BROKEN RIVER by J. Robert Lennon


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A violent trespass against a young child’s family in 2005 comes back to haunt another family in the present day.

Lennon (See You in Paradise, 2014, etc.) takes a dark turn with this strange novel that combines domestic drama, violent crime, and a metaphysical entity that largely serves as a narrative device. The book opens in 2005, as a father and a mother are murdered in the woods, their small daughter the lone survivor. A dozen years later, their former home is rented by a dysfunctional family. Karl is a sculptor in decline, being punished for having an affair. His wife, Eleanor, is a cancer survivor and midrange novelist who seethes against her husband’s failings. Their 12-year-old daughter, Irina, is bright, precocious, and obsessed with the murder. This is the stuff of more traditional narratives, but soon Lennon feels the need to introduce “The Observer,” an ethereal witness that can conveniently look in on any character at any time. This results in passages like, “For now, however, the Observer can feel the gears of cause and effect locking together, increasing in rotational velocity. Previously hidden truths will soon become known to its subjects. Events long gestating in the womb of possibility will soon be dramatically born.” Eventually we meet Sam, an adolescent with a mysterious past, and a pair of pugnacious thugs with a leading role in the events to come. The grandiosity of Lennon’s paranormal patina doesn’t elevate the predictability of the book’s domestic drama nor explain its violent end. The book pretty much tells us this: “None of it matters—the coincidences, the connections. Things look connected because everything is connected in a town like Broken River. That’s why people want to leave small towns. Everything reminds them of some stupid shit they did or that was done to them.”

An eminently readable but melodramatic story that dilutes its suspense with far-fetched metafiction.

Pub Date: May 16th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-55597-772-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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