BLACK RIVER

S M Hulse

Long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

February 2015 Indie Next Title

An ABA's Winter/Spring 2015 Indies Introduce title

One of the Seattle Times's “Best Books of 2015”

Wes Carver returns to his hometown—Black River, Montana—with two things: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the parole board. The convict who once held him hostage during a prison riot is up for release. For years, Wes earned his living as a corrections officer and found his joy playing the fiddle. But the riot shook Wes’s faith and robbed him of his music;

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Long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

February 2015 Indie Next Title

An ABA's Winter/Spring 2015 Indies Introduce title

One of the Seattle Times's “Best Books of 2015”

Wes Carver returns to his hometown—Black River, Montana—with two things: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the parole board. The convict who once held him hostage during a prison riot is up for release. For years, Wes earned his living as a corrections officer and found his joy playing the fiddle. But the riot shook Wes’s faith and robbed him of his music; now he must decide if his attacker should walk free. With “lovely rhythms, spare language, tenderness, and flashes of rage” (Los Angeles Review of Books), S. M. Hulse shows us the heart and darkness of an American town, and one man’s struggle to find forgiveness in the wake of evil.

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  • Mariner Books
  • Paperback
  • January 2016
  • 240 Pages
  • 9780544570238

Buy the Book

$13.95

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  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Hardcover
  • January 2015
  • 240 Pages
  • 9780544309876

Buy the Book

$24.00

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About S M Hulse

S. M. Hulse received her MFA from the University of Oregon and was a fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her stories have appeared in Willow Springs, Witness, and Salamander. A horsewoman and fiddler, she has spent time in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon.

Praise

Impressive…[a] tough, honest novel by a surprisingly wise young writer.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

This Montana-based story, about a prison guard who returns to his hometown after decades away, is an intricate work that layers faith with broken promises, broken bones, and broken hearts. This is a story of people shaped irrevocably by place and circumstance.”Seattle Times, “Best Books of 2015”

A promising debut…the lyrical landscapes and the emotional weather are in place.” —John Williams, The New York Times

Hulse evokes the Montana landscape in lyrical, vivid prose…[she] is a gifted wordsmith with promising dramatic instincts.” —The Boston Globe

Discussion Questions

As the novel switches perspectives between Wesley and Claire, the tense also changes: Claire’s accounts are in the present tense, while Wesley’s are in the past tense. Why do you think the author chose this approach? How did it affect your reading of the book?

How does Claire’s story, told from her point of view, alter or complicate the central narrative, told from Wesley’s perspective?

Do you believe that Bobby Williams’s jailhouse conversion to Christianity was authentic, or that he is, as Wesley asserts to his brother-in-law Arthur, a sociopath just trying to con the parole board with a story of rebirth and reform?

Wesley’s reaction to Williams’s torture seems to be divided between anxiety about how others perceive him (when they see his hands and the scars on his arm) and how he perceives himself (when he wrestles with the loss of his ability to play the fiddle). What do you think was the most profound impact of the trauma?

Were you curious to learn the details of what happened to Wesley during the prison riot, or did you dread reading the description?

What role do you think Scott plays in Wesley’s journey toward peace in the town of Black River?

What was your reaction to Scott’s suicide? How did that plot development affect your opinion of the novel as a whole?

On page 171, as Wesley reflects on Scott’s death at the railroad crossing, Hulse writes: “He was starting to know something he didn’t want to know, had been starting to know it ever since Dennis first told him about Scott. He’d kept it at bay . . . and he knew he’d better not come to know it for certain while he was with Dennis.” What do you think Wesley was beginning to realize? Did your interpretation of this moment change as you read further?

Both Dennis and Wesley bear responsibility for the difficult nature of their relationship—but is it shared equally between them? Or is one of them more at fault for the tensions between them?

The novel ends with Wesley and Dennis, “father and son” beginning a conversation. In your opinion, how will the events that unfolded after Wesley’s return to Black River influence that conversation? What do you think the novel suggests the future holds for the two men?