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THE NIGHT THE RIVER WEPT
by Lo Patrick
Sourcebook/Landmark, July 2024
400 pages
$16.99
ISBN: 1728290449


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As the book opens, Arlene Ridell is remembering a time almost twenty years ago when she was 24. She had been married for several years to Tommy and her life was not working out as she had imagined it would. By now, she'd thought that she would be not just married but have several babies. Instead, she has miscarried her only pregnancy and has not conceived since, despite eager and frequent attempts. Arlene was living in a nice house in rural Georgia. Her husband is a successful salesman, but he also seems discontented judging by the amount of liquor he puts away daily.

Arlene was young enough at the time she is recalling to try to change her life, even if

Faber,GA does not offer many alternatives. So she took a part-time job tagging evidence at the police headquarters where she becomes rivetted by a shockingly unsolved case that occurred when she was a small child. Three little boys, brothers, were found murdered and lined up side by side on the Deck riverbank. A young man recently married to their elder sister confirmed the town's suspicions of him by committing suicide shortly after being interviewed by the police and both officials and townspeople were content to let it go at that. Arlene was too young at the time to be particularly affected by the event, but now she is struck with the desire to solve this crime once and for all.

In a less ambitious novel than this, Arlene would beaver away against all opposition, become a threat to the killer, narrowly escape an attempt to shut her mouth, and finally emerge triumphant, with the villain in cuffs. We have all read that one and there's little harm in it. But Lo Patrick wants to do more than entertain. Arlene isn't an especially effective detective and her attempt does not turn out quite the way she hoped.

Arlene first engages with the case as a way of broadening her possibilities and to distract herself from what she sees as her failure to become a mother. But at home after an exciting day acting out her role as a "real detective," she wonders whether she should continue: "It was dawning on me that I might not be able to be a successful detective and a good wife at the same time. I was going to be disappointed in myself if I couldn't manage to stay good natured while accomplishing something. It was a real racket that women were supposed to keep out of life so they could be nice."

Arlene does become less nice as the novel progresses. But she also begins to understand much more about the world into which she was born. As she continues her investigation, she becomes more and more aware of the caste and class distinctions of her small Southern city and how they are at the heart of the tragedy she has dedicated herself to explaining. Arlene realizes exactly where she sits in the social hierarchy - poor, "but not dirt poor " unlike her workmate Ronna, who knows more about the case than she is willing to say and is protective of some of its participants because of the loyalty she feels to them due their shared background. But despite the signals of wealth afforded by her husband's prosperity - they are a two-Mercedes family - Arlene is frequently reminded of where they both began. Early in her attempt to change her life, she tries to give a dinner party. She must virtually twist arms to get a few people to attend, and some who accepted do not show. Arlene is both bewildered and furious, but it isn't till she has worked her way close to a resolution of the case can she grasp what happened. There were guests who did not want to socialize with a hostess from a lower class and a couple who feared being snubbed by those of better background.

THE NIGHT THE RIVER WEPT may disappoint a few readers hoping for more of a conventional summer read. But its author adds to her reputation as a serious exponent of contemporary Southern literature with this second novel. It is a thoughtful, rich, and brilliantly written book, one that is often very funny. I could go on about how much I enjoyed it but read it for yourselves. You won't regret it.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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