Wednesday, March 16, 2011

River of the Brokenhearted

River of the Brokenhearted by David Adams Richards
Arcade Publishing, copyright 2003
Hardcover, 381 pages
ISBN-13: 9781559707121
Very Highly Recommended

Spanning generations, River of the Brokenhearted tells the life and legacy of Janie McLeary, a strong-willed Irish Catholic girl who dares to marry a man from the Church of England. Their union is quickly deemed scandalous, and when her husband dies young, just before the Great Depression, Janie is left alone to raise a family and run a business - the first movie theater in town. Through the strength of her character, she succeeds in a world of men. For that she is ostracized and becomes a victim of double-dealing and overt violence. Based on the author's own grandmother, Janie is a pioneer before the age of feminism, but her salty individualism burdens the lives of her children and grandchildren." Her son Miles, impish and genteel, tragically misunderstood and quietly courageous, is bullied and bruised by those his age, and unable to escape his mother's shadow. When sorrow befalls the family he retreats into eccentricity and alcoholism. The specter of Janie is raised again in her granddaughter Ginger - brilliant, funny, tempestuous, as fiery in spirit as Janie ever was. But moving without her grandmother's sure-footedness through an equally treacherous world. Ginger forms an alliance with the one person most likely to destroy her.
My Thoughts:

David Adams Richards uses the life of his grandmother as inspiration for the character Hanna Jane (Janie) McLeary King in River of the Brokenhearted, a multigenerational family saga set in a small New Brunswick village. The novel is narrated by her grandson, Wendell King, and covers four generations of the McLeary/King family. Joey Elias is the family's nemesis, as well as the Druken family. Where Janie's tenacity helps her overcome great persecution and brings her financial success, her family crumbles due to her lack of emotional support. They are overwhelmed with the petty cruelty of their lives and become alcoholics.

Richards is a brilliant writer. He always covers conflicting themes of love and hate, good and evil. His character development is exquisite. And while all of his characters are flawed and struggle with memories, faith, and integrity, often their reflections strike the core of a vital truth for all of humanity. Even as Janie's descendants fail to learn from their mistakes, there is the underlying sense that redemption is possible for even the most flawed characters and that in the end justice will prevail.

The sense of time and place remain consistently strong in River of the Brokenhearted. Richards has a gift for setting the scene and placing his characters squarely in that world. Even their speech patterns are distinct for each character. He can also clearly record the irrational thinking processes of those overwhelmed by greed or drink and the explanations they give themselves for their actions.

I am starting a personal David Adams Richards Fan Club. After reading Mercy Among the Children and The Bay of Love and Sorrows I can safely say that Richards is an incredible, amazing writer who deserves a wider audience - and a fan club.
Very Highly Recommended

The graves of the Drukens and the McLearys are spread across the Miramichi River valley. If you go there you might find them -- “run across them” is not the exact phrase one might want to use for graves -- in certain villages and towns. I don't think we have hamlets here, but if we do, then in certain hamlets as well.
What is revealing about these graves is their scarcity. opening

My father Miles King once told me that some are damned by blood, by treason, by chance or circumstance, some even by the stars themselves, or as Shakespeare, denying that, said, by ourselves. This in a way is a journey back in time to see how I was damned.
My name is Wendell King, and I have looked for these forgotten places, and found them in their quietude and hope, and have gone to the archives, reading old tracts, deeds, family history, searching out what I can, to try to dislodge the secrets that have plagued my father's life. pg. 4

The McLeary family arrived in 1847. They left Ireland crammed into a ship's steerage with those like themselves, unseafaring and sick. pg. 7

Both families, never forgetting their children on the gallows, carried this holy war against each other, a war of attrition, war of words and staffs and peevies, all the way from Ireland into each other's little houses and sheds in Newcastle, New Brunswick, a full century later. pg. 9

I am the happier. For this Hanna Jane McLeary, this darling rebel girl, this sweet lost light of Bobby Doyle's eye, became my grandmother, became in all her dancing, tragic scope one of our great Maritime women, although she never wanted greatness - no, thrust upon her. pg. 11

That he was dying was a shame. However, the other life, the one that tells people someone else's death is not a shame if it opens a door for themselves, was now opened. pg. 18-19

It was the first time he felt her temperament - her will. And it was not like her old drunken father, whom he bullied and laughed at. He had not felt it before, not directed precisely at him. pg. 27

He himself had not seen it, which was a little thing - but Harris was a little thinker. If he had been the sort of thinker he pretended himself to be, the smallness and pedestrian quality of his life would have appalled him. pg. 40

In fact, all men should blush at the moment of death - just because of the great foolishness of their dreams. pg. 159

It was as if her womb, so silent for so long in such a bitter life, started to bleed again. pg. 226

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