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Twisted River


Twisted River

TWISTED RIVER is a quietly wild ride, like one of those whitewater rafting excursions, where you’re floating along placidly on a river enjoying the scenery until you’re suddenly hanging on for dear life as you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. Debut author Siobhan MacDonald toys with what might be considered an accepted novel structure with the same aplomb of the new guy who shows up at the office on a Monday and asks, “Gee, why don’t we do that this way?” It works in the case of TWISTED RIVER.

Most of the book takes place over the course of a very long week at the end of October, and involves two families who never really meet but whose fates and lives become forever intertwined and changed.

"One never really knows what's going to happen from one moment to the next; the only near-certainty is that it won’t be good.... MacDonald’s strong eye for locale detail is an added plus..."

Mannix and Kate O’Brien are residents of Curragower Falls in Limerick, Ireland. They have two children. Their son Fergus is autistic and bullied, particularly by the son of a local crime boss, and their daughter Izzy, on the cusp of adolescence, wishes she could protect her brother and looks down on her parents for not doing so. Oscar and Hazel Harvey live in Manhattan and have two children as well. Oscar is a seemingly successful dentist who is (no two ways about it) a monster, one who has built up the self-justification for his actions so high that reason can’t overcome it. Hazel is a bit of a limousine liberal, committed to this or that cause as she gazes down upon the masses from their high-rise apartment, even as she can’t bring her self-righteous attitude into her own relationship with her husband.

The families find each other on one of those home exchange websites and trade residences for a week, both hoping that a change of scenery will restart, recharge and rekindle their respective relationships. Both families are also hiding any number of secrets, from Oscar’s abusiveness to Mannix’s activities with his semi-criminal brother and beyond. It is the “beyond” that really gets TWISTED RIVER rolling. MacDonald distributes facts and revelations piecemeal throughout the book, leading the reader to make assumptions about this, that or the other thing that are not necessarily correct. This is true of the characters as well, at least in some instances. The sins of a member of one family have disastrous consequences for the other, and those results echo long after the last paragraph is read.

Parts of TWISTED RIVER, particularly the last third, will put older readers in the mind of a certain film from decades ago, one whose title entered the popular lexicon to the extent that many people use it without being aware of its origin. That doesn’t spoil a thing; MacDonald demonstrates a natural affinity for creating twists and turns that keep the story moving for the reader. The novel’s structure, which alternates points of view among Kate, Mannix, Hazel and Oscar, heightens the suspense as well. One never really knows what's going to happen from one moment to the next; the only near-certainty is that it won’t be good.

MacDonald’s strong eye for locale detail is an added plus as she implicitly compares and contrasts the wealth of Manhattan with the closed-at-hand (relative) poverty of Limerick. Hopefully she has more stories to tell and, on the strength of TWISTED RIVER, will certainly have a large audience if she does.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 25, 2016

Twisted River
by Siobhan MacDonald