|The dome at West Baden Resort|
So Cold the River is a mystery/thriller set in French Lick and West Baden, Indiana. There are tornadoes and stinky sulphurous Pluto mineral water and vaguely supernatural goings-on. The main character is a failed cinematographer who gets hired to go investigate some family history in the two towns in Southern Indiana and ends up with much more than he bargained for. Michael Koryta, the author, was obviously quite taken with the restored resorts at French Lick and West Baden and he does a great job making you want to visit these two locales, which are both in French Lick, Indiana. These two resorts have quite an interesting history, and in their heyday attracted folks like Joe Louis, Al Capone and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Let me say that I very much wanted to like this book. I visited the French Lick resort when I was young and it was still in a state of disrepair. This is to say that the wall paper was peeling in many of the hallways and the whole hotel smelled very much of sulphur. I don’t know what there is to be done about the sulphur smell, as it’s part of what attracts folks to the springs, but both resorts have been restored in the past 10 years or so, and a casino added to draw folks to them, and I hear they’re beautiful. This book certainly made me want to check out West Baden, which I have not been to (I believe it was closed when I visited French Lick).
I am not a native Hoosier, though in about 5 years time I will have lived in Indiana longer than I’ve lived in any other place in my life (having lived in Kentucky for 18 years). When I lived in Bloomington, I felt that I should try to feel attached to the place I was living, especially as I ended up living there for 6 years. But I’ll confess I felt like Indiana at times was a culture-less void, and I like that this book tries to give Indiana some backdrop, some story, some character. Indiana doesn’t appear to have a literature, and it would be nice to give it one. These two resorts in the middle of southern Indiana are weird things; West Baden has a huge dome that rivals the Crystal Palace in London, but has actually been beautifully restored, so you can still see it today. But I confess, when someone on the back cover describes this book as midwest Gothic, I don’t quite buy it. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Mississippi, but it’s hard to imagine Indiana as gothic.
|French Lick resort|
Beyond that, I felt the book strung the reader along a little bit too long. There’s a point in a suspenseful thriller where you have to reveal a little bit to keep the reader interested, and I felt like Koryta waited a bit too long to do that. I’ll admit, I wanted a lot from this book, namely a novel that established Indiana as an interesting, intriguing and mysterious place. It didn’t quite do that for me, and I can’t tell if that’s because Indiana is too familiar to me already. I’m glad I read it because now I’ll probably take a trip up to French Lick, but I wanted much more from the book than what I got.