Set in a small town on a river in New Brunswick, River of the Brokenhearted
, David Adams Richards's first novel since his Giller Prize-winning Mercy Among the Children
, is told by Wendell King, son of Miles King and grandson of the feisty, willful Janie McLeary King, who made her fortune running the town's first cinema. Set against this trio is the lower-class family of the Drukens, especially Rebecca Druken and her uncle, Joey Elias, bitter because their own early cinema failed. Established early on, the feud plays out across three generations, spanning successes, failures, murder, and dissolution. Yet despite the somewhat bleak subject matter, tremendous humour and vitality persist in this story. The characters leap off the page, and in the person of Miles King, Richards has imagined a fully human soul of stunning believability. Miles is fatally flawed, committing slow suicide by gin as his cinema too begins to fail in the face of the TV's small screen. A sensitive eccentric, a target of small-town narrowness, he is subtly tortured psychically, for years, by Elias and the vicious Rebecca, who have made the downfall of the Kings their life's ambition. Miles King is a character of great loneliness, pathos, humor, and compassion, one of the finest creations not only of Canadian writing but any literature.
River of the Brokenhearted is the story of a river, the Miramichi, but it is mostly about the river of time that passes through Miles King, his mother, his son, and their enemies, carrying all to their ultimate fates: "She had left a river in New Brunswick that would swallow you with its life, shout in its rapids, laugh in its eddies, create industry in its currents, a river of Irish and Scottish myth, wedded to the soil." An outstanding work of fiction. --Mark Frutkin
From Publishers Weekly
Richards, acclaimed in his native Canada, draws on his grandmother's life to provide emotional resonance for his latest novel (after 2001's Mercy Among the Children
), a multigenerational family saga in which some generations are considerably more interesting than others. The narrator's grandmother, Hanna Jane (Janie) McLeary, is born toward the end of the 19th century in a small New Brunswick village. At 20 she marries an older Englishman, George King, who is poor in health as well as purse. They open a small cinema, which outdraws the town's other theater, owned by Joey Elias. When King dies, Janie has a son, Miles, and a daughter on the way—surely she can't also run a theater. Elias cunningly uses her bank's manager and her own father in attempts to gain control of her business, but Janie remains steadfast in the face of whispered scandal and threats of violence. But while she manages to keep her theater, tragedy strikes—her father is killed, and her daughter disappears while in the care of her son. Janie's story is fascinating, but while Richards' depiction of character and place remain consistently strong, the narrative slows as it focuses on her son and grandson. The trials of the family as its members progressively succumb to failure and alcoholism (even as they keep the theater running) are well drawn, but as Janie's descendants learn little from their mistakes, the tale becomes less involving. An unexpected deus ex machina in the last pages forces a rather unlikely happy ending onto a story that had been, until that point, entirely believable if not particularly memorable.
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