Part intellectual mystery and part spiritual adventure, A Year At River Mountain tells the story of an aging actor from Vancouver who has immersed himself in monastic life in China and is now examining his past as an actor, husband, and father. As his Western consciousness grapples with Taoist philosophies and acupressure techniques, he assesses his life and records the struggles of transformation that accompany such thinking.
The monastery’s Old Master has given the narrator permission to write the commentary he shares with us while raising the question of who “reader and narrator” really are. At times uncertainty leads him to confuse the monastery with another kind of institution. Fellow monks, particularly the American bellringer, Frank, are often as humorously baffling as they are ritualistically inviting. But the force driving his obsessive commentary and his year at River Mountain is the anticipation of the arrival of Imogen, an American actor and monastery patron.
Kenyon balances the narrator’s interior life with hints of external disturbance and with purposeful missions outside the monastery. Village unrest threatens the monks’ balance and harmony; the nightmarish rape of a village woman uncovers a trapdoor to chaos; travel over the mountain conjures a snow leopard in a blizzard-choked pass; an arduous journey to wild islands off the coast offers ancient discoveries; and a trip to the city to find a prophet changes time forever. Crises build as war threatens; floods occur and a devastating event leads our narrator to a beautiful and surprising formulation of how things are.