SUSPICIOUS RIVER by Laura Kasischke


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A broken young woman living in bleak little Suspicious River, Michigan, compulsively reenacts the role of victim in the sexual and physical violence she witnessed and suffered as a child--in a chilling but elegant first novel by poet Kasischke. Leila Murray's life is grim even before she takes up small-time prostitution. At 24, she's a night clerk in the local Swan Motel (named after the white swans who breed endlessly on the banks of Suspicious River), is indifferently married to a boy who got her pregnant in high school, is sterile from an abortion, and is parentless, penniless, careless. As the novel opens, she's been turning tricks for $60 at the Swan and hoarding her profits for--she's not sure what, though she longs for something; and one night she meets a local drifter named Gary in whose charm and vicious temper she senses a route to what she really wants. In increasingly frightening set pieces that leave the reader rapt, Gary slyly sets Leila up to be his working whore, servicing his friends, as Leila, believing herself loved, begins to relive the time 17 years before when she watched as her beautiful mother, then the same age Leila is now, was slashed to death by Leila's father's younger brother. Leila also recalls the series of men--teachers in parking lots, tradesmen in the woods, even the town minister--who seduced or raped her after her mother's death, practically under the nose of her enfeebled father, who soon died of a heart attack. Now, as she's kidnapped by Gary, robbed of her savings, and bound in a dark room while a line of his friends snakes though, she understands what she was saving her money for: a white casket, like her mother's. She almost gets her wish to die, but oddly--bleakly--escapes back to the Swan Motel. Lyrical, suspenseful, rich in imagery--and grim. Those who like Joyce Carol Oates will love this one.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1996
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin