RIVER, SING OUT
Categories: Contemporary/Literary Fiction/Rural Fiction/Crime Fiction/Coming-of-Age
Date of Publication: June 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 315 pages
“And through these ages untold, the river did act as the lifeblood of all those things alongside it.”
Jonah Hargrove is celebrating his thirteenth birthday by avoiding his abusive father, when a girl named River stumbles into his yard, injured and alone. The teenager has stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of meth from her murderous, drug-dealing boyfriend, but lost it somewhere in the Neches River bottoms during her escape. Jonah agrees to help her find and sell the drugs so she can flee East Texas.
Chasing after them is John Curtis, a local drug kingpin and dog fighter, as well as River’s boyfriend, the dangerous Dakota Cade.
Each person is keeping secrets from the others—deadly secrets that will be exposed in violent fashion as all are forced to come to terms with their choices, their circumstances, and their own definition of God.
With a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unflinching violence juxtaposed against lyrical prose, River, Sing Out dives deep into the sinister world of the East Texas river bottoms, where oppressive poverty is pitted against the need to believe in something greater than the self.
”With echoes of Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy (and perhaps a smidge of Flannery O’Connor), River, Sing Out is a beautiful, brutal meditation on survival and love in the face of nearly unspeakable violence and depravity in an East Texas community ravaged by the meth trade. Taut, lyrical, and precise, the prose soars in this important new novel by James Wade.”Elizabeth Wetmore, New York Times bestselling author of Valentine
”If you read one novel this year, make it this one. James Wade’s River, Sing Out, is an instant classic filled with characters that will break your heart, lyrical prose as haunted as the river it evokes, and a Southern Noir undertow that wholly sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages until it’s searing, masterful conclusion.”May Cobb, author of The Hunting Wives
”Wade, whose striking debut, All Things Left Wild (2020), traveled back a century in Texas history, uses an unlikely friendship to explore an equally wild present-day landscape…A haunting fable of an impossible relationship fueled by elemental need and despair.”Kirkus Reviews
From the opening lines, readers can’t help but be struck by the symbolism of the river that rages across these lyrical, yet blistering pages. As not only a source of drinking water and transportation, the river showcases the incredible strength and beauty of nature; however, follow its course long enough and the descent can quickly spell disaster.
Alternating between plot points, readers follow Jonah, a 13-year-old boy, as he attempts to help a young woman, aptly named River, who is on the run from a drug kingpin named John Curtis and his dangerous enforcer, Cade, after she made off with tens of thousands of dollars worth of meth. Despite battling his own demons of parental abuse and abject poverty, Jonah finds a calling in trying to save her even though she is only desperately treading water. The author’s humble hand sculpts the slow and gentle sway that unfortunately delivers these young kids toward hard punch after punch. Their memories will remain long after the book is closed, yet in a sense, that is exactly where “the story begins and ends and begins again, as each rhythm of the earth’s turning draws the water darker still.” This lyrically profound contemplation on the course of choice refuses to avert its eyes from the darkness.
Men like Curtis and Cade reinforce how difficult it is to know whether to stay and fight or flee quickly from this violent existence. And honestly, there is no right answer. It is through the author’s masterful storytelling that the river in its natural setting becomes the symbol for this powerful and all too common human narrative. Atmospheric is an understatement because in this place, the river permeates everything that is meaningful in this story. These waters have the ability to drag you under or pull you in from the shore and chew you up anyway.
Life is depressingly tough for everyone involved in this story, and the author paints a ruthless portrait of that raw reality against the breathtaking backdrop of the native landscape. Like the author’s debut, readers are placed in the unique perspective of walking alongside these characters in such an oppressive and corrupt setting. And quite obviously, it’s not an easy sojourn to take. Emotionally provocative, I remain fascinated by the author’s ability to masterfully allude to how tragic this setting is without ever directly telling readers what to think. We are carried by his words to discover and examine all on our own such devastatingly bleak environments. For all it’s cruelty and callousness, there is magic between these pages that evokes the swagger needed to survive and the sensitivity required to not lose all sense of humanity. A reminder of the journey that each of us makes every day.
Overall, this is a compelling and affecting story, spectacularly written and richly detailed with a descriptive atmosphere and realistic characters that will not easily be forgotten. A brooding and brutal coming of age story as enlightening in its harshness as it is in its wonder and beauty.
Many thanks to the author and Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me with a copy of the book. I feel so incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this story. This is my honest and thoughtful opinion.
James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of All Things Left Wild, which is a winner of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, a winner of the 2021 Spur Award for Best Historical Fiction, and a winner of the 2021 Reading the West Award for Best Debut Novel. His fiction has appeared in various literary journals and magazines.
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