Monday, February 22, 2016

River Road

Carol Goodman’s River Road gets off to a quick start when Nan Lewis, who teaches creative writing at a small college in upstate New York, crashes into a deer on her way home from the end-of-semester party at which she has just learned that tenure is being denied her.  By the time Nan realizes what has just happened, the deer, having scrambled off into the nearby trees, is nowhere to be seen.  Early the next morning when a police sergeant bangs on her front door to tell her that the body of one of her students, victim of a hit and run driver, has been found on River Road, Nan learns that her she has some serious explaining to do.

Because of the obvious damage to her car and where police found it, Nan is the obvious suspect in the young woman’s death.  The woman’s body was found in almost the exact spot where, just a few years earlier, a driver coming around the same blind curve on River Road struck and killed Nan’s little girl.  Now many of the same people who had helped her deal with the loss of her only child then are accusing her of letting one of her students die all alone in a ditch by the side of the road. 

Something in Nan died alongside her daughter.  Her husband’s reaction to their little girl’s death had been to walk away from the marriage that produced the child.  Nan herself simply turned to alcohol to deaden her own grief, and now she is known as a woman with a “drinking problem,” a problem bad enough to leave her unsure about what she saw on River Road the night she hit the unlucky deer.  She knows she did not strike Leia Dawson – but she cannot make enough sense of her dreamlike memories of the previous evening to prove her innocence to those who question her responsibility for the woman’s death.  Nan Lewis is the most unreliable of narrators, and author Carol Goodman puts that characteristic to good use throughout River Road.

Author Carol Gooman
Nan, having already lost the only child she ever expects to have, now has no job and no friends.  With nothing left to lose, she begins to ask questions of her own – and the ugliness of what she learns stuns her.  The more she learns about her colleagues and students, and the secrets they are hiding, Nan wonders how she could have ever been so blind.  Now, if she can only manage to keep herself alive long enough to do it, she is determined to identify the real killer and salvage what little of reputation she has left.  


River Road is the story of a woman who refuses to forgive herself for the few seconds of inattention that ended in her daughter’s death - and a story about how quickly a community can turn on one of its own.  But much like The Girl on the Train, the novel relies so much on coincidence, an almost stereotypical villain, and the remarkable speed at which its heroine recovers from serious physical abuse that it loses a bit of its potential impact.  All that said, readers willing to suspend their disbelief to the right level should find this one fun.

(Review copy provided by publisher)

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