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This Bright River: A Novel Hardcover – June 26, 2012
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"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."
"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
PRAISE FOR THIS BRIGHT RIVER:
"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.
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Ben comes from a hard driving, ambitious family. His father, mother and older sister have done excellent on money and possessions. Ben is too laid back, too uncaring about money and material possessions. He has always been well-to-do. Laura Sheehan comes from a broken home, her father, a wife beater. Her mother takes her two kids, runs away from Canada, the family drifts around the United States. They finally land in the small town of St. Helens, Wisconsin. Both Sheehan and Hanson are flawed characters trying to cope with life. This is their tale.
Both have drifted back to St. Helens. Ben was in prison in Oregon for setting he so called best friend's apartment on fire after Jeremy stole his computer game plans, Ben is an excellent computer game builder and could make quite a bit of money if he wanted to. Plus also Allie, Ben's girlfriend. Jeremy is ambitious, Allie decided on the man making the most money. So goes life. Ben's father has got his son a job cleaning out Uncle Dennis's house. Uncle Dennis had a heart attack. The family wants to sell the house. Lauren has worked in Africa as a doctor, married Will, another doctor. In chapters concerning Will, he comes across as a coarse, brutal man. Lauren has to run away from her profession and husband, Will, not wanting him to find her. She gives up her medical career, works as a veterinary assistant.
Rivers run much through this nover. Rivers can be considered another character. The river running through St. Helen, the Bright River running through Uncle Dennis's vacation property in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One character, an architect losing his mind, writes of being lost in a state forest, then coming across a beautiful, bright, unusual river that is never found.
There is the mystery of Dennis's son Wayne who was found frozen to death just outside the vacation house. Why was he there at that time of year? Why could he not save himself? Ben is tortured about this death though it happened several years ago. Ben and Lauren are both thirty-two and knew each other very shortly in high school. Much of the book contains sections that are boring. It took me some time to get through these sections. I didn't like sections of the book about Will. Will cried out silently for people to save him from himself. He is evil.
This book is hard to review. It has so many meanings and parts.
Midway through the story, one of the characters says, "Did any of it happen? Any of it? Or is it all like that nightmare I've just woken up from, but a longer nightmare with different nightmares inside of it, and I am still in it but it's not real?"
On one level, that sort of sums up the experience of reading the book. Somerville seems to be reaching for a gripping read and for some big ideas. He succeeds more in delivering a compelling story than illuminating larger truths.
Strands of narrative kept unraveling and looping around in time. Somerville had this hard-to-follow and consequently annoying thing for alternating point of view from one narrator (Ben) to the other (Lauren).
His riffs about everything from poetic iambs to the writings of Bartolome de Las Casas were entertaining, even enlightening at first but after awhile they started to feel more like clutter. The riffs, along with Somerville's philosophical musings about time flowing like one big river in which we as individuals all swim in our own little eddies, became diversions and more often than not diluted the narrative.
Thirty-ish Ben, a grown-up kid of privilege, returns to his small hometown near Milwaukee after serving time in a minimum security prison for arson. Ben is back in town to close the estate of his uncle. He connects with Lauren, a former high school classmate (they had worked on a science project together). Each is swimming in those eddies of indecision and uncertainty. Each has a past they're trying to outrun and demons they're trying to bury. With real narrative force and surprise, past and present collide violently in the north woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Somerville crafts his story carefully and with the intricacy of a real puzzle master. He has a keen ear for dialogue. One scene has Ben and Lauren conducting an alcohol-saturated conversation that captures drunken blather better than I've ever read.
On, Wisconsin: If you're a Badger, this is a Wisconsin book. He takes you around the state from Sheboygan to Green Bay to State Street in Madison. The verisimilitude is keen enough to describe the food carts on the Library Mall and even the circular elevator buttons in the Helen C. White Library on the UW campus.
Did I enjoy the book? Hard work to get through, for sure. But worth it. Yes, most definitely. Would I recommend "This Bright River" to a friend? Yes, even if the friend has no Wisconsin ties. It's a good story. Like paddling a canoe through the rapids, there's some hard work and smart thinking involved but the payoff is in the exhilaration.
[On second thought: I recently scrolled through and reread a couple passages and have upped the rating to 4.5 stars based on clarity of the dialogue. Ben, Lauren, Will, Grant and Haley speak with a definite ring of truth.]
Most recent customer reviews
This book is not just a mystery, although the last 50-75 pages kept me glued to my chair wanting to figure...Read more