Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: "The Banks of Certain Rivers" by Jon Harrison

Is it possible for your life to be simultaneously simple and complicated? Just ask affable high school teacher Neil Kazenzakis. After struggling for a number of years following the freak accident that left his wife in a vegetative state and made him sole caregiver of his son, Christopher, the two have a strong bond, and Neil is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for Christopher's future as he prepares to graduate from high school.

Neil is well-liked by his students and fellow teachers, and for the last two years he has been secretly dating Lauren Downey, a home healthcare nurse who takes care of Neil's mother-in-law. But Lauren wants their relationship to progress to the next level, and wants Neil to reveal the truth to Christopher. But when these pressures, along with an expected incident that leaves Neil's career in jeopardy (not to mention his freedom), the life he has carefully built for himself and his son starts to come down, and reveals there are far more fissures than he is willing to acknowledge.

"It's hard to love things, though. It's especially hard to admit it. In my experience, the minute you admit that you really love something? That's just about the time it decides to go away."

The Banks of Certain Rivers is a story about a man whose life was once rocked to its core, and when circumstances again force him to confront challenges he wasn't prepared for, he isn't sure how to react, or how to help those around him. It's a story about love, about being alive, and about the courage to admit when you're wrong, when you're scared, or when you're just not sure what your next step should be. And more than that, this is a beautifully moving story about relationships, and how moving on doesn't negate your memories.

Jon Harrison did a really great job with this novel. I enjoyed so much of this story, particularly the relationships between Neil and Christopher, and Neil and his best friend, Alan, and I also found Neil's strategies to cope with his wife's condition tremendously moving. I wish, however, that this had been the whole of the plot—I found the issue with Neil's job a distracting afterthought and its connection to the rest of the story was tangential at best. There was more than enough drama without it, and I felt that the more time the story focused on the case, the more it veered away from the elements that made the book so enjoyable.

Despite that issue, however, I thought this was a wonderful book and I read it in its entirety on a plane ride. It was moving, funny, and heartfelt, and definitely worth reading. I look forward to seeing how Jon Harrison's career progresses.

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