Author: Patrick Somerville
Riveting. Incorrigible. Somerville attains the near impossible, a novel close to contemporary perfection. Words ooze onto the page, spill into his characters and devour us as readers. His people and their locales, the damage they render, the damage done to them, owns us. Rappelling, retreating, stumbling heroically upon their own realities and those of the other, Ben Hanson and Laurel Sheehan create a tenuous blend of what they were, what they are, and who they will be through conscious effort and each other.
Ben’s family shatters when his cousin Wayne freezes to death up at the cabin in the middle of winter. Unexplained, inexplicable. Suicide or murder? They have no answers. Lauren’s past, excruciating and horrible, has thrown her out of her profession as a doctor. As Ben pursues what really happened to Wayne, Lauren pursues nightmares of her gullibility and bad judgment with her brutal ex-husband, Will.
The cement of their story is Madison, Wisconsin, Ben’s Uncle Denny’s cabin, and the Bright River that flows through the woods. Will and Lauren are both from Madison, and both have tried to flee, to no avail. Lauren is hiding out from Will, and Ben is trying to find out why he is such a loser, estranged from his wealthy family and himself. Ben has just come out of prison.
As Lauren exposes her vulnerability step by step, Ben discovers the family secrets and opens them up. And Somerville’s magic is the ease in which he presents his characters inner and outer lives seamlessly and eloquently. A tour de force of a novel.
In a prior life, Ben has left a minimum security prison for burning up his partner’s office. Jeremy and Ben have aligned with Ben’s love, Allie, to create a highly marketable computer game. But Jeremy steals Allie and Ben believes that Jeremy and Allie have stolen his puzzle stories as the computer game becomes enormously popular and makes them all rich. Ben acts out in rage. He goes through his million dollar trust fund in a year, burns down the office and goes off to prison. He continues to make game puzzles in prison, and when he gets out Jeremy wants to offer Ben his portion of the proceeds, but Ben has walked away from Jeremy and Allie and won’t forgive them. His family ships him off to Madison to live in Uncle Denny’s cabin while they try to find a buyer for the Madison house and the cabin. Ben begins his hunt for the truth, for he intuits that Wayne’s death is the tip of the family iceberg. As he pursues Lauren, he obsesses about their one encounter in high school, where they worked on a project together and made it work.
Lauren has given up her profession and now works for the local vet. After being jettisoned from her job abroad when she fled Will, she only wants a low profile, as she fears Will is coming after her. And that is the one thing she is terrified of. As she and Ben find a path that intersects, they become deeply involved with each other’s puzzles.
Combustible, fierce and cruel, loving and sustainable, Somerville’s plot is a giant puzzle, with no picture on the cover. Much like the ones Ben creates and lives.
This Bright River: A Novel is available for purchase online at Amazon.com or at your local bookstore.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.