Black River: A Novel by S.M. Hulse

black-river“A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town, and the convict, who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.

How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away.

With spare prose and stunning detail, S. M. Hulse drops us deep into the heart and darkness of an American town.” – Goodreads

After the death of his wife, Claire, Wesley Carver packs up her ashes and heads out from Spokane all the way back to Black River, Montana – a town from which he fled over eighteen years ago. Awaiting him are his estranged stepson, Dennis, and Bobby Williams – the convict who maimed Wesley’s hands during a prison riot back when he was a correctional officer. Williams is up for parole, and Wesley has the chance to speak at the parole hearing. Confused and grieving, he arrives in Black River to a lukewarm welcome from the stepson he rejected so long ago. As Wes struggles to make some sort – any sort – of connection with Dennis, he also struggles with the decision of whether or not to speak at Williams’s parole hearing. Haunted by all he has lost and full of regret for past mistakes, will Wesley be able to release all of the pain and anger he has carried inside for so many years?

Black River is S.M. Hulse’s debut novel of love, loss, and grief; a bittersweet tale filled with tragedy yet imbued throughout with a thread of hope. Hulse ultimately captures our hearts and minds with her examination of faith, forgiveness, and redemption within this noble and absorbing narrative. Her characters are each shaped by the painful circumstances of their roles in each others lives. Wes’s struggles are all too real as his past rises up to meet him: his volatile relationship with Dennis, his broken friendship with his brother-in-law, and of course the upcoming confrontation of his demons at the parole hearing for Bobby Williams.

Black River is ultimately a deeply poignant tale of pain and healing that will keep readers glued to its pages. While each of the characters is deeply flawed, Hulse draws them sympathetically and they worm their way into our hearts despite ourselves. The tale ends with a realistic conclusion; while all is not resolved there is still a sense of satisfaction and even hope. In all, this is a deeply emotional and remarkable novel that resonates even with the most cynical of us. Highly recommended.

Black River: A Novel by S.M. Hulse: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia

 

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