cover image River Under The Road

River Under The Road

Scott Spencer. Ecco, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-266005-3

Spencer (Endless Love) traces the lives of two couples through snapshots of parties throughout their marriages that turn equally painful and profound. Aspiring artists Grace and Thaddeus—a writer and painter, respectively—move to New York City from Chicago after meeting at an underground art fair, and eventually settle into a sprawling property where they meet the caretaker’s son, Jennings, and his wife Muriel. As Thaddeus finds the easy road to success and Grace languishes in anonymity, they watch themselves transform into people they never imagined they could become. Over in the caretaker’s house, Jennings grapples with a secret that could either launch him into the life he’s longed for or drag his whole family down with no hope of escape. Spencer artfully renders the characters’ ennui as the party settings urge them to act on their buried instincts at the very moments when it could cost them the most. He also utilizes the party invitations that open each chapter as clever hints of the kinds of conflict that could be coming. But the novel only at times becomes more than the fun conceit, and at the end it feels as if Spencer forgot to make his point. Characters who never grow past their senses of entitlement can be a fascination to observe, but when the narrative shares their inaction the reading experience feels passive. At times a quiet meditation on existential decay and the empty promises of success, Spencer’s novel ultimately loses sight of itself. [em](June) [/em]