Monday, May 6, 2013

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the book I'm posting about today. I work in publishing and I've seen some quality writing in the self publishing world. I've also seen some not so great and some downright terrible. Jon Harrison's debut was recommended to me by a person whose taste I do genuinely trust thanks to their other recs and reviews on Goodreads. And so I said I would give The Banks of Certain Rivers a shot. I have to say I am glad that I did - it was well worth it.

Neil Kazenzakis doesn't exactly have it easy: he's a high school teacher with a teenage son he's been raising on his own since his wife was hospitalized a few years ago. Neil and his son, Chris, are doing their best. Chris does well in school and is planning to start college in a year. But Neil has been in a relationship for the past two years, something he's been careful to keep from his son out of fear of how he will react. Just when he's ready to finally come clean, Neil is accused of beating up a student. A scandalizing YouTube video is all the proof most people need of the event, but Neil stands by his side of the story. The video's account isn't what really happened. Suspended while the event is investigated, Neil's world is further shaken by the threat of losing his job and the insurance that pays for his wife's long term care.

While the story is playing out, there are emails addressed to Neil's wife interspersed throughout the story. It's his journal of sorts and gives readers further insight into the various things Neil struggles with. His friend Alan serves as a good sounding board for some of these issues, but Neil spends a lot of time hiding things from those around him - not really for his own sake but to protect the people he loves from the things he thinks might hurt them. Neil puts up a good front, but it wears on him and as the story progresses he starts to crack.

Neil reminisces about his life, his marriage, his family, and his friends throughout the story as well. It's worked into the narrative in a way that it doesn't at all hinder the flow of the story, which has a great pacing. Harrison's prose is very smooth, the kind of story that sweeps you along so that you don't even notice how much time has passed when you next look up from the page.

Harrison's characters and their relationships are the driving force of this story. Without such fantastic characterization, the story would still have been a good story but the characters make it more relatable and human.

Rating: 4.5/5

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