21 October, 2021

Litstack recs | The Marriage Plot, by Jeffery Eugenides

Thief River Falls, by Brian Freeman

Full disclosure, I picked up this book despite it being a psychological thriller (not my genre of choice) but because I live in Minnesota and a close family friend hails from Thief River Falls. When this friend talks of home, of the people he knows and his experiences he’s had, it reminds me of the small towns I grew up in. I know how excited I’d be if a book written by a successful author would have been set in one of those small towns of my childhood! So I gave it a chance.

At first, I was dissatisfied. It seemed to have the inconsistencies and lack of characterizations that I fear in these kinds of popular novels, especially ones written by men where the main character is female. I complained about situations that were unstable, where I was thrown from reality into incredulity. (A blue Camero with blue racing stripes left unused in a garage that houses a multitude of stray cats and yet is immaculate? Really? A boy of ten who acts more like a child of five or six and vacillates from stoic and observant to giggling and prone to outbursts of affection towards a virtual stranger?) But by the end, when events played out, it all made chilling sense.

Lisa Powers is a writer who hails from the small town of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. She has written a number of mystery novels, but becomes a literary celebrity when one of her books is optioned by a well known Hollywood player to become a major motion picture. The title of that book is, interestingly enough, Thief River Falls, set in her hometown. But Lisa has had a rough and tragic life. Not only did she lose her fiancé some years earlier, but her mother is killed in a brutal car accident. Her father, bereft, hangs himself in the family home. Two of her siblings drown in the river that passes through the town, and her twin brother flees Thief River Falls,
leaving Lisa alone to deal with her grief and loss.

Then late one night she after returning to the remote farmhouse she has rebuilt as her retreat, in the middle of a blustering storm, a runaway boy with no memory shows up with a terrifying story: he’s witnessed a horrifying murder, which the police want to cover up. When Lisa attempts to collaborate the boy’s tale, she finds herself drawn into a harrowing mystery where every attempt she makes to find the truth is thwarted by not only the authorities but others that she once trusted. Someone in power
wants the boy back, but Lisa is obsessed with saving the boy and unraveling the mystery, even while the trap set around them tightens.

Honestly, I wasn’t too vested in Lisa or the mysterious boy, who she calls Purdue (after a character in her novel) for most of the book, due to the aforementioned inconsistencies. But I was struck with the sense of place, the depictions of life in Northern Minnesota and Thief River Falls itself. This sense of place kept me reading. It grounds this novel and holds it all together, giving it an element of reality that bolsters the dramatic conclusion.

All in all, I’m glad I read this book. While I don’t consider it one that will pull me into expanding my literary horizon into thrillers or murder mysteries, I might just try another Brian Freeman book in the future, just to see what else he can do. After all, I’ve heard that Thief River Falls isn’t the only novel he’s set in Minnesota. Who knows? He might make a convert of me yet.

— Sharon Browning

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