A River Moves Forward, the debut novel by Washington, DC novelist Selena Haskins, tells the story of Connie Morris, and her time growing up in, and finally escaping the crime-ridden housing project Cabrini-Green. The book is filled with tragedy and heartbreak, broken and repaired relationships, along with a measure of redemption.
There were times, however, when I felt as though I was reading a history textbook. Historical events were often presented with all but the vaguest, general connections to the story. The author would have been better served weaving these events directly into the story line, using them as a means of indirectly enhancing the struggles of the main characters, and of African Americans of that particular time period. In other words, she could have had the main characters discussing and interacting with these issues as they related to the current times, and to their own struggles. There were also numerous instances when the author also chose to tell the reader that something happened, rather than showing it happening, perhaps through the eyes of a main character. One example of this is the main character Connie’s descent into alcohol addiction. Readers mostly hear about how bad her drinking is becoming, rather than being shown the disastrous effects of her drinking through her eyes, and the eyes of those closest to her.
There were also lots of issues with the basic mechanics of composition. The biggest of these was the author’s use of paragraphs that quite literally went on for pages, containing expository passages and, very often, dialogue between multiple characters.
Additionally, there were numerous instances when words were misused, mistakes that should have been identified and corrected during the editing process. One example that came to mind was the use of the word “descent,” when the author meant to say “decent,” as in “Their mother allowed them to go to descent parties…” Another example was the use of “riff” (defined as a short musical phrase) instead of “rift,” as in “Because of this, a riff ensued between Connie, Billy and Upper management.” These simple, fixable errors really detracted from the story.
In spite of the aforementioned issues, A River Moves Forward is a somewhat compelling, multi-generational story. The book’s dialogue had an authentic feel, and the author did a pretty good job of developing the main characters.