I don't often post reviews that I already put on Goodreads, but in this case I thought the book is worthy of added exposure.
At year's end, S. M. Hulse's Black River better be on the annual list of best debut novels. Simple as that. An amazing achievement for a writer, even if it wasn't their first, and any author would be proud to have written this story. Not only is the English beautiful and the story nuanced, but the delivery is at times mesmerizing. She refused to take the easy road, delivering subtle twists and riding down paths that perhaps the reader may not want to follow but that make the story stronger. Not once did I feel that the dialogue from any of the characters seemed out of place or inconsistent. Even the few stretches of the story told from the protagonist's wife's point of view (and all one can do is nod your head in acknowledgement of her feelings) strengthen the whole. If I could assign it 4.5 on the GR scale, I would. Perhaps even a 5. Probably better than any writer I have taken up recently, she captured the intense anger, hurt, sadness, uncertainty held within a basically good, intense man who experienced horrible brutalization and deepest loss, brought to head by an even greater shot to his heart. A difficult, taciturn, laconic, god-fearing man, who once was a master fiddle player, Wesley Carver struggles with his strained relationship with his now-grown stepson, place in a changed world, memories of the worst day of his life, attempt to reach out to a troubled soul. . . losses and experiences that would unmoor almost any person. Even when there is awful symmetry in the narrative, it doesn't seem forced or contrived. This is not an easy read, as one will wrestle with questions of faith, familial conflict, fury, and forgiveness. There are some paths the overly sensitive may not want to tread. People who have been bullied, incarcerated or served as corrections officers, suffered from the inexplicable actions of others, lived through the passing of loved ones may have to put the book down at times. Right from the start she sends the reader down a melancholy trail. And yet, when finished, you realize you have read what might be a small masterpiece---definitely a superior piece of art---and I encourage you to read this book. If there are weaknesses (and what effort doesn't), I didn't readily see them. A few paragraphs, in my opinion, were damned near personal and perfect.