Title: The Banks of Certain Rivers
Author: Jon Harrison
Publisher: self-published by the author
Publication Date: March 19, 2013
Source: copy received from an outside party for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.
Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.
You all know that I am very, very, very (you might say very) picky about reading self-published novels for review. So, the fact that this one made it through my tighter-than-a-chastity-belt screening process says something right off the bat. When I read the description, it immediately grabbed me--it sounded like a great family drama, and a little different from those in the women's fiction genre (my typical source for relationship dramatics).
Soon after jumping into this novel, my remaining worries about its self-published status were banished. Neil's story takes off like a shot, and within a few pages I was immersed in his complicated world. However, even though the plot snowballs quickly in the beginning, Harrison does a great job leaving some details and events for later, allowing the full saga to unfold slowly throughout the book. I loved the feeling of constantly uncovering new twists, even when I wasn't looking for them. Admittedly, there were a few parts about halfway through where I felt things were maybe a little TOO drawn out, but for the most part, the book keeps a solid pace.
There are a lot of complicated issues warring against each other in Neil's life. Disabled wife, secret girlfriend, teenage son on the verge of going to college, incriminating videos of him at work...a book with this many issues has the potential to fall flat if the author doesn't handle them with care. I've read some novels like that that end up feeling either too overzealous (the issues didn't mesh into one story well), or too perfunctory (not enough time was spent on each issue to make it feel important). Thankfully, Harrison blended all of these issues into one seamless narrative. They all interconnected extremely well, and made the novel feel fuller, rather than too ambitious.
I only have one complaint to share: I felt like the ending was rushed. After such an intricate, well-paced story, the conclusion ramps up and ties together far too fast (especially the conclusion as related to Neil's work woes). The actual events involved in the ending were satisfying--that wasn't an issue. But I just wish a little more time had been taken to get there, in order to make it feel more in line with the rest of the novel.
Bottom line: this novel is wonderfully complex, but it still has a contemporary and fast-moving plot. The characters are engaging and clearly-voiced. The ending wasn't perfect, but I was willing to overlook it in my overall rating because of how much I loved the rest. If you have doubts about picking this up because it's self-published, do yourself a favor and put them aside. This novel will take some time to unfold itself, but I promise it's worth the wait!