Across the Endless River
By Thad Carhart
Reviewed by Randall Radic
Edgar Rice Burroughs – considered a ‘hack’ by the cognoscenti – imagined what would happen to an aristocratic infant born in Africa and raised by apes. Burroughs went on to write a series of books – twenty-five different volumes – about Tarzan the Apeman. So popular were the books, that Hollywood noticed and enlisted Johnny Weissmuller to play the role of Tarzan in a series of movies, which were not only entertaining but real moneymakers. Eventually, though, Johnny got old and plump. So Hollywood discarded his loincloth and put him in a safari outfit. They called him Jungle Jim.
Years later, Hollywood – as is their want – decided to make a re-make of Tarzan. This time they hired an unknown Frenchman – Christopher Lambert – to play the part of Tarzan. Lambert was fantastic in the flick. He was sexy, brooding, handsome in a slightly cruel way, and very, very body-con. It was one hell of a good movie, because it explored what happens when mankind who, for the most part has opted for monoculture, lives between two cultures. In other words, when cultural memories and cultural symbols are reshuffled, what kind of human being is produced?
The bicameral mind as envisioned by the highrolling Hollywood movie moguls.
All that just to say this: Thad Carhart has written a new novel, which does the same thing – explores the “in-between path” of a person who lives within two cultures. Carhart has titled his novel Across The Endless River, which is perhaps a little smarmy. But thankfully, the novel isn’t. For from the get-go it’s obvious that Carhart could never be labeled as a ‘hack.’ He’s a ferociously goosed up littérateur with enormous talent.
Across The Endless River is the story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who actually existed. Only not much is known about his life, especially between the years 1824 – 1829, during which he lived and traveled in Europe. His traveling companion was none other than Duke Paul von Wurttemberg, the nephew of King Friedrich III von Wurttemberg.
Jean-Baptiste commands interest because of who he was – the son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau, who were the translators for Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition in 1805. Massaged by two vastly divergent cultures – the Mandan-Hidatsa Indian Villages of North Dakota and the genteel world of St. Louis – Jean-Baptiste grew up to be a person at once noun and verb. Which means he was not only a fascinating character of rich complexity, but he struggled with the basic human problem of context. Who was he? And what did he want to do with his life?
That’s the story that Thad Carhart digs into. He takes the human progeny of the Lewis and Clark Expedition – for Jean-Baptiste was born in the midst of the expedition – and sends him on a personal expedition, the expedition called Life.
It’s a beautiful tale, wonderfully wrought. Carhart plunges the reader into a slo-mo atomic hurricane of human passions and the age-old conundrum of ‘what gives meaning to one’s life?’ The tale glitters with beautiful women – a Princess and a feisty Irish lass – and with adventure, as Jean-Baptiste ranges from one continent to another, discovering his destiny.
On the Read-o-Meter, which ranges from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best Across The Endless River scores an unquestionable 5. For this is a book shot through with a myriad of scintillating points of luminescence. It’s a wonderment.