Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good and Moody

Book Reviewed:  The River King, by Alice Hoffman

After falling in love with Alice Hoffman's latest book, The Red Garden, I decided to go back and read her older work.  It's been a hit or miss experience, but in general, I think I can consider myself a Hoffman fan now.  Last month, I got online and read summaries for all of Hoffman's books, then put all the ones I was interested in on hold through the library.  It's been a fun process so far.

At the top of that list was The River King, a novel published in 2000.  The book sounded moody, filled with a wide range of character types - the kind of Hoffman I like best.  I was dead-on in this guess.  This is a book that thrives on the dark, passionate moods Hoffman builds through language and setting.  The book is filled with so many descriptions of water and damp and thickness that you can't help but feel like you're trying to walk through mud while reading it.  It's an appropriate effect; after all, this is a book about a suspicious drowning.

The River King takes place at a prestigious Massachusetts boarding school located in Haddan, a town that's always clashed with the school's residents.  We meet townspeople and school people alike, and both are filled with the good and the bad.  At the school, we have Carlin, a swimmer who's trying to hide how poor she really is in the middle of a bunch of rich kids, and August Pierce, a struggling loner.  Once tragedy strikes these two, they begin to affect others around them, particularly new photography teacher Betsy and Haddan cop Abel.  A student is found drowned in the river, and while others expect suicide, Abel follows his hunches and believes something more dangerous is at play.  The story unfolds through the affects of Abel's investigation and Carlin's grief, both equally important at keeping the drowned student's ghost afloat - literally.

Like most of Hoffman's work, this book is touched by both everday magic and the supernatural.  Although her writing is a little too on-the-nose at times, Hoffman certainly knows how to create mood through lush descriptions of place.  Her characters aren't always super-deep, but their feelings and actions really punch me in the gut sometimes.  I really enjoyed this book, with its depth of feeling and evocative dankness.  I wasn't totally sold on the ending, which felt a little rushed, but I was happy to see where each character ended up.  Overall, a lot of fun.  Expect to see at least one or two more Hoffman books show up here in the next month.  I think I'm addicted to them!

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