River of the Brokenhearted

Written by David Adams Richards
Review by Janette King

Set in New Brunswick’s Miramichi River valley between the 1920s and the 1990s, River of the Brokenhearted follows three generations of the King family, whose matriarch, Janey McLeary, founds a movie theater business with her sickly husband George King. Following George’s death, Janey struggles against those who conspire against her, but success casts public opinion against her and those loyal to her. The fact of the matter is that the McLeary and Druken families are sworn against each other, that no one knows exactly who began the feud is beside the point. The tension between these families sets decades of repercussions into motion.

Narrated for the most part by Wendell King, the novel focuses on his father, Miles, Janey’s son, and events that occur during his lifetime. Miles is surrounded by strong women, but he is out of step with the world around him. Loss, or the threat of it, is never far away, and the deaths of Miles’ sister and grandfather both occur under inexplicable and suspicious circumstances.

This novel is beautifully written, though the narrative is sometimes confusing when the adult son, who hasn’t personally witnessed many of the events he reports, discusses the childhood actions of his father. The characters and their meanderings are convincingly real. River of the Brokenhearted is an extraordinary treat.