Upstate New York. University campus. Death of a young female student. Professor of some sort of liberal arts subject. Large amounts of water imagery. You can bet it’s a Carol Goodman novel. River Road is no exception.
I’ve read about seven of her novels so far, thanks to my friend, Niki. I’ve enjoyed many of them, but River Road was a bit of a departure in some way.
Short synopsis first:
Nan Lewis is afloat and untethered. It’s been years since the death of her child and the departure of her husband, yet she’s not coping much better. We enter the story of River Road as Nan takes another blow, only this one is in her professional life. She she drives home from a faculty party gone wrong, Nan hits a deer. After leaving her damaged car at the base of her steep drive, she passes out. The next morning she rises to learn she’s a suspect in the hit-and-run death of one of her favorite students. There are eerie similarities between the death of her own daughter who was hit by a car and the death of Leia, her student. Nan has to find out the truth. Did she hit her student? What really happened that night? Is she drinking too much? What was Leia hiding?
What I loved: There are many aspects of Goodman’s books that I love. My friend and I joke about that list of items I started this post with, but she is always able to mix them up in new and inventive ways. River Road had elements of her other stories, but it was also a little different. It was different in a new and fresh way. This book really was a good psychological thriller. While there were some elements of the supernatural, they took the form of urban legend in the town and just added atmosphere to the story. Nan was a highly sympathetic character. I can’t begin to imagine losing a child and trying to claw your way back from that loss. The supporting characters were also interesting. They were all flawed, so you could never be sure of the motives. I think that always makes for an interesting thriller.
I opened my eyes and she was there, her face lit up from within, blond braids held back by pink barrettes, breath that smelled like cherry Chapstick.–Carol Goodman, River Road
Would I recommend?: Absolutely. There are some content warnings for those who might be sensitive to suicide and drug use. While I kind of saw aspects of the ending coming, there were plenty of threads that needed to be sewn up in the end. Overall, this book was a great suspense read with some real heart as Nan tries to see past her grief and paralysis. I was oddly uplifted at the end, even with all of the death.
Backlist bonus: All the other Carol Goodman books, like Arcadia Falls. There were also aspects of this that reminded me of Melinda Leigh. You can read more about her here.