Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: Black River by S.M. Hulse

 The publisher whets our appetite for the story:
When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.
Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.
Tutu says: 
If ever a book were written to bring me out of a reading funk, this one is it. S. M. Hulse, in her debut novel, has given us an anguished and compelling tale of love and regret, condemnation and forgiveness, life and death, acceptance and rejection.  She sets the story in the starkness of Montana mountains, leading several reviewers to declare the book to be a "western".  The theme however, is much more universal.  This story of human tragedy could take place in any small town in any part of the country.

Through an alternating series of flashbacks and current narrations, we follow the life of Wesley Carver, his wife Claire, his step-son Dennis, and assorted friends, co-workers, and relatives.  The story of the prison riot and its impact on his life is the center piece.   The theme of faith, forgiveness, goodness and evil provides the underpinnings.  Watching Wes as he works through his grief over Claire's death, his feelings about the impending parole hearing for the prisoner who held him hostage, his relationship with his estranged step-son, and how he deals with the loss of the musical ability he took such joy in gives the reader a poignant tale of heart-breaking beauty.

The writing is clean, poetic, full of imagery and emotion.  The story is short (only 232 pages,) and well-paced, without an extra word, but with the ability to paint scenes that bring us to tears.  Even the ending is exceptional.

This is the best book I've read this year.  I can't wait to see more by this author.

Title: Black River
Author: S. M. Hulse
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015), ebook 240 pages 
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Grief, redemption, personal relationships
Setting: Montana 
Source: Electronic review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now?  It is being considered for the Maine Reader Choices Award.


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