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Black River by S. M. Hulse

Black River

by S. M. Hulse

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I really want to do this book justice, but there is so much to chew on and mull over and consider, that I know I will still be thinking about it for a long time. I am not usually drawn to novels in which faith plays a central part but this portrayal of one man’s struggle and yearning for faith and the understanding of grace felt incredibly real and authentic to me. Wes Carver is a good man but one who struggles, and as such, he is an incredibly sympathetic character, even as the reader feels some frustration with him. He cares about people but can’t show it in ways that they need; he feels deep pain but his stoic exterior leads people to assume a lack of feeling; and his reticence prevents him from making the human connections that could, ultimately, be his salvation. This novel is beautifully written and somber and stark in tone but with enough hope allowed to shine through to ultimately be satisfying and worthwhile.

I haven’t done the book the justice I wanted to, or that it deserves. Some books just strike the right note at the right time for a reader, and this was one such for me. I am so glad I read it and hope that more readers will give it a try. I look forward to more work by S.M. Hulse. ( )
1 vote katiekrug | Dec 28, 2016 |
Black River by debut author S.M. Hulse was an outstanding read. An American tragedy that draws the reader in with it’s detailed rendering of a unique character. Wes Carver is a complicated, driven yet broken man. He is a hard man to understand or get close to, in fact, it appears that only one person ever has broken through the outer shell and that would be his wife, Claire, who has just passed away from cancer. Wes brings her ashes home to Black River, a small town in Montana whose claim to fame is that the state prison is located there.

Wes and Claire once lived in Black River and Wes worked as a correctional officer, but 20 years ago a prison riot changed their lives. Held and tortured for 39 hours by a vicious inmate, Wes’s rage, fear and grief are still bottled up inside him. But the prison riot isn’t the only reason why Wes is scarred, he grew up in the shadow of a father who committed suicide and there was an incident with his stepson that caused great damage to the family and saw Claire and Wes move to Spokane. As Wes arrives back on the ranch that was once his home, he learns that the person responsible for his scars, burns and smashed fingers is coming up for parole.

With his silent stoicism and rigid morality Wes Carver is a hard man yet we do see another side, a much gentler man who lost the ability to play his violin and express his inner soul through his music when his fingers were smashed. Black River is both harsh yet delicate in it’s portrayal of one man’s quest for grace and the author hit all the right notes. There is a great deal more to this story than I have described here, but rest assured that Black River is a wonderful story of both rage and redemption. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Dec 21, 2016 |
This has been getting a little Pulitzer buzz, and I can see why. Wes goes home to Black River to bury his wife and to grieve for her. He is a prickly man, not good at showing his emotions. This has made a relationship with his equally difficult stepson nearly impossible.
Wes was a prison guard at the State Penitentiary when a riot broke out in 1992, and he was tortured by a man who broke all his fingers, taking away his one true peace: playing his fiddle. Now this man is up for parole.
Add in a troubled teen with a shining musical talent and this could end up as a smarmy Lifetime movie. But this was nothing like that.
Quiet writing, like Kent Haruf, but not quite- it captured the beauty and danger of Montana's mountains, and of the people who live there. Wes is far from perfect, and often unlikable. Actually, every person in this book has flaws. But they all try, and each has at least one thing that makes him/her a better person.
Ultimately, this is about grief. Wes lost his faith when he lost his fiddle, he never really understood his father's death, his wife has passed, and his relationship with his stepson is in shambles. But, one at a time, he tries to come to terms and make what he can better. In his own, gritty, gruff Montana way. Kudos to Ms. Hulse for writing a gritty and gruff, yet tender, book that's no where near the Lifetime or Hallmark channels.
4.5 stars. ( )
  tstan | Sep 4, 2016 |
I can understand why other readers loved it--it's well-written and full of dramatic moments (And death. So. Much. Death.)--but it just wasn't the right book for me. ( )
  BillieBook | Mar 1, 2016 |
I can’t say it better than Amazon does in its January 2015 book of the month review. How a person is shaped by the culture and landscape of his life shows so strongly in this book, as a former Montana prison guard struggles to understand his step-son and struggles with his faith as he confronts a “born-again” Christian prisoner who tortured him at the prisoner’s parole hearing. ( )
  brangwinn | Feb 21, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0544309871, Hardcover)

A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town, and the convict, who shaped him.
When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.

Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.

How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away.

With spare prose and stunning detail, S. M. Hulse drops us deep into the heart and darkness of an American town.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:06 -0400)

A former prison guard and talented fiddler returns to his Montana hometown to bury his wife and confront the inmate who, twenty years ago, held him hostage during a prison riot.

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