It's the middle of the twentieth century and Portland has fallen into the hands of gangsters. Newly orphaned Mae Rose wanders the rain-stained streets alone, on the lam from a knife wielding pimp, mustering her own worst impulses to survive. As Mae rises in Portland's gritty sex industry, she's pursued by a district attorney who wants to ensnare her for more personal reasons. Meanwhile, Dr. Ruth Barnett, queen of Portland's nightlife, runs a lucrative abortion service and it is she who eventually provides the refuge that Mae seeks. After the war, both women are caught in the cross hairs of anti-vice crusader Dottie "Do-good" Lee. Their survival will depend on their ability to outsmart the cops and politicians who no longer protect them.
Girl in the River is a portrait of the intimate lives of women during one of the most corrupt periods in Portland history. It's an unflinching look at the power dynamics of sex. A glimpse into the work life of a call girl. An improbable love story. The tale of post-war assaults on reproductive rights. And a tribute to two remarkable and remarkably different women who shaped the lives of Portlanders during those tumultuous times: Dr. Ruth Barnett and Mayor Dorothy Lee.
Praise for "Girl in the River":
Kullberg has crafted a wonderful look into Portland's history, and how women in particular may have navigated the tricky business of building a life against the backdrop of mid-twentieth century legal systems, power-plays, poverty and health care.
Monica Drake, author: "Clown Girl" and "Studbook"
An extraordinary page-turner of a novel, featuring crooked cops, sensation-minded reporters, moralistic politicians, and always-vulnerable women who turn out smarter and craftier than all the rest. A fabulous read!
Rickie Solinger, Biographer of Dr. Ruth Barnett
"Girl in the River" brings history to life in a riveting story with a feisty working-class heroine whose feelings, attitudes, and choices accurately reflect the times within which she lived as well as her individual biography. Kullberg's marvelous evocation of time and place captures the constrained range of possibilities which shaped the lives of women from the 30's through the 50's and allows us to appreciate what feminist struggle since then has (and has not yet) achieved.
Johanna Brenner, Author: "Women and the Politics of Class"
Swept out from under the rug of history in Patricia Kullberg's revealing "Girl in the River" are an array of important figures on both sides of the trades, most notably the prominent abortion doctor Ruth Barnett, known as much for her parties as for her work, and if you doubt the author's portrayal of the circles within circles of the Portland establishment in those years, see Google—they are almost all there. Your guide to this illicit world and its demise in the changed atmosphere of the 1950s is an astute but vulnerable fictional call girl, Maebelline Rose, whose inability to deceive either herself or others makes her a perfect companion. Enticing both as history and story, "Girl in the River" is also a timely reminder of how much remains at stake as the battle over women's bodies continues. May the desperation brought to life in these compelling pages never come back to us.
Elinor Langer, Author: "Josephine Herbst" and "A Hundred Little Hitlers"
"Girl in the River" starts with a bang and hums right along—like one of those hardboiled film noir movies. Kullberg sets the story of Mae in the tempestuous period spanning pre- and post-World War II. Smart and raw, full of sassy dialogue, the novel touches on issues of morality and justice, propriety and decency. The 1930s and 40s may have been...
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Patricia Kullberg (Author)
Patricia Kullberg is a former primary care physician who devoted more than two decades of her career caring for homeless, disabled, undocumented and otherwise marginalized persons in downtown Portland. She is a life-long resident of Portland where...