If Between Two Rivers, by acclaimed novelist and poet Nicholas Rinaldi, were a classic martini, it would be served in a properly chilled glass, contain top-shelf gin with a hint of vermouth and be garnished with a succulent olive. Further, it would be sipped in a jazz club overlooking the Hudson on a balmy evening while music flowed with edgy sophistication. In other words, this book offers even more than fine writing and a well-constructed, intriguing tale. It's a whole experience. Rinaldi skillfully manages a whole cast of eclectic characters living or working in Echo Terrace, a luxury condominium building in lower Manhattan run by the quietly opinionated concierge, Farro Fescu, who has been there "from the start, when the building first opened its doors nine years ago." Fescu "knows the pace, the tempo, the rhythm, the vibrations in the lobby walls. Without looking up he knows the tap of Ravijohn's cane, the scent of Maggie Sowle's cologne, the click of Lena Klongdorf's heels." Rinaldi brings these people to life like a modern-day Dickens, creating memorable, well-defined characters such as Nora Abernooth, whose grandfather hunted with Teddy Roosevelt and who shares her apartment, (at the start of the novel things change dramatically) with a menagerie that contains a rhesus monkey, a cobra, a macaw and numerous finches. Rinaldi also craftily makes the Twin Towers rise up with an unsettling presence that foreshadows the Trade Center tragedy to come and brings the whole complicated construct along with the many changes and interactions in the character's lives to its shattering conclusion. He does all of these things with such finesse, such careful insight into human hopes and hurts, such poetry, that the book almost becomes something to live through, rather than simply read. Despite the inexorable, horrific ending, underlying messages of connection, the beauty of love, and the amazing resilience of the human spirit are woven into the web and render the outcome poignant and uplifting. Perhaps I could say if Between Two Rivers were a martini it would be a classic, but it would leave you shaken and stirred.
Linda Stankard writes from Nanuet, New York.