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Rips, a novel...reviews, and excerpts

Rips is a harrowing adventure novel about the traumas, adventures, and frustrated romances of a St. Lawrence River man and his adopted family as they fight for survival during the French and Indian War. Caught in the cross-fire between French, English, American and Indian combatants, the people of Rips embody the strife, conflict, and bitter ancestry of a nearly forgotten era in North American history still smoldering in today's world.

On his way home to a romantic island paradise on one of the world's great rivers two and a half centuries ago, Everett, a proud and decent St. Lawrence riverman, happens upon the bleak smoldering ruins of a burned-out cabin on the shores of Lake Champlain. He sees a lovely widow and her son gaze in stunned silence at yet another loss from a brutal, chaotic French and Indian War tearing apart North America.

With no place to turn, they join Everett who offers them hope of sanctuary, kindness, and protection on his faraway island. But treachery, betrayal, hatred, chaos, and brutality divide Americans, Canadians, the British, French, and dozens of desperate native tribes as they all claw for survival during an era that shaped the continent.

The war soon visits Everett's Island, bringing a French deserter followed by a cast of no-accounts, brutes, Gilles, a charming French Lieutenant, Indian friends and foes, and a series of catastrophes that wrench apart the family yet again. Rips is the story of how these characters, through guile, desperation, extraordinary toughness and determination overcome their losses and recapture their lost sanctuary.

The French and Indian War was, at its essence, about the theft of a continent, and thievery was its guiding metaphor. The widow Ella is kidnapped by Indians, who often captured white settlers to replenish their numbers after devastating European diseases decimated their tribes. Her captivity, she discovers is filled with unexpected twists. French naval officers conscript Everett as a river pilot to guide them along the treacherous shoals, channel rips, rock ledges, and ice flows of the huge and ever-dangerous river. Everett's former lover Lucy, the daughter of a native trapper, is adopted by a French Missionary who falls in love with her and out of grace with his own God. But a tribe of Indians he is trying to convert have their own notions about the meaning of death, dignity, and sin visited upon them by the priests they considered devils. Jamie, Ella's adolescent son, learns from Everett's Indian friend Gordon, a brilliant warrior, philosopher, and unrivaled riverman that loyalty, friendship, extraordinary patience, and oneness with nature offer a path to survival and ascendancy in this otherwise vicious world.

Torn apart by the wildly unpredictable forces of men, river, climate, romance, and an accurate rendering of history, the characters of Rips fight for a sense of order, peace, and wisdom in a novel rippling with kinetic energy. They represent our dark roots and still simmering resentments, packed into a wrenching gauntlet of adventures and uplifting acts of heroism seldom seen in contemporary fiction.

Excerpts from Rips River and Regional History
Island Histories To purchase Rips

Carefully Crafted Drama
By Todd Moe, North Country Public Radio

"More than a history lesson, it's filled with believable characters, carefully crafted drama, and intriguing insights into North America's past.... I am really impressed by the amount of detail in your writing. It is so much fun, having seen some of the areas you talk about in your book along the St. Lawrence, Quebec, New York and such... It was really fascinating, and even the little things in the boat ride here this afternoon and looking over her edge of the boat and seeing the river grasses in the water and things like that, and saying wow, this is what Peter is talking about in his book. A lot of fun."

http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/archive.html

Rips is beautiful and exciting--a winner
By Shirley Stuart, a California Writer

Early in Peter Owens' fine novel Rips, Everett, a trapper and fisherman on the St. Lawrence River, declares the central theme of this work: "Ain't nothin' worse than a channel current goin one way and the wind goin the other. That rip'll kill yah." The unknown and deceptive can spell disaster.

Surviving in the North American wilderness of the 1750s on the frontier between Quebec and New York required a keen understanding of wind, water, sailing, the river, Indians, soldiers, mariners and other people of all kinds, not to mention bugs, animals and plants, and most important, the all-pervasive, murderous weather.

This thrilling tale skillfully weaves the lives of six people as they fight to stay alive and together in conditions that demand resourcefulness, experience and courage. Everett lives on an island in the St. Lawrence with the widowed Ella, whom he has rescued from her burnt-out cabin, and her son, Jamie. When the novel begins, Everett is trying hard to be a father to Jamie, help Ella through the loss of her husband and to steer clear of the warring French, British, Huron, Mohawk and Iroquois, as well as protect them from thieving rival trappers and fishermen; but the outside world keeps intruding on their already hard life. The fortunes of Everett, Ella, Jamie and their friends Lucy, a half Iroquois trading post owner, Henri, a deserter from the French navy, and Gilles, a French ship's officer, intertwine and fragment in ways that are sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, and always exciting as they risk their lives to help one another.

We come to know these people intimately and to share the author's affection for them, and along the way we learn a lot about the human spirit and an appreciation for the realities of survival. Clearly Owens has a vast knowledge of the period and place he creates for us, and tells his story in some of the most beautifully written scenes I have ever read.

With wisdom and compassion his muscular prose leads us through myriad complex adventures. Whether Everett and his friends are trying to stay afloat in crushing ice, flying like the wind across the river's surface in an ice boat, or crawling on their bellies through a frozen swamp with a band of Indians, the writing carries us along with the sureness and depth of the St. Lawrence itself. Rips is a deeply affecting and exciting novel. I look forward to seeing other books by this talented author.


"Throughout it all, The River, its environs, and seasonal characteristics are interwoven. The author makes the river's presence felt as a major player, a force to contend with, a means to an end or simply as a backdrop to the unfolding story.

"I gained a sense of place for a time before the river was densely settled by cities, cottages and tamed by the modernizing St. Lawrence Seaway. It succeeds as a human story, convincing us that real folks, representative of the various cultures and circumstances of the time, lived along The River's shores. I found that I read Rips as, in essence, a contemporary story about how people can confront difficulties and yet go forward and survive. This novel will remain on my shelf among other literature of THE RIVER… a rousing read."


--St. Lawrence University Professor, Kathleen Connor writing for the Ottawa Beavers Scuba Club Newsletter, other reviews pending


The river is the central character of the novel...everything happens and centers around it. Absolutely interesting people, rich and filled with history, which is wonderful. Each of the four main characters gets captured... each have their own stories interwoven. This novel is for everybody. When you're reading it, you don't want to put it down. It's filled with intrigue, filled with history, and it's quite fascinating.

--Betsy Welton, Books and the World

 

More comments and reviews:

"A rip-snorting read! I was well hooked. The history was fascinating, as was the constant sense of menace. Great characters, furious pace."

--Award-winning British writer Graham Joyce, author of ten novels


Boston Globe book columnist Katherine A. Powers, writing for Delta Airline's Sky Magazine:

"Rips, by Peter Owens, a wonderful read it is, too. Set on the St. Lawrence River during the French and Indian War, it has an authentic historical feel and is packed with adventure, romance and stunning depictions of nature."


"Rips is a great historical novel full of action, adventure, romance and memorable characters. Ripping through this dark but ultimately uplifting story is the mighty St. Lawrence River, which acts as a metaphor of the history of the North American experience, where the themes are identity, exuberance and survival. Rips also holds a backward mirror before the readers, reflecting a time period curiously like our own, where the old ways don't quite work any more and the new ways are unknown. I highly recommend this book."

-- Ernest Hebert, author of The Old American, The Dogs of March and five other novels.


Passionate wilderness

John Golden, Watertown Daily Times

The French and Indian War on the St. Lawrence River, with its sweeping, complex drama and multicultural cast of characters, would seem to be a rich source of material for a writer of historical fiction. Yet it has been largely neglected by authors. Peter Owens, an Oneida County native and third-generation St. Lawrence islander, has mined that fascinating historical era in his first novel, "Rips" (AmErica House; 306 pages; $19.95 paperback). A 55- year-old writer and professor from Marstons Mills on Cape Cod,, Mass., Mr. Owens has made the mighty river and the brutal vagaries of that 18th-century war on the northern frontier the twin inspiration for his book.

"Rips" takes its title from the treacherous currents that can turn the St. Lawrence into a swift, cold killer. With the river and sudden turns of war sweeping along its compelling and culturally diverse characters, the adventure story is a ripping good yarn set against the authentic backdrop of regional history. To its suspenseful mix of captures and escapes, deaths and torture and perilous journeys, the author adds episodes of frank sexual liaisons and cross-cultural romance on the frontier. In that passionate wilderness, even a zealous Jesuit missionary might succumb to temptations of the flesh and the promptings of physical love, before being stoned and burned at the stake by his Huron captors.

…. Its changing aspects and terrible power are vividly described in "Rips," making the river itself a vital and imposing character in the unfolding tale, not unlike Mark Twain's Mississippi River.

Complete review


"Rips is an immediate go, the characters solid, the narrative skillful and forward - moving. It looks like a winner. I laughed and enjoyed it. The descriptions of the storms and small boats are very good and convincing, as though we had been there. The book is not only a ripping good story with compelling characters but also a splendid insight into the America that we don't know so well. The book also gives us a vivid image of the great St. Lawrence River that is truly unknown to most Americans, and it does so with a strong feeling for the natural world that is in the tradition of the best writing in Fenimore Cooper."

--William Barker, English Professor Emeritus, Fitchburg State College


"I could see, feel, hear and touch everything. The imagery brings such life to the river and its inhabitants. I could picture the incredibly disgusting hunter who died in Ella's cabin, and felt her misery at having to burn down her home. I could feel the cold in Everett's lungs as he hovered in the brig. And poor Henri -- so frail but steady in his devotion to his friends. I can hear the wind in the ice boat, and see lard on Lucy's face. I can picture Ella being dragged off by the Indians ... on and on. There were times when the narrative flowed and caught my every synapse, so that before I knew it, 20 minutes had gone by and another chapter was over. The characters are so real and vivid. Owens has wonderfully captured the earthy nuances of life in the time they lived. Professionally speaking, the writing is beyond comparison -- really first-rate and compelling. I couldn't put it down!"

--Theresa Barbo, President of the Cape Cod Maritime History Association and author of Murder Hill


"Rips: I thoroughly enjoyed it, and author Peter Owens certainly does put Everett, Ella, Jamie, Henri, Lucy, Gilles, Father Ray (ouch!) and Gordon's son through enough ordeals to keep readers enthralled -- and turning pages quickly.... I also was impressed by Owens' treatment and knowledge of the Iroquois, Mohawks, and Hurons. And he does a great job of showing just how hard life was in those days. All told, a wonderful yarn."

-- Raymond Dumont, author of several college-level writing textbooks and a professional wilderness guide in Northern Canada

More comments and reviews:

Everett, a quiet and determined frontiersman, finds his orderly life is irretrieveably transformed when he takes in a widow and her young son. Ella and and Jamie have more than a little trouble adapting to their new life, and Everett is baffled at what to do with them. Domestic concerns suddenly take second place when the outside world intrudes.

The saga of people caught up in events far beyond their control is an entertaining one (the reader is never truly certain what disaster will arrive next!) and the portrayal of the St. Lawrence River area seems to be an accurate presentation of the frontier of the late 18th century.

Entertaining it is.

--Historical Novels Review


I am really knocked out by the book and have heartily recommended it to several people.

--Dan Hamilton, Managing Editor, The Cape Cod Voice

The Old American by Ernest Hebert, another French and Indian War novel, excellent

Stormwatcher by Graham Joyce, haunting summer tale set in modern France

The Recovery --A Publish America Book of the Month by Rex Haberman

Blood Feud--A Publish America Book of the Month by Chris Wiggins


Special acknowledgments:

Catherine Houser at UMass Dartmouth, consulting editor
Dorothy Ryan, consulting editor
Robert Watson of Quebec, consulting translator, Shirley Watson Web consulting
Robert Smith, St. Lawrence River history consultation
Albert Desrochers, "The Island," cover photo

Excerpts from Rips River and Regional History
Island Histories To purchase Rips

Return to Rips home page

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Copyright Peter Owens, 2000, 2001, 2002

Contact: Peter Owens, powens@cape.com

Last revised: 10-15-2004