“River of Names”

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6 Responses to ““River of Names””

  1. Ebony Edwards-Ellis Says:

    I found the brutal unflinching violence of this story to be oddly compelling–the way a car wreck is compelling. You know you shouldn’t want to look at it but you do anyway.

    I felt a lot of compassion for the narrator. She obviously has a strong desire to confide about the awfulness of her childhood experiences; confessing and confiding would purge her. Yet, she is too ashamed to really tell the truth about what went on. And the one healthy person in her life, Jesse, seems to be unable to hear. I also felt bad that the narrator states that she has always “hated the simple fact of her own survival.” The fact that the children “died and were not missed” and the fact that the children “were so many we were without number and, like tadpoles, if there was one less from time to time” that no one noticed indicates that the children were not highly valued.

    I got the distinct impression that class biases play an unspoken role in their relationship. The narrator always seems to sanitize the stories she tells to her girlfriend.

    I also get the impression that the narrator feels that Jesse would be unable to empathize with the pain that all of the abuse caused. (“She said it with her smooth mouth, that chin nobody ever slapped, and I love that chin but when Jesse spoke…I wanted nothing so much as to tell her terrible stories.”)

    I also feel that her relationship with Jesse, despite being very loving and caring, will not last. The relationship doesn’t have a chance if the narrator does not truthfully self-reveal. In fact, the narrator herself seems to be fully aware of this possibility stating “…that by not speaking I am condemning us, that I cannot go on loving you and hating you for your fairy-tale life, for not asking what you have no reason to imagine, for that soft-chinned innocence I love.”

  2. Duchard Louis Says:

    “River of Names” is really a sad and dark story about a big family that keeps on suffering and dying.

    This story has gotten my attention the way the characters react to the suffering of the other people of their family. Those characters reacted so normally when something terrible happened; it feels this became a part of their life, something natural that was supposed to happen in the family. They even ended up saying it is “an Act of God.” (45). I’m surprised about the family’s terrible life, because most of the time they are the ones that makes themselves and other people of their family to suffer and die. I am also impressed at the author’s reaction and thoughts about all this. Even though she was telling the story to her friend just as it was a regular story, you can tell she was afraid that one day she end up the same way all her cousins, aunts, uncles…etc, have ended up. She is deeply troubled by the everyday life she is having, and I think that the primary reason she became a lesbian is because her stepfather molested her.

  3. Rachel Shupe Says:

    Ebony, you said exactly what I was thinking while reading this. I felt guilty for knowing such intimate things about her, but couldn’t put it down. She made me so uncomfortable, proving her point that these things are not spoken of, except in jokes and caricature. When she described her stepfather breaking her sister’s arm, I flinched. I really admired how she used Jesse to make us choose sides- are we the nieve girlfriend that will never understand her or are we the understanding friend that won’t judge her? It made me feel defensive of her.

  4. Alan Liu Says:

    This story is even more sad and darker in A Question of Class. She uses jokes to describe her experience because her experience is too cruel.

  5. Nancy Yi Says:

    In “River of Names,” Allison writes about her family and their history of being the “bad poor” as she described in “A Question of Class.” When reading “River of Names,” her anger can be felt as she describes the various tragic events that had happened to the family that she’s tried to escape from and forget about. Line after line, she gives us a name and describes their demise, without a bat of an eye. It’s like a list, short, to the point, and without any sympathy.

  6. Angelina Petrova Says:

    The story is very brutal and realistic at the same time, and after reading it I was in shock. I agree with Ebony that at times I felt like I should stop but I couldn’t. From the very begininning of “The River of Names” the narrator gives us a memory of her childhood when her eight-year-old cousin hang himself. And as the story went on she kept throwing in those violent stories of her past. Her entire life she couldn’t find the right way and the right person to tell the story of her childhood to. Even Jesse, who she dearly loved, seemed like somebody who would never understand her. And the reason is that Jesse had this perfect “fairy-tale life” and would never truly understand what the narrator went through while growing up. All her life she is running away from the past, carrying the anger and the pain inside.


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