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In the Heart of the Canyon

4.0 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Book Description
From the author of The Abortionist’s Daughter, a gripping new novel about a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon that changes the lives of everyone on board.

Meet Peter, twenty-seven, single, and looking for a quick hookup; Evelyn, a fifty-year-old Harvard professor; and Ruth and Lloyd, river veterans in their seventies. There’s Mitchell, an overeager history buff with no qualms about unstaging the guides with his knowledge. There’s Jill from Salt Lake City, wanting desperately to spark some sense of adventure in her staid Mormon family; and seventeen-year-old Amy, so woefully overweight that she can barely fit into a pup tent, let alone into a life jacket.

Guiding them all is JT Maroney, who loves the river with all his heart and who, having made 124 previous trips down the Colorado, thinks he has seen everything. But on their first night, a stray dog wanders into their campsite, upsetting the tentative equilibrium of this makeshift family. Over the next thirteen days, as various decisions are second-guessed and sometimes regretted, both passengers and guides find that sometimes the most daunting adventures on a Colorado River trip have nothing to do with white-water rapids, and everything to do with reconfiguring the rocky canyons of the heart.

Elisabeth Hyde on In the Heart of the Canyon

This novel was born on July 6, 2002, when I got thrown over the back of the paddle boat in Deubendorff Rapid. It’s not the biggest rapid in the Grand Canyon, but it’s no trickle either, with fifteen-foot waves colliding against each other in angry perpetuity.

We’d had an extensive briefing on the first day of the trip about what to do if you fell out of the boat. Breathe at the crest, not the trough. Trust your lifejacket. Point your feet downstream. These days, the Park Service allows training swims in baby rapids, but in 2002 such swims weren’t permitted, so you had to learn by, well, falling overboard.

We were on Day 8 of our trip, and with a dozen or so big rapids behind us, I was in a kind of “Hey, cool, another roller-coaster ride, and have you guys noticed my shoulder muscles lately?” mode. But before I knew what happened, we were careening into a wall of water at the wrong angle, and our paddle captain’s scoutlike commands turned into war cries. “LEFT TURN!” he yelled. “Come on, paddlers—LEFT!” But it was too late. The boat reared up like that last scene in The Perfect Storm, and down I went.

It was like my first labor, in the sense I completely forgot all the instructions. There is really no way to practice having a baby or swimming a rapid until you just do it. My journal later notes the “ferocious texture of bubbles” along with some force repeatedly smashing me down without letting me catch some air. Oddly, I also noted that the water wasn’t cold—which wasn’t true, for the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam runs a brisk forty-two degrees. But it was important for me in that adrenaline-laced state, because I’d spent half the trip being afraid not of drowning but of being cold. So here I was, getting maytagged—but at least I wasn’t cold. Phew.

I really didn’t fear for my life. I probably should have—this is big water—but drowning deaths are rare on the Colorado River, usually a result of someone not wearing a life jacket. Since I was wearing mine, I never thought I would drown. There was only one moment of true panic, when I needed air so badly I was about ready to inhale the river itself. Yet I trusted my life jacket to bring me back up, the same way I trusted my obstetrician all those years ago when he told me to push. I’ve lived long enough to know that you can do everything right and still lose, but my trust in a small piece of orange foam got me through that swim with a sense of exhilaration so strong that for months afterward I couldn’t go to sleep without replaying the swim in my mind, a kind of perverse lullaby.

John Irving once said (paraphrasing one of his own characters) that as writers we have to “get obsessed and stay obsessed.” I was so obsessed after this swim that I came home and immediately enrolled in a whitewater kayaking class, announcing my intent to kayak the Grand Canyon. (No thanks, said my lower back.) I wrote long goofy poems, subscribed to rafting magazines, and peppered my office with snapshots of the trip. Gradually I realized this obsession had to be channeled into a novel.

And so JT found his way into my world. And Evelyn, bless her neurotic little soul. And Amy, with all her body issues; and Mitchell, who while I was swimming Deubendorff was probably reading everything he could on John Wesley Powell. I give great thanks to this party of travelers. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be in that kayak class, ruining my back while trying to master an Eskimo roll. —Elisabeth Hyde

(Photo © Joan Simon) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A group of strangers converges for a rafting trip in Hyde's fifth novel, an astute, engrossing character-driven affair. Assembled for guide JT Maroney's 125th excursion down the Colorado River are Peter, a Cincinnati 20-something; Harvard professor Evelyn; the Compsons, a family of four from Salt Lake City; and three couples: the Frankels, seasoned rafters in their 70s; mother and daughter Susan and Amy Van Doren; and the Boyer-Brandts, both 60-ish. After a cursory safety orientation, personalities emerge: Evelyn is nursing a broken heart; Peter is desperate to hook up with assistant guide Dixie; Ruth Frankel frets over her forgetful husband, Lloyd; and Susan battles inner demons and her overweight daughter, Amy (whose diary entries are interwoven). A stray dog joins the gang as bouts with heatstroke, festering open wounds and capsizing boats threaten to sabotage the adventure, though these seem tame compared to the surprise that hits downriver. The novel succeeds as both a study of strangers striving toward a common goal and as a suspenseful drama filled with angst and humanity. Hyde outshines herself with this wild ride. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • MP3 CD
  • Publisher: ISIS Audio Books (April 1, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1445003139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1445003139
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Hyde is a mystery writer, though not in the conventional sense. Even when writing what is in plot a murder mystery - her book from two years ago, The Abortionist's Daughter -- her mysteries are what a Victorian would call mysteries of the heart, attempts to understand what lies at the core of one or more of her characters. In the Heart of the Canyon is no exception. This time she has produced an adventure story about a float trip through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River by 12 travelers of various ages and stations and their 3 guides. Here there are two mysteries. One is that of discovering which character will prove to be central to the story. Over the 13 day trip of 225 miles this mystery slowly becomes manageable, as a few characters are set aside and relationships among many of the others are disclosed. In then end, when there are only two possibilities left, the story quite abruptly comes together as the central character and that character's mystery becomes the topic of attention for all of the adults in the group.

Ms. Hyde's work throughout is deft. The prose is clean and direct, a pleasure to read, always in the sweet spot between corpulent and sinewy. At the same time the prose is anything but uniform. Lazing down the River, it is slow; in the rapids that define the River, it is muscular; at stops along the shore, it takes the occasionally chattery directness of people thrown together in unexpected circumstances. All the characters are nicely fleshed out even when not particularly important for the plot, with the result that, as the story moves forward, even those being set aside are not neglected. And the whole is propelled, not by the River, but by a stray dog named Blender, a MacGuffin that would make Hitchcock smile.
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Format: Hardcover
Having taken four two week raft trips down the Grand Canyon over the years this book rings absolutely true. While the Canyon is about the rocks, the starry skies, the geology, and of course the river in all its guises, a raft trip away from phones, email, etc. leaves you with a cast of characters with whom you have to live for two weeks.

The characters in this book are a metaphor for all the folks we run into in real life. Elisabeth Hyde captures the variety of passengers with such exactitude that I could believe she had been on each and every one of my trips.

One of the most fun things on the trip is listening to the guides tell all kinds of stories about past nightmare passengers and events. But I can guarantee that the ending to this story will hopefully not be in the story list of any guide. It is a total surprise as are the character's response to this unexpected event.

I found it a-no-put-down book.
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Format: Hardcover
There's something initially unappealing about being together with a group of total strangers for two weeks, adventures notwithstanding. But Elisabeth Hyde has managed to connect the dots of a disparate group of people attempting the ride of their collective lives while simultaneously working out their peccadillos on a daily basis. The pretense is fun, the characters believable and the author's own experiences weigh in nicely.

The most normal people that appear in "In the Heart of the Canyon" seem to be the tour guides. They have to, I suppose, to give an air of credulity...after all, they're in charge of the show and the others are tagging along for the fun of it. The dozen guests are quirky enough to keep the book flowing, although the narrative sometimes gets a little cheesy. Most of the story is told off the river, of course, so the collective psyches have a chance to settle in and be explored. There are a few nice plot twists and while "In the Heart of the Canyon" never gets much past the conversational level, it's still a good read and I recommend it.
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By book lover on February 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, more than I expected to. I was not impressed with The Abortionist's Daughter (unbelievable characters acting in unbelievable ways, and way too scripted), and I have no interest in rafting, but I read a strongly positive review of this book and decided to give it a try. I feared it might be too much adventure, or too "literary" (boring, not easy to get into, characters I couldn't identify with, self-conscious etc), but I was hooked from the start. Several points of view, more about the people on the raft trip than the actual adventure, although there was enough of that to give me a real sense of the river (and confirm my sense that it's not a sport for me). The ending was a bit Hallmark (smaltzy, upbeat) but I truly enjoyed the ride (no pun intended) and found myself drawn back to the book every time I had to put it down. Enjoyed it enough to recommend to friends.
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Format: Hardcover
Better than average beach read due to the author's obvious passion for river rafting. Instead of presenting a mystery, Hyde chooses wisely to make the plot contingent upon her well defined characters and the effect the experience has on their lives. The characters, including the trip leader, are all in transition and their reasons for taking this trip are as varied as they are. Although there are many characters present, only a few are given interior lives which tightens the action and makes the Grand Canyon the real star. Several set pieces are very well described, and I must admit I was curious and found that by Googling the various rapids, I was able to experience these rides vicariously.
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