(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Six years ago, Nan Lewis lost everything because of a drunk driver on River Road. Her daughter's death shook her world, paralyzing her with grief and anger. Unable to pen another word, Nan's career as a novelist stalled. Her marriage crumbled as she curled in on herself, becoming a virtual hermit. With her social life revolving mainly around her cat, the professor drinks too much while spending long, lonely hours brooding inside her rotting farmhouse. The only thing that really matters to her is her job teaching creative writing at a college in upstate New York. And now she's been denied tenure. Things can't get much worse.
Then, they do.
While driving home from a faculty Christmas party on snow-packed River Road, Nan hits a deer. Although her car is dented, she sees no sign of the dead animal. Shaken, she just manages to fight her way through the heavy snow and park her mangled car at the bottom of her driveway. She receives another shock when a policeman shows up on her doorstep the next morning informing her that one of her students—Leia Dawson—was killed the night before in a hit-and-run on River Road. Because of Nan's damaged car, she's just become a suspect. Despite her horrified protests, the overwrought professor can't be entirely sure of her own innocence. She had been both upset and "slightly" intoxicated when she got behind the wheel. Nan hit something with her car—was it a deer or something much, much more disturbing?
As she becomes even more of a pariah in her small community, Nan searches her cloudy memories for the truth of what really happened that night on River Road. When eerie tokens recalling her daughter's accident start showing up on her doorstep, Nan becomes even more unhinged. What really happened to Leia Dawson? Nan's (almost) convinced she had nothing to do with the young woman's death. But if she didn't, who did? As the stakes grow ever more perilous, the professor must figure out the truth. Before it's too late.
With a premise like the one at the heart of River Road by Carol Goodman, how could I resist? The novel opens with a bang and keeps up the intensity all the way through to its satisfying end. Nan is a sympathetic character with realistic flaws that make her both relatable and root-worthy. Myriad twists keep her story interesting. Although I saw the killer coming from about halfway through the novel, I literally could not stop reading until I knew for sure what had happened to Leia. River Road is that compelling. Even though I've read a few more of Goodman's books since this one, River Road remains my favorite.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use
To the FTC, with love: Another library