River Road by Carol Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Nan Lewis is a creative writing professor at a state school in upstate New York. She lives alone after the tragic death of her young daughter, Emmy--an incident which her marriage could not survive. She's recently been denied tenure by her school and is upset and agitated at the university's holiday party. On her way home, she hits a deer, but cannot find the animal when she goes to check on it. Nan eventually makes it back home in a snowstorm, leaving her car at the bottom of her icy, unplowed driveway. But when she wakes in the morning, she learns that one of her prized students, Leia, was killed in a hit-and-run the night before on River Road: the exact road where Nan hit the deer. Because her car was damaged from hitting the deer, Nan is the prime suspect, and she quickly loses the support of her colleagues, who point out that she has become a functioning alcoholic since her daughter's death. Even worse, Nan starts seeing signs that remind her of Emmy's death. Are Emmy and Leia's deaths related? How much did Nan have to drink the night she hit the deer? Will she clear her name before her entire life is destroyed?
I'm honestly not sure why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. It had several things working against it: 1) an unlikable narrator who drinks heavily; 2) a storyline that heavily involved dead children and pets (why?!); and 3) an easily guessed villain. Still, I found this one compulsively readable and stayed up far past my bedtime to finish the second half of the book. Nan grew on me, and I found myself almost protective of her. The lead policeman in the novel, Joe, was a favorite of mine. While I figured out the villain fairly early, I didn't understand the motives, so the plot kept me guessing until the end. Goodman weaves several storylines together--which intersect, but loosely--and somehow they all work. There are several supporting characters, including the woman who killed Nan's daughter and a young single mother from one of Nan's classes, who give the novel a surprising depth.
Anyway, despite some of the craziness, I found myself enjoying the book and racing to finish it. I first fell in love with Goodman due to her novel The Lake of Dead Languages. That book was impressive and still sits on my bookshelf to this day. If you haven't read it, I certainly recommend it. However, River Road is a fun thriller and a worthy diversion.
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