Somerville's control over the levers of compassion is expert as he draws Ben and Lauren closer together: their inner monologues do not sparkle, and the dialogue is often lackluster, but the personalities Somerville renders are irresistibly believable and totally sympathetic. If the prose is unimaginative, if there's a poverty in the diction, rest assured that Somerville is responding to some embedded truth in his fictional universe. In this case, the worldview of the doomed Wayne Hanson, who sees words at best as rocks in the riverbed, bearing the action along, and at worst as the foundation of the Big Deceit, the nonsensical lies people tell each other, that he expects to be ground out of existence in geologic time when the bedrock of humanity cracks and swirls to dust. What baffles Wayne is the lack of power words have to subvert the human capacity for violence. Why, he asks, could the Word of God not stop his ancestors from heaping cruelties on this country’s indigenous peoples? How is it that explorers coming from abroad could record their pleasure at hearing boulders, undisturbed for hundreds of years, groaning and tumbling at river bottom? What is the use of the boons of civilization if they can’t keep strangers from hurting your family? Though rivers run and churn, and their waters are different every time you look, families can yet come to live comfortably in the eddies. As Ben observes, harm on purpose is not one-sided: if you indulge revenge as reprisal for harm, sooner or later, "You're just a big walking principle." Family may complicate reinvention, but the thing about a river is that it reinvents itself constantly, and sometimes even someone like Ben can surprise himself.