River Awakens

by S. Lundin,
ISBN: 0340696370

Post Your Opinion
First Novels - The New Kid
by Eva Tihanyi

This River Awakens (Hodder & Stoughton, 359 pages, $19.95 paper), by Steve Lundin, is a powerful coming-of-age-story, sophisticated in style and content, beautifully written, and at times so startling in its intensity that it'll take your breath away. The Toronto-born Lundin, who grew up in Winnipeg and now lives in England, has published a novella and two story collections, and it is obvious on every page of his debut novel that he is no novice writer.

In the spring of 1971, twelve-year-old Owen Brand and his family-escaping the city in the hope of staving off poverty-arrive in Middlecross, a fictitious riverside town in western Canada. Owen, having moved often, is an old hand at being the "new kid", the one who has to prove himself. It doesn't take long for him to fall in with a gang of three boys and eventually get involved with the class rebel, Jennifer Louper.

Jennifer, musically gifted and academically smart, is wasting both her talents. Already into drugs and sex, she seems much older than her thirteen years. As the only child of Sten, a violent alcoholic battered by his own father, and Elouise, a mother incapable of escaping the abuse he now unleashes on her, Jennifer seems destined to follow the family pattern. When Sten beats Elouise so badly she ends up hospitalized, the doctor responsible for treating her intervenes and calls in a social worker. Yet Jennifer, although she detests her father, is determined to keep her dysfunctional family together. She would rather pretend nothing is wrong than suffer the embarrassment of having others know the truth. And, although even Owen doesn't know, her bond with him offers comfort and hope for a life different from the one she's been living.

Unbeknownst to Jennifer, Owen is tackling his own demons. During the summer, he and his friends find a dead body in the river and agree to keep it a secret. But, as the weeks pass, the gruesome discovery becomes a terrible burden, affecting each boy in its own way. For Owen, the corpse is a "man, a giant, a nobody. We owed him something-I wanted to give him back his name, his face, his history. I wanted to put him back in his rightful place. At the same time, he had come to exist only for us, and that made us more than what we'd been. He'd come to open our eyes, but they hadn't been opened enough. Not yet. He had more to give us."

There are others whose stories intertwine with Owen's and Jennifer's: Miss Ride, the "do-gooder" elementary school teacher; Hodgson Fisk, the decorated war veteran turned mink farmer now sliding into insanity; Walter Gribbs, the wise old watchman at the yacht club facing the "shivering solitude" of his own demise. Lundin enters one consciousness and then the next, shifting seamlessly from Owen's first-person point of view to the third person used for all the others. He knows his characters intimately-not only their fears and their passions but their capability for evil-and uses this knowledge to create a narrative tension that goes far beyond the plot itself. Madness is in everyone; it's simply a matter of degree. In contrast, the animals-mink, beavers, dogs, and even the rats-have an innocence we can't even conceive.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us