It is a great pleasure to join Joan Schweighardt as she celebrates the one year anniversary of publication of the Rivers Trilogy. I have an excerpt to share with all today from Gifts for the Dead, Book Two of the Rivers Trilogy.
Collectively the three books in the Rivers series cover the years 1908 to 1929 and concern two different groups of people: an Irish American contingent living in New York and New Jersey and an Amerindian/European contingent from Manaus, Brazil.
Book one, entitled Before We Died, begins with the two Irish American brothers leaving New Jersey because they have heard that rubber tappers in South America are making a lot of money, and they want to try their hand at it. The results of their effort are tragic, and when one of the brothers returns home without his sibling, relationships among the Irish American contingent must bend and shift accordingly, which happens over the course of the second book, Gifts for the Dead.
In book three, River Aria, a young woman—the product of an affair one of the brothers had back in book one—travels from Brazil to New York with a companion in the hope of finding success in the world of opera.
Book 1 – Before We Died
In 1908 two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the docks of Hoboken, NJ to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the psychological hurdles that will befall them.
Before We Died, the first in a three-book “rivers” series, is a literary adventure novel set against the background of the South American rubber boom, a fascinating but little known historical moment.
Book 2 – Gifts for the Dead
Jack Hopper is holding tight to his secret, though it gets heavier by the day. Nora Sweeny is tired of suffering losses and ready to improvise. Their relationship, based on Jack’s lies and Nora’s pragmatism, builds against a background that includes WWI (as experienced from the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey) and escalates when Jack and Nora travel together to the rainforests of South America seeking closure for a life-shattering event that occurred years earlier. Equal parts romance, adventure, and psychological suspense tale, Gifts for the Dead shines a floodlight on the characters’ deepest yearnings and greatest fears.
Gifts for the Dead is both a standalone novel and the second installment in Schweighardt’s “rivers” trilogy.
Book 3 – River Aria
It’s 1928 and Estela Euquério Hopper, an ambitious young woman from an impoverished area of Brazil, has landed a job at the NY Metropolitan Opera House, though only to work in the sewing room. Her good fortune is due in part to a unique and rigorous education provided to her (and a handful of other “river brats”) by a renowned educator and operatic vocal instructor from Portugal. The other part is due to the fact that her father is American. She hopes to make it from the Met sewing room to the Met stage, but there are three huge obstacles standing in her way: her father, her cousin (who has been kept in the dark regarding his own parentage), and the wild, anything goes, often violent temperament of New York City herself.
Excerpt from Gifts for the Dead (Book Two of the Rivers Trilogy)
Context: 1913. Hoboken, New Jersey. After recovering from a horrible jungle disease from his time in South America, Jack Hopper moves out of his mother’s home and into a boarding house. He wants to be alone; he has so many things he has to sort out. But one night, a unexpected visitor appears in his room.
[While most chapters in Gifts for the Dead are narrated by Nora Sweeny, some alternative third-person chapters offer Jack Hopper’s point of view. This excerpt is from one of them.]
That evening he had eaten bread, cheese and the bowl of stew offered by Herta, and afterwards he’d brought all her first-floor carpets outdoors and beat them with a broom and replaced them again. Then he sat on one of the rockers on the open porch at the front of the house with the pipe he’d begun to smoke since starting work at Lipton, watching the first bats emerge from the eaves of the house across the way and thinking hard about who he was now that he was not Jack Hopper anymore. In more ways than one, the old Jack had been no more than a bad imitation of his brother. He had always been the less lively, the less talkative, the less adventurous, the less likely… And he hadn’t really minded, or at least he hadn’t thought too much about it. It was the way things were. As Bax liked to say, he’d come into the world ahead of Jack, and if he’d stopped to consider it, he’d have found Jack up his arse, because Jack followed that close behind.
Now Jack pretended Bax was sitting beside him, looking out at the darkening sky. He imagined saying to Bax that he’d felt like a poor imitation of him back in the days before they’d died. Bax would have hooted with glee; he’d say, I’ll drink to that, beggar, and then he’d produce a bottle from thin air, because he’d always been something of a wizard, and the two would have a good hard laugh together. And maybe, when they settled down, Jack would tell his brother about a book he was reading (he’d begun a copy of A Study in Scarlet, but to date he hadn’t been able to concentrate on more than a few pages at a time), just like in the old days. Or maybe he’d tell him something interesting someone had said at work. And then he might once again hear his brother’s even breathing just below the surface of his words.
What he wouldn’t give for that.
Although Nora seemed intent on wresting every single detail of Jack’s colorless life out of him, she had failed to ask the location of the room he occupied at Herta’s. Yet just after he’d gone to bed that night, the door, which he never bothered to lock, opened, and there she was. There was just enough moonlight coming in through the window for him to see her.
She closed the door behind her and stood leaning against it, her hands behind her back, and they stared at each other. She looked indignant, he thought. She seemed to be daring him to have an adverse reaction to her presence in his room. He didn’t know how he looked, but he imagined “utterly dumbfounded” might fit the bill well enough. He couldn’t think of a single
thing to say to her. He glanced across the room, where his trousers were, folded neatly over the edge of the bureau. “Am I welcome here?” she asked at last.
Jack leaned over the edge of his bed and struck a match and lit the candle he kept on the side table. Nora must have been to one of her meetings because she was dressed up, wearing a long light-colored tunic over a narrow skirt, neither of which he’d seen before. On her head she wore a straw hat with a dark-colored bow and a spume of some airy fabric.
There were only two entrances to the boarding house: the one that led to Herta’s private residence and the common area on the first floor, and the one that led to the second floor. The latter entrance, the one that Nora had to have come through, was used only after dark, after Herta locked the front door and went to bed. It was gained via a flight of rusty metal stairs on the outside of the building leading to a metal door behind which was a dark hall and the second-floor guest rooms. As Jack’s room was on the third floor, Nora had to have gone down the entire hallway, stopping at each of the second-floor boarders’ doors long enough to read the tiny name tags Herta had taped to them, and having ascertained that Jack’s name was not among them, found the stairway at the far end of the hall. What was wrong with her? Didn’t she realize that people already talked about her living alone the way she did?
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” she continued when he didn’t answer. “I’d have gone to your mum’s but she’s not there, is she? I needed someone to talk to.”
He shrugged. “You can always talk to me,” he said, but it sounded bland and insincere even to his own ears.
She went on as if she hadn’t noticed. “You’re like a brother to me,” she said. “Since my aunt left, you and your mum are the closest to family I have.”
Why hadn’t she said, Since my aunt left and Bax died? He found it ironic that she went out of her way after all this time not to mention Baxter. Yet where he mostly forgave himself for his own neglect, it made him even more resentful of her. They were more alike than not, he and Nora.
[ Bio ]
Joan Schweighardt is the author of nine novels, two memoirs, two children’s books and various magazine articles, including work in Parabola Magazine. She is a regular contributor to Occhi Magazine, for which she interviews writers, artists and filmmakers.
In addition to her own projects, she has worked as an editor and ghostwriter for private and corporate clients for more than 25 years. She also had her own independent publishing company from 1999 to 2005. Several of her titles won awards, including a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers,” a ForeWord Magazine “Best Fiction of the Year,” and a Borders “Top Ten Read to Me.” And she has agented books for other writers, with sales to St. Martin’s, Red Hen, Wesleyan University Press and more.
Twitter – @joanschwei
Website – https://www.joanschweighardt.com/