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This Bright River: A Novel Hardcover – June 26, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Somerville has a gift for spurring dialogue, and the meandering narrative tributaries he explores stoke our curiosity and build suspense as he crosses the wilderness of madness and bloodshed, lies and loyalty, courage and love in this by turns rolling and raging river of a novel."-Booklist (Starred)

"Richly funny, engrossing, and humane...this is a literary novel for readers who want to be simultaneously caught up in a story and impressed by the author's copious craft and skill."
-Library Journal

"A provoking book: The reader will not escape untouched."

"A remarkable achievment -- a stellar, bruising book about how place forms character and our capacity to transform ourselves."
-The Chicago Tribune

"The chapters don't roll forward so much as fit together like puzzle pieces. But Mr. Somerville--who has something of the roadside-diner raconteur about him--makes the approach work on the strength of his writing voice. It possesses a sneaky ease and charm that masks the story's building menace."
-The Wall Street Journal


"Serpentine and hypnotic, This Bright River depicts two vivid characters knocked hard by life, on a perilous journey that reveals the weight and pull of family history. The result is a novel that is both intimate and mysterious, harrowing and brave."―Megan Abbott, author of The End of Everything and Dare Me

"This Bright River is a flood of virtuoso prose and characterization. Mystery, memory, pain, and a courageous strand of love are interwoven in a riveting narrative of voices, all singing, all merging into the singular vision of one of American literature's young masters."―Nic Pizzolatto, author of Galveston

"This Bright River is nothing short of extraordinary. Somerville has a gift for writing gorgeous prose, complete with sharp humor and a perfect sense of place. But that's only half the story. There's also a great romance here and a shocking set of mysteries that get untangled along the way. Addictive, amazing, unforgettable."―J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Maine

Each paragraph has at least one striking or hilarious line. Every few pages manage to bear the full weight of a short story. Dialogue snaps with a bizarre aptness reminiscent of Denis Johnson, and the novel in total presents a coiled, deeply sensitive intelligence....Go buy this book.―The Daily Beast

If there's a middle ground between the pot-boiling, page-turning mystery and the novel of Big Ideas, Patrick Somerville has found it. "This Bright River," his second novel, is a serious literary tragedy of errors that also tells a gripping story.... The extent of Somerville's control over his narrative becomes apparent when the novel's back stories and present goings-on finally converge at that cabin in the wilderness. The slow revelation of a host of family secrets is handled so deftly you won't even mind getting sand in your Kindle.―Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Patrick Somerville grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and later earned his MFA from Cornell University. He is the author of the story collections Trouble and The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, and the novel The Cradle. He lives with his wife and son in Chicago, where he teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; First Edition edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316129313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316129312
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patrick Somerville is the author of two novels - This Bright River and The Cradle - and two books of short stories - Trouble and The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. He lives with his wife and son in Chicago, and he teaches creative writing in the MFA programs at Warren Wilson and Northwestern University.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is about thirty-something Ben, who returns to his childhood town to do up his deceased uncle's house with the intention to sell it. He meets a former class mate, Lauren, and they hook up together. Both of them have skeletons in their cupboards and in Lauren's case, her past comes back to her with a vengeance. There are a few thrilling moments when both their lives are in danger.

I had a mixed reading experience with this book. Sometimes I found the story compelling and I wanted to read on, while at other times I was bored. I enjoyed reading about Ben arriving in his childhood town, getting to know the place (again) and the people. But there were memories that I didn't care about intermixed with this story. Later on in the book, it becomes a thriller for a while, which was all rather exciting.

As the book is told by both Ben and Lauren, the perspective shifts every so often (and sometimes quite often), which makes the story more interesting.

It was clear from the moment Lauren joined the narrative, that she would be involved with Ben in some way or another. At first, their lives were very much separate and when they did meet, Lauren showed no interest in Ben whatsoever. So the foreshadowing made me curious to see how they would end up in the same story line.

Most loose ends are tight up at the end of the story and overall, I enjoyed it. Both Ben and Lauren have a past that comes to haunt them, and when that happens, the book certainly gains pace and becomes quite compelling.
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Format: Hardcover
Ben Hanson is no stranger to mistakes. Recently released from prison, he understands that he made errors in both his personal and professional life. Now, free from confinement and with new sobriety, Ben wanders though life, searching for some kind of meaning. When his uncle Denny passes away, Ben's father, Jack, invites him to move back to his hometown to help settle his late uncle's estate.

Upon his arrival, Ben is flooded with memories of his past. He recalls the tragic death of his older cousin, Wayne, a tragedy that still haunts his family. As he begins to delve into his uncle's estate, fragments of the past come to light, all adding to the mystery of Wayne's demise.

In the same town, Lauren Sheehan is also trying to rebuild her life. Escaping from a violent ex-husband and abandoning her medical career, Lauren has returned to her hometown in search of a fresh start. In the small town, it is now surprise that the paths of Ben and Lauren intersect. Having no true past relationship, the two slowly become interested in each other. As time passes, their troubled lives become intertwined, creating a connection that they could have never imagined. Together, they kindle a romance and attempt to move on with their lives before their negative past catches up with them.

Going into this novel, I was unsure of what to expect. Normally, I try to steer clear of any "romance" novels, but this story offered much more. By slowly presents fragments of the two characters lives, mostly through flashback from each character's recollections, Somerville provides just enough information to keep the reader wanting more. Intricately imagined, the characters seem like genuine people who have had a rough go at life.
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Format: Hardcover
I think I liked the book. The author confusingly introduced numerous plots that the reader had to weave together; many of which were not resolved satisfactorily even though the main character's (Ben) spent a lot of time in introspection. The introspection became a bit tedious about halfway through the book, which might explain Ben's inabiltiy to do much..."paralysis by analysis". That being said I will read this author again, if nothing else to see if he can edit better next time.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a great book, though when you first start reading, you might not quite know what to make of it. The tone is laid back and conversational, which belies the story's ever-developing complexity, and you might be a little unsure about the characters, who come off initially as a little too glib and directionless to fully deserve your sympathy.

But, but, but! You know there is more going on underneath, so you let the voices pull you along. Then, in the way that people do, the protagonists, Ben and Lauren, begin to develop an intimacy that allows them to let go of their facades and open up to the pain of their pasts, revealing depths of being that are beautiful, rich, and compellingly human. And as the characters continue to open up, a mystery grows as if from a seed and begins to interweave with their pasts, driving them at an ever-accelerating rate to a stunning and terrifying confrontation with the things they tried to bury in themselves.

This is a wonderfully well-written novel of deep psychological complexity that escalates into a gripping tale, and it will stay with you long after you've read the final page.
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Format: Hardcover
The story line appears straightforward: wayward Ben Hanson returns to his Wisconsin hometown to fix up and sell the house that once belonged to his deceased Uncle Denny. But Ben is a conflicted young man and the story is more nuanced and textured than it first seems in this beautifully written and complex tale.
More than just looking for a way to sell a vacant house, Ben is searching for answers: why is he the only one in his wealthy family who neither cares about nor is any good with money; why did his girlfriend jilt him for his former friend and colleague Jeremy; why is Lauren--the girl he should have dated in high school -- back home as well, forsaking a career as a doctor to work as a veterinarian's assistant; and, the question that beats at the heart of the tale: why did his cousin Wayne freeze to death less than a hundred feet from the family's cabin in the far north woods.
The Bright River flows near the cabin in question, but there are other rivers in the book as well, some real and others imagined. There's also more than the one puzzle that Ben devised during a stint at an Oregon rehab facility and that's become the foundation of Jeremy's successful video game company. And ultimately, there's more than the one mystery of what happened to the noble but misguided Wayne, though this particular intrigue, the one on which the story hinges, is the best kind: richly layered, buried in the labyrinth of the past and personal.
Somerville shifts voice and time, challenging readers to pay close attention and then he richly rewards them for doing so. His empathy for his characters infuses their conversations with depth and integrity, keeping their voices echoing long after the story has ended. This is a book in which the author's intelligence dances across the page, creating a solid and satisfying read, one to be enjoyed and highly recommended.
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