River of Heaven
River of Heaven
Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780307381255, 288pp.
Publication Date: April 7, 2009
“You have to know the rest of my story, the
part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story
of a boy I knew a long time ago and a
brother I loved and then lost.”
Past and present collide in Lee Martin’s highly anticipated novel of a man, his brother, and the dark secret that both connects and divides them. Haunting and beautifully wrought, River of Heaven weaves a story of love and loss, confession and redemption, and the mystery buried with a boy named Dewey Finn.
On an April evening in 1955, Dewey died on the railroad tracks outside Mt. Gilead, Illinois, and the mystery of his death still confounds the people of this small town.
River of Heaven begins some fifty years later and centers on the story of Dewey’s boyhood friend Sam Brady, whose solitary adult life is much formed by what really went on in the days leading up to that evening at the tracks. It’s a story he’d do anything to keep from telling, but when his brother, Cal, returns to Mt. Gilead after decades of self-exile, it threatens to come to the surface.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Bright Forever, Lee Martin masterfully conveys, with a voice that is at once distinct and lyrical, one man’s struggle to come to terms with the outcome of his life. Powerful and captivating, River of Heaven is about the high cost of living a lie, the chains that bind us to our past, and the obligations we have to those we love.
Lee was born in southeastern Illinois, where his father farmed eighty acres in Lawrence County s Lukin Township. The gravel road that went past the lane to the Martin home, was the road that divided Lawrence County from Richland County, and Lee was amazed as a young boy by the fact that simply walking across the road could move him from one county to the next. In 1963, when he was eight, those gravel roads that ran straight and formed right angles when they intersected moved him to the hard roads first the blacktop into Sumner, and then U.S. Route 50 and Illinois Route 49 heading north to the family s new home during the school year in Oak Forest, a southern suburb of Chicago, where his mother had accepted an offer to teach third grade for Arbor Park School District #145. Just like that, the familiarity of the two-room Lukin School, the small Berryville Church of Christ, and the shops and cafes of Sumner, was replaced by the strangeness of urban living.
“If you don’t know Lee Martin, you should….[River of Heaven] is a page-turner, both tender and tough, with real insight into how people live and breathe and love and worry.”
—Lincoln Journal Star
“Few writers could unfold Sam’s history with the grace and compassion of Lee Martin. River of Heaven is a wise and humane novel, a story of cowardice and courage and the torturous path between them.”
“In River of Heaven, Lee Martin has created that rare thing: a literary page-turner. This is a story about the corrosive power of a childhood secret, and the way our lives are shaped as much by what we withold as what we reveal. An elegantly structured, powerful and original novel, full of heart.”
“Lee Martin’s portrait of Sam Brady, a man in fear of his life and crippled by it, lingers painfully and persuasively.”
—Amy Bloom, author of Away