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by Brendan Flaherty
Atlantic Monthly, March 2024
240 pages
ISBN: 0802162568

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Flaherty's debut is a tightly written suspenseful character-driven novel that feels like Southern noir despite taking place mainly in Connecticut. At only 240 pages, it comes in well below average length, but this is due to the clarity of the writing rather than a lack of detail. Without superfluous verbosity, the language recedes to the background as the characters come forward in vivid detail. THE DREDGE could easily be read in one sitting partly because of its length but also because the author immerses the reader in the small-town atmosphere at the same time that he introduces the background to the plot and develops the inter-related characters who are impacted by the eponymous dredge. Having accomplished all of this simultaneously, Flaherty's prose then adds layer after layer of depth to the plot.

The book moves between two timelines, with the more distant past converging ever more quickly upon the present. Brothers Cale and Ambrose Casey, decades ago, found themselves entangled in the lives of the Rowes, a nearby impoverished family with a legacy of mental illness and violence. That violence spilled over to deeply affect the Casey family, with death, disappearance, secrets, and more mental illness. The book is as much about the devastating effects of that violence as it is about the search for answers centered around those deaths and disappearances. As the past spirals toward the present, Cale and Ambrose reunite in a desperate attempt to keep their secrets and uncover those of the Rowes. The perspective moves between Cale, Ambrose, and Lily Rowe, the only remaining member of that family living in town in the present. The believably flawed characters add perspective, as well as darkness, to the search for truth. In the end, there is some redemption for those characters who are willing to accept it, but the book is darker than it is hopeful, and the reader is left to decide who emerges relatively whole from their actions.

Flaherty, through the development of his characters, presents a world of squalor in contrast with a world of privilege. He also presents a life where children are not loved and cared for, suffering from neglect and violence. Untamed greed plays a role, as does unmitigated sorrow. The kindness of strangers is contrasted with ingratitude. The author does not, however, lecture the reader with social justice issues; rather, the straightforward presentation of the reality of the book's world as a context for the mystery allows the reader to pass their own judgments. There is a great deal of depth in the story writing, and I think this would make an excellent book club book as it extends beyond the mystery aspects.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, February 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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