BOOK REVIEW | Broken River by J. Robert Lennon

5/5 stars

This book is so unique. It opens with a violent scene: a family in upstate New York is trying to escape from their house with their young daughter in tow. The whole scene is narrated from the perspective of “the observer”, a ghost-like presence that floats in and out throughout the entirety of the book. We do not know what the family is trying to escape, but the husband and wife are murdered as their daughter hides in the woods, leaving the young girl alone. The killers remain on the loose, with the observer being the only witness to the crime.

Over the years, the abandoned house becomes a spot for young lovers to find privacy and eventually for vandals to destroy. Realtors try relentlessly to sell the house – it is renovated beautifully, and then destroyed again. No one wants to buy a house where murders have taken place. After a long vacancy, the house is finally sold, renovations take place yet again, and a new family moves in.

Karl is an overgrown teenager – childish, irresponsible, and unfaithful. His wife Eleanor is a cancer survivor and begrudging, though successful, “chick-lit” novelist who suspects her cancer may have returned. Irina, their adolescent daughter, is witty and wise, brave and insecure, and an aspiring writer as well. Eleanor and Irina take a great interest in their home’s history, unknowingly becoming  apart of its narrative. A local resident, Samantha, soon becomes entwined with the family, culminating in a dramatic denouement.

It’s difficult to put into words that which makes this book so good. I cared about these characters – they are all spiraling in different ways, and I wanted them to wake up. They are messy, real. The omnipresent observer served as a clear vantage point for everything going on – sort of a non-judgemental landing place that helped to piece it all together. This is the sort of book that begs the question: what does it all mean? How much control do we have in our lives? Are we really writing our own narratives? Is everything predetermined? There are no bells or whistles here, just great storytelling and character development. I’ll definitely be checking out Lennon’s other books in 2018.

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