The Banks of Certain Rivers, by Jon Harrison.
There are things we make ourselves forget.
What is a memory, anyway? Is it an indelible record, unimpeachable, frozen in some synaptic arrangement and store away for some moment it might be needed in the future? Or is it subject to editing and revision, something plastic that our brains can shape into another form we can handle, something less toxic than the original, something less able to poison us?
That night Chris found me in the pole barn, a picture of our family had shattered me. This I recall.
The Banks of Certain Rivers is Jon Harrison's debut novel, and what a debut novel it is. It takes place in Michigan, which intrigued me since I live there and there's not a lot of books that choose to plunk themselves down in Michigan. This takes place in Port Manitou, which I believe is a made up city, close to Traverse City (on the west side of the state). The time frame is never given, but in the emails that Neil, our protagonist, writes to his mostly-comatose wife, he mentions a new Ikea that has opened in the area, which would put the time frame around spring 2006. (and I love that I can figure that out!)
Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.
Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube .. .just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video as he's threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.
Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.
What was interesting about this synopsis is that it reveals that the accident Neil's wife, Wendy, experiences has left her "profoundly disabled"; the book, however, doesn't reveal this until many pages after the accident occurs. So I knew something bad had happened to her, but I would have just assumed she had died if the synopsis had not specified she was still alive.
Neil has had some tough breaks in life, the accident included, and now his girlfriend of two years, Lauren, is pregnant, even though he's yet to tell his 18-year-old son, Chris, that he's seeing her. Adding to that is a video someone took of a fight he broke up, making him look like he struck down a student instead of helped in the situation. He gets suspended from teaching until the district can look into the situation, so needless to say, he's a bit stressed out.
I couldn't believe that this book was the author's debut novel: from the very beginning, he draws you in to the story, and it's a story that could happen to anyone, anywhere. It's a novel that you're not going to want to put down, because you want to know what happens to Neil and his family; I read the book in about 24 hours. It was also fun to read about how the characters had gone to MSU (Michigan State University) and hear them mention familiar cities like Traverse City, etc. Someone actually messaged me on Goodreads when I marked this book as "Currently Reading" to ask me if Michigan was as beautiful as the book made it sound, and it is (in the summer, at least - don't ask me in the winter!); she was surprised because she never knew that, so perhaps this book will increase tourism in Michigan as well.
(It's also only $2.99 on Amazon right now, too, so it's an affordable read!)
I'm definitely looking forward to see what Jon Harrison produces next, if The Banks of Certain Rivers is any indication of his writing talent.
4.5 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I was given a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.