RIVER OF THE BROKENHEARTED

David Adams Richards, Author . Arcade $25 (400p) ISBN 978-1-55970-712-1

Richards, acclaimed in his native Canada, draws on his grandmother's life to provide emotional resonance for his latest novel (after 2001's Mercy Among the Children ), a multigenerational family saga in which some generations are considerably more interesting than others. The narrator's grandmother, Hanna Jane (Janie) McLeary, is born toward the end of the 19th century in a small New Brunswick village. At 20 she marries an older Englishman, George King, who is poor in health as well as purse. They open a small cinema, which outdraws the town's other theater, owned by Joey Elias. When King dies, Janie has a son, Miles, and a daughter on the way—surely she can't also run a theater. Elias cunningly uses her bank's manager and her own father in attempts to gain control of her business, but Janie remains steadfast in the face of whispered scandal and threats of violence. But while she manages to keep her theater, tragedy strikes—her father is killed, and her daughter disappears while in the care of her son. Janie's story is fascinating, but while Richards' depiction of character and place remain consistently strong, the narrative slows as it focuses on her son and grandson. The trials of the family as its members progressively succumb to failure and alcoholism (even as they keep the theater running) are well drawn, but as Janie's descendants learn little from their mistakes, the tale becomes less involving. An unexpected deus ex machina in the last pages forces a rather unlikely happy ending onto a story that had been, until that point, entirely believable if not particularly memorable. Agent, Ann McDermid. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-385-65888-1
Hardcover - 381 pages - 978-0-385-65887-4
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