Skip to main content

Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen

Nobody knows who Sam's father is except for Blind Beezy and she's not telling. I know it wasn't Carl Bell. (Thank the Lord. I've seen pictures of him. The man looked like he got dropped off a bridge at dawn and nobody bothered picking him up 'til dusk.)

from page 113

This is the second novel I've read by Lesley Kagen, the previous one, Whistling In The Dark, was previously reviewed on this blog. There were others between Whistling and Tomorrow River, but I haven't read them. It seems Kagen has found a niche in the use of the child or child-like narrator for her novels. In some ways this can provide for entertaining and lively writing because sometimes only a child can believably and colorfully make certain observations and tell it like it is. In other ways it's frustrating because many times the reader can make so many more leaps in piecing the story together and ends up knowing so much more than the narrator due to the observations and accounts shared, but because the narrator lacks the life experience and is to a certain extent naive, she doesn't really realize what she knows. There is also the helpless factor; children are often at the mercy of the adults around them, and no matter how badly these adults treat them, children can lack the means and the wherewithal to get help out of the bad situation and this is extremely frustrating, infuriating, and heartbreaking as a reader to witness.

While beautifully written and thoroughly suspenseful, I can't help but feel that Tomorrow River is too much like Whistling In The Dark. This owes in large part to the narrator and the general plot element of children in peril and left largely to their own devices while they try to piece to together and solve a mystery that is too grown up for them.

It's 1969 in Lexington, Virginia, and Shenandoah and Woody are eleven year old twins whose mother disappeared late one night the year before. Since then Woody has ceased speaking, Shenandoah has determined that it's up to her to track down their mama once and for all, and their father has slid down to the bottom of the whiskey bottle to cope with his grief and has forbidden the girls to leave the house. It's up to Shenandoah to shield both girls from the brutal abuse and mistreatment rained down on them by their father in the midst of his drunken rages.

While Shenandoah and, on the surface, the townsfolk believe their mother ran off, there are other clues in Shenandoah's observations of her father's behavior and the remarks of other townsfolk that hint that the girls' mother may never be coming back alive. Throughout the novel, Shenandoah, an intelligent spitfire, in her childlike naiveté relates past family squabbles and events occurring in the months and years leading up to her mother's disappearance. However, Shenandoah doesn't realize the extent to which her idyllic family has become shattered and dysfunctional. She also recalls mysterious bumps and bruises appearing on her "accident prone" mother and her father's need to know the whereabouts at all times of her mother and together these clue the reader into what may have been going on in that house long before Shenandoah's mother went missing.

Slowly a brutal, disturbed picture emerges of a family ruled by its domineering, controlling, verbally and physically abusive patriarchs who take pleasure in raining down cruel and vile pranks on the smaller, helpless members of the family: the women and children. By the end of the book the story takes a turn from the dark and disturbed to the dark, disturbed and unbelievable. The characters are vividly drawn from the terrifying, dangerous men to the precocious narrator with colorful ideas and opinions of her own. While this is a good read, I'm not sure if I'll read any future Kagen releases unless she departs from her rote child narrator. I suppose I'll take it on a case by case basis.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


Popular posts from this blog

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Before I begin the formal review there are a few things I need to get off my chest in the wake of finishing this book; I'll do so without giving away too many (or any) spoilers.
The OUTRAGE!: the identity of Detective Lena Adams' new beau; the low depths to which Grant County's interim chief has sunk and brought the police force down with him; agent Will Trent's wife, Angie's, sixth sense/nasty habit of reappearing in his life just when he's slipping away from her. Thank God for small miracles though because while Angie was certainly referred to during the book, the broad didn't make an appearance. One sign that I've become way too invested in these characters is that I'd like to employ John Connolly's odd pair of assassins, Louis and Angel, to contract out a hit on Angie; do you think Karin Slaughter and John Connolly could work out a special cross over?
Hallelujah: Dr. Sara Linton and agent Will Trent are both back. There is no hallelujah for…

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

When the end came, it seemed to do so completely out of the blue, and it wasn't until long afterward that I was able to see that there was a chain of events leading up to it. Some of those events had nothing to do with us, the Morrisons, but were solely the concern of the Pyes, who lived on a farm about a mile away and were our nearest neighbors." from page seven
I must confess that it took me longer than it really needed to in order to finish the novel Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. The entire story is building up to the big catastrophe that forever destroys all the hopes and dreams the Morrison clan ever dared to hope and dream for its future. In the eyes of the narrator, it is even worse than the tragedy of the car crash that claimed both parents' lives one evening on the heels of some good news the family has received and celebrated. Now you can see why I dreaded getting to the end of a book that drips in foreboding like nobody's business. What can be a worse tra…

In The Woods by Tana French

"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with the truth is fundamental, but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies ... and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely ... This is my job ... What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this--two things: I crave truth. And I lie." opening lines of In The Woods chapter 1, pages 3-4
In The Woods by Tana French, an Irish writer, is an extremely well-written and well-crafted mystery novel. The downside is that this is French's debut novel, and her website (located at does not offer any insi…