pistol. The copper ball of the sun rose just above his hatted head, and they made for him. He wore cutoffs and the hat was an outback hat—origins unknown, untold. He knew his boat and them coming in it, and he went to the eddy where half an hour earlier he had landed Verdery’s Old Town, and...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 30-34

With the morning light they repacked their gear into the Ouachita. They made it so to remember to pack it the same each time, and they made it so their drinks were easy to get at.
They backed the Ouachita off the sandbar and Rhind sat first, and they saw that Dan Rhind in the Katahdin was already to the river’s far side, making for the next point, becoming small in the...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 34-37

Each ten miles came a marker, a sign on a creosote post set into the water, showing the river mileage. They made mile one eighty at Hungry Swamp Lodge, one seventy at Eagle Point, and one sixty the last marker they would remember that day. At mile one sixty-four they passed into Burke County, and they found Dan Rhind as he stood on a beach with his back to them, urinating...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 37-39

The river shaded with the cloud shadows passing. They made points and bends and switchbacks innumerable and alike and the miles slid under them. Late in the day when the sun cooled they saw a boy working a johnboat against the river with his hand to a motor throttle. He steered and he fished together beneath overhanging myrtle working eddies aiming for panfish. He jigged...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 39-42

Verdery saw now it was bound at the bow by a chain heavy and darkened of hackberry, sagging taut to a near oak. He put a finger to the bumper and he took a chip of paint away, and the paint left a spot of chalk on his fingertip. Close now, Verdery admired it for its age and what he imagined to be its endurance, and for its lines. He ran a hand along the gunwale and arriving at...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 42-46

How it was, you see, was he, Jesup, and his grandson, the same boy who was bringing the fish for supper and the youngest Covington boy, had tracked the pig with the help of a hunter named Toombs. The youngest Covington boy had a reputation for being a good shot, though it wasn’t true. The one time he was just awfully lucky, it turns out. Now this Toombs for real held a license...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 46-49

Jesup abided in a pull trailer for a home—a moldy camper set up on blocks, with airless tires still nutted to the axles, and the door opened with the warm incandescent interior light spilling outward and across a stack of cut floor joists, sleepers, used for steps up. Even the pine woods were fragrant of the peanut oil and the potatoes and the cornbread and the fish. He tended to three...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 49-52

“Caron Lee,” said Verdery.
“Shore. That’s this one here. And that one’s, Jason. Jase. You see that’s your fisherman over there. They pretty ain’t they.”
“They favor their mother. The picture.”
“Shore, their mother’s always been a good-looking gal. All of them pretty. Their grandmother, she give it to all them to start with. Now, she was a good-looking gal, but that cancer got her. It’ll get them pretty ones, like that. God...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 52-61

Covington, the Father, built houses, with his hands, until he became successful. He met a woman from Augusta, and both young and bright they married. They raised two boys and built the place above the river for the weekends to relieve the sameness of the city. She became sick when the boys were in high school, and it overtook her and she died in the big house, leaving the three of them...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 61-68

“You said he was shot.”
“Who.”
“Covington. You said Covington was shot and killed, not burned.”
“No sir, I ain’t said he was burned. I got him off the dock, and the dock brand new and on fire. He woulda burned, but I got him. He was looking where that gal had done gone in his boat, and he ain’t cared one way or another.”
“About the woman.”
“About the fire.”
“And the fire didn’t kill...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 68-79

Verdery wakened lying on his back in the same position he had fallen asleep. The moon had traveled high and over, reducing and blanching to pure white. She had been kneeling with her palms to her thighs, only a short while in the broomsedge in the moonlight watching him sleep, waiting for when he would know to waken. He saw her shape as a void, something empty of...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 79-100

“Hey, Ghostman. There were beds up in the house,” said Rhind, hoarse and giddy from sleep and lacking sleep, kicking at Verdery, and Verdery wakened sitting the same as when he had fallen asleep.
“What.”
“You didn’t come home last night.”
“Well, hell.”
“You going to sleep all day?”
Verdery stood, groaning against the stiffness in his bones, cursing without...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 101-111

The oxbow at Big Randall Point ran due south, then north for half a mile, before turning again to southeast. On the Carolina shore at rivermile one twenty-seven, Dan Rhind found them. They had already unloaded their goods and tipped and drained the Ouachita, and when Dan Rhind came Verdery helped him do the same.
Shirtless, apart from one another, they chose to stand...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 111-115

Dan Rhind loosed the batteries then poured water from his flashlight. When he put it together again, it did not work. Cursing, searching in his gear he found buried a zippered pouch holding three stubbed candles, and in another smaller pouch a single box of matches. The candles were the fat kind, used, larger than votives. “She remembered the last time I came out, and she told...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 115-129

They cut the channel steady performing to a gathering of yappy crows high atop a sycamore, all travelmates to an unhurried great blue heron measuring distance and time aloft. They made places called Green Log Point and Red Bluff Landing, and Poke Patch Bar, and they saw nothing of people and nothing manmade, save their own vessels and themselves. They made Seven Day...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 129-141

The afternoon warmed and they made Thompson’s Long Round and Mosquito Camp Point, then Poor Robin Upper Cut Point and Poor Robin Landing. Just before rivermile eighty-six they pulled up at the landing to ease their backs and legs, and they stood apart and urinated.
A pickup truck towing a small v-hull drove in and an ageless dark black...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 141-148

“Was it a cottonmouth,” said Rhind, from the bottom of the longboat.
“What,” said Verdery, to Jacob Jump Point.
“Was it a cottonmouth.”
“Moccasin. I don’t know. It was something, yes.”
“You wet?”
“Yes. I’m wet.”
“It’s flooded.”
“Will, I need your help.”
“I know you do.”
“I tried.”
“I know it. I want to take him...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 148-153

I’m sorry Thom, but we had to go. I’m sorry Thom, but he’s lost, and we had to go. We had to go, and I don’t see him anywhere . . . His coughing, less than choking now, wakened him with his face cold against the Ouachita’s hull. He raised his head from the keel and the vomit of river water, and he listened to gather which had been the...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 153-156

Verdery did not try the lantern. Just before dark he took what had half-dried and what was only half-soaked and within the tent he made places to lie. And when he could see nothing more of the channel and the mosquitoes came, Rhind went into the shelter too—into the dank and the wetness and the fust of the floodwater, and the odor of themselves. He sat cross-legged, full wearied...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 156-160

Verdery knew.
When the light wakened him, and just before that too, he already knew he was alone.
Groping the distance to the nearest bend, he saw nothing of him. He had taken nothing save a single oar and his last bottle to drink, and Verdery thought, it must have been at firstlight, because he could have done no good with only the moon. Goddamit why did...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 161-169

With the Ouachita heavy of rainwater, drawing low in the channel, Verdery could not help but make good time. He searched by sight the eddies and backwaters and creeks, and the rain came furious and intermittent, causing the watercourse to steam. He made one stretch, then another appeared through the gauze, and he made that one too. Empty from the sadness and aloneness...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 169-174

On the high bluff obscured by the grown woods lay the ruins of a church. Middle Europeans, Salzburgers from the Austrian mountains, crossed the ocean to settle and worship. Even as Savannah itself was being righted out of timber and stones, Oglethorpe delivered them upriver to the creek. Calling it New Ebenezer, they stood alone in this wildland, no trouble to Savannah...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 174-182

He made the last sharp bend of its kind, the last switchback for the remainder of the river’s run, then he made Abercorn Creek, the creek that defined the island, and the river widened into a pool, and when he cleared the point he saw the high bridge, with the insect traffic crawling its back. He slowed without knowing it and he ferried across the pond to the Carolina shore, that too...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 183-189

A man could not walk that fast . . . it is as fast as a man can run, and it will not quit . . .
of course he is not here. The man in the powerboat would have said so . . . he would have said something, if he were here . . . he went with the good tide, and I did not, and of course he is not here
. . .
Verdery looked to the sky, over his right shoulder to find the sun, to guess at the time of day.
He had said four, and that was awhile...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 189-192

At the Port Wentworth turning basin he worried at the rich color of the late day sky.
Do not behave ridiculous . . . they are blameless . . . behave like a grown man and you will remember this . . .
To his right the terminal came into sight. The portdock cranes were stilled this time of day, asleep and powderblue, but the stacks behind worked...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 192-195

At Ebenezer he landed the small boat fast, and she did not step to one side or the other and she did not turn away. He drank the finish of the gin from the clear bottle, knowing he had a good last one in it, and he had all of it but the last one.
“There’s people looking for you,” he said, thinking too, she’s wearing the same clothes as the night he fixed...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 196-200

“You alright?”
“We’re alright.”
When Verdery knew what he had found, knowing it true, he stopped, still holding the oars, and they regarded each other, with as little surprise as if one or the other had just come in from the porch. Rhind’s face and arms and legs had welted from the mosquitoes, and Verdery looked down himself and again at Rhind, thinking...

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Chapter 32

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pp. 200-211

In the firstlight Verdery made coffee.
In the night he wakened once to hear when Rhind went out to finish the beer. Verdery went out too and pissing he asked, “you going off alone again.”
“We’ll go in the morning like we said.”
“You can go either way with the tide.”
“No, we’ll go the one way.”
When he wakened next she was half off the bedroll spooned at Rhind’s...