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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.

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3 thoughts on “This Bright River by Patrick Somerville

  1. Oh dear, I couldn’t disagree more — instead of actually talking about the wildly dramatic events on which this book hangs, the characters spend page after page after page after page navel-gazing and thumb-sucking and self-indulgently circling around endless loops of undergraduate-level thinking, unable or unwilling to come to any conclusions or make any decisions or explain any actions — in short, they refuse to grow up. I picture them holding their breath until they turn blue, and then getting lost in the impossibility of describing the precise shade of blue that is killing them. And I loved The Cradle!

  2. I loved this book. I read it on vacation and couldn’t put it down. You know the kind of book — the kind where you wave off the friend who wants to go for a walk on the beach, saying, I just want to finish this chapter. It somehow manages to be both talky and gripping at the same time. And, Lauren, while I hear your criticism, I found the characters more introspective and confused than navel-gazing and self-indulgent. I empathized with Ben’s struggle to figure out his complex, damaged family.

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