The story line appears straightforward: wayward Ben Hanson returns to his Wisconsin hometown to fix up and sell the house that once belonged to his deceased Uncle Denny. But Ben is a conflicted young man and the story is more nuanced and textured than it first seems. More than merely looking for a way to sell a vacant house, Ben is searching for answers: why is he the only one in his well-heeled family bad with and not interested in money; why did his girlfriend jilt him for his former friend and business colleague Jeremy; why is Lauren — the girl he should have dated in high school — back home as well working with the local vet after abandoning her career as a doctor; and, the question that ends up most at the heart of the tale: why did his cousin Wayne freeze to death outside the family cabin in the far north woods.
There’s more than the one bright river in This Bright River; more than the one puzzle that Ben devised in a stint at an Oregon rehab facility and that is making Jeremy rich; and, ultimately more than the one mystery of what happened to Wayne.
The book is challenging, the characters complex and wounded and their many conversations long and engaging. Somerville’s intelligence dances across the printed page; he is a pleasure to read.