cover image Broken River

Broken River

J. Robert Lennon. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-55597-772-6

“All of the stories we tell ourselves are wrong,” says a character in Lennon’s (See You in Paradise) novel, a family drama and murder mystery whose metafictional flourishes bear out the truth of that observation. When Brooklyn artist Karl Jandek moves with his novelist wife, Eleanor, to an upstate home in Broken River, N.Y., to save their failing marriage, they neglect to tell their adolescent daughter, Irina, that the house’s previous owners were brutally murdered on its grounds a decade earlier. Bored with her new home and writing a novel herself, Irina begins poking around the Internet, participating in chat groups devoted to the unsolved crime and posting a photo of Sam Fike, a young woman in town whom she is convinced is really Samantha Geary, the grown daughter of the murdered couple. When the murderers get wind of the renewed interest in their cold case, the stage is set for their violent return to the scene of their crime. Lennon alternates the scenes of his coalescing crime drama with asides involving the Observer, a silent, substanceless embodiment of the all-seeing omniscient narrative viewpoint that is powerless to prevent the snowballing misinterpretations and misunderstandings each character sees from his or her own perspective. The result is a finely tuned tragedy whose well-developed characters are all the more sympathetic for the inexorability of their fates. (May)