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Review: Broken River 

It’s not often that a novel can be both a summer beach read and a complex work of literary fiction. But Broken River, the eighth novel by J. Robert Lennon is just that: a meditative work on the personal narratives we construct and the truths we refuse to see, as well as an unsolved murder mystery with perpetrators so bumbling they rival the best Dateline killers.

It all begins with a young family moving Upstate from New York City in an attempt to save their marriage and jumpstart their stalled careers – an art career for Karl, the husband, and a career as a writer of chick lit for Eleanor, the wife. They move into a house where a gruesome double homicide took place years earlier, and their only daughter, 12 year old Irina, becomes obsessed with the case.  

Lennon’s novel is a thriller, but it’s also a meditation on the spiderweb connections present in small towns. “Things look connected because everything is connected in a place 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.”

There are a lot of connections, and a lot of characters, in this novel. There’s Sam, the babysitter who Irina thinks (hopes?) is connected to the murder. Sam’s pot-growing brother, Dave. His girlfriend. There’s Louis and Joe, the men who committed the murders and who reemerge to right a wrong they think (well, that one of them thinks) was done to them. There’s Karl’s mistress in New York. Eleanor’s agent. Oh, and there might be a ghost?

Here’s the crazy part. It all works. As Irina becomes closer to uncovering what she believes to be the truth about the murders, her parent’s marriage begins spiraling out of control – a tailspin that bleeds over into the other narratives, until all the plots converge in a way that is both horrific and strangely hopeful.

A book unlike any other you’ll read this year, Broken River is a fun, and poignant, ride.