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Joan Didion: Run River

According to Didion, the book was to be originally called In the Night Season and then Harvest Home, both of which were rejected by the publisher, which ended up calling it Run River. Her English publisher added a comma and made it Run, River.

The novel opens with Lily Knight McClellan hearing a shot. Her reaction is to continue fastening her watch, splash on some perfume and check to see that the gun, usually in the drawer by her husband’s side of the bed, is no longer there. The shot was her husband, Everett, shooting her lover. The novel ends with the police arriving and her husband shooting himself. In between, we learn what led to this. The couple had eloped to get married but, soon after their two children had been born, her husband is called up for military service. Lily is lonely and she has an affair with a neighboring rancher, Joe, and becomes pregnant. When Everett comes home early because of his father’s death, he is understandably upset with his wife’s infidelity. Though Lily has an abortion, their marriage starts to fall apart. When Everett’s sister has an affair and then kills herself when the man marries someone else, Lily has an affair with the man, Ryder Channing. This is the man Everett kills when he finds out.

The book ends with Lily wondering what to say to Knight and Julie, her children. She could think of nothing much to say about Everett, except the standard cliché that he was a good man and she wasn’t sure about that. As with other Didion heroines, Lily finds that there has really been nothing much. Her dream of a happy life, which led her to elope with Everett, has long since vanished. She found nothing much to say to him or, indeed, to her lovers and was never really sure of what she wanted from them. Didion herself has repudiated this novel and while it shows some signs of being a first novel, it is still a very fine first novel.

Publishing history

First published 1963 by Obolensky