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Black River

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3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,046 ratings  ·  376 reviews
A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town--and the convict--who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is ...more
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published January 20th 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2015)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,046 ratings  ·  376 reviews


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karen
… this was something he was good at. Keeping his word. Following through. Doing what needed to be done.

this is a tremendous character study of a man who is not lovable, nor even likable much of the time, but is nonetheless irrefutably compelling.

i have this book on my "grit lit" shelf, but it's a sort of variant of traditional grit lit. there's definitely enough darkness, violence, dysfunction, and criminality to qualify it for the term, but her writing is more meditative than the muscular
...more
Arah-Lynda
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Arah-Lynda by: karen
Black River is one of those novels that does not fit snugly into any one category. I see it listed here as a western and there is certainly that feel to it though it is also quite gritty but I would hesitate to label it grit lit. So I have settled on literary. Yes it is most definitely that.

Wes Carver is a stoic man. A man of few words who has trained himself not to show emotion. He is returning to Black River on the heels of his beloved wife’s death. He carries Claire’s ashes with him for
...more
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shelby *trains flying monkeys* by: karen
Wes Carver is going home to Black River with his wife Claire's ashes and his past on his back. He had worked as a correction officer in a prison that had a "disturbance". That disturbance was a riot where two guards lost their lives and Wes was held prisoner and tortured by inmate Bobby Williams.

Now Wes must face his step-son Dennis who he couldn't live with after Dennis pulled a gun on him at the dinner table.
Wes also received a letter from the prison board that Bobby Williams is up for
...more
Carol
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After 20 years, Wes Carver, A former prison guard is returning to Black River, Montana to bury his wife and attend a parole hearing for the sadistic inmate that held him hostage and tortured him during a prison riot. The horrific abuse that Wes suffered destroyed his hands and robbed him of his ability to play his beloved fiddle, filling him with grief, rage and an inability to move on from the past.

A secondary plot involves Wes Carver’s estranged relationship with his dead wife’s adult son,
...more
Zoeytron
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zoeytron by: karen
Shelves: public-library
I do not have a romantic or sentimental bone in my body, but this story really had an impact on me. It touched a chord in my heart, if you really want to know.

'. . . the canyon had a way of holding on to its people.' A small arroyo houses the little town of Black River, Montana. The mountains that rise up on all sides are a thing of beauty, they seem to embrace some people, others feel suffocated by them. Wes Carver is a quiet man. He has some sharp edges, to be sure, but just inside is a good
...more
Jennifer
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Still waters run deep.

This book was simply stunning.

Wes Carver is a stoic man. After spending most of his life as a Corrections Officer at a prison in Black River, Montana, Wes has returned to the area from Spokane, WA to spread his late wife's ashes. His visit coincides with the timing of a parole hearing for an inmate who left an indelible impression on Wes's life.

"Black River" is the story of a marriage, of faith, of relationships, of hurt, of acceptance, and of painful memories. For me the
...more
Ron Charles
S.M. Hulse seems an unlikely candidate to take up the mantle of Kent Haruf. After all, Hulse is just 30 years old, young enough to be Haruf’s granddaughter. Her characters and themes should be a world away from the work of that quietly powerful Colorado novelist, who died in November.

And yet I couldn’t stop thinking of Haruf while reading Hulse’s debut, “Black River,” which she wrote as her MFA thesis at the University of Oregon. It’s a modern-day Western that takes place in the long shadow cast
...more
Elizabeth
Feb 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really, really liked this book. I've known men like Wes Carver. Stoic. The whole still waters run deep. Hard to get to know. Not all that likable. Guarded. A little sad. It seems like a hard way to be, a hard way to move around in the world.

Anyway, I am linking you to Karen's review because it is outstanding and it will tell you everything you need to know.
Bonnie Brody
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Black River by S. M. Hulse is one of the very best books I’ve had the privilege to read. I gasped when I read the last page and know that by reading this novel I’ve been witness to great beauty.

The story is about several things: love, loss, faith, redemption, revenge, and the connections between people.

Wes used to work as a corrections officer at the Black River Prison in Montana. His beloved wife, Claire, has just died from leukemia. Wes is headed back to Black River to scatter her ashes with
...more
Rebecca
“You grow up in this town, you go to work at the prison. That’s how it works.” Back in the town of Black River, Montana after his wife’s agonizing death from leukemia, Wesley Carver must face the trauma he experienced as a prison guard when he was held hostage and tortured during an inmate riot. Twenty years later, he still suffers crippling pain. Fiddling, once his beloved hobby, is an impossibility. Now his attacker is up for parole, and Wes plans to attend the hearing and discourage the jury ...more
Liz
Apr 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A majestic Montana landscape provides the backdrop for this solid and slow moving story of a grieving man with nothing left to lose. Wes Carver has no plans for the future beyond spreading his wife’s ashes and testifying to the parole board to keep a violent prisoner behind bars. He returns to Black River after 18 years and the past falls away.

Contrary to the marketed description of the book, I found the heart of this story in the rocky relationship between Wes and his stepson Dennis, whom he
...more
Lauren
Edited/revised as of 01/10/2018:

I kicked off the new year by revisiting this melancholy, bittersweet novel about music, prison, forgiveness, and fathers and sons. Black River has the same heart as the bluegrass music that's threaded throughout it; I'm almost inclined to say that if you like bluegrass, old school country, Johnny Cash, etc., you'll like this.

Wesley hates coming here, but he now occupies this place as though it is their home, with none of the deference he showed the staff in those
...more
Erica
I read this story about fall to winter while winter turned to spring outside.
Ah, juxtaposition, how I love you.

I read this too soon after reading karen's review so knew what to expect. I'd wanted to let that information seep back out of my brain so that this would be a surprising story when I got to it some snowy, winter afternoon. Oh well, that didn't mar my enjoyment in the least.

Forgiveness is so hard for some people.
I'm one of them.
Wes is, too. Wes is the old man in this tale, that quiet,
...more
Tara Rock
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful! Painful and often heartbreaking character study of family and loss. I wouldn't miss the next novel Ms. Hulse puts forth.
Jim
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
At year's end, this book better be on the annual list of best debut novels. Simple as that. An amazing achievement for a writer, even if it wasn't their first, and any author would be proud to have written this story. Not only is the English beautiful and the story nuanced, but the delivery is at times mesmerizing. She refused to take the easy road, delivering subtle twists and riding down paths that perhaps the reader may not want to follow but that made the story stronger. Not once did I feel ...more
Jill
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brick-and-mortar prisons have long been used in books as a metaphor for a character’s own sense of emotional imprisonment, and so it is here, in S.M. Hulse’s assured debut.

We learn early on that former CO (corrections officer) Wes Carver, a stoic man with a stronger sense of right and wrong than most, has long been emotionally imprisoned by a fateful few days where he was held hostage in a prison riot. During that time, his fingers were shattered, depriving him of his greatest joy in life:
...more
Cher
3.5 stars - It was really good.

What a compelling, but heartbreaking, character study. The writing was beautiful yet simple, the story slow yet engaging. The author artistically displays the power of the love of a woman and the love of the land, both sharply contrasted against the atrocities that people are capable of senselessly inflicting on others.

I can imagine that this one will foster a very thought provoking discussion at book club. Kudos to the author for not having a predictable plot or
...more
Renae
At its surface, Black River is a sleepy, almost lethargic story, and beneath that are dark undercurrents of tension and fear, the kind of emotion that you don’t just read, you feel. I wish I could do this book justice, but I can’t. S.M. Hulse’s debut is, quite simply, stunning—stunning and brutal, in ways I never thought I could experience through fiction. I honestly think this novel is a masterpiece.

Emotions in the book run high and sharp, and in ways you wouldn’t expect. It wasn’t the scenes
...more
Laurie Notaro
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's some very impressive writing here. How this book was not a smashing hit I don't know. A quiet gem.
Lisa
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
4.5 stars

Beautifully written novel of emotional force that I will not forget. There are several themes going on here that the author expertly interweaves without spelling it all out for the reader.

Wes returns to Black River with his wife's ashes and to a step son he hasn't spoken to in 20 years as well as a parole hearing for a monster who physically tortured him when he worked as a prison guard. The story slowly unfolds and keeps the reader wanting to know more about Wes and his past as well
...more
Kasa Cotugno
What a beautiful book. From the opening passages when Wes suffers the loss of his beloved wife, we know we are in the presence of a master storyteller. S. M. Hulse writes with such clarity and purpose, bringing the Montana landscape into clear focus. Every detail is almost cinematically described but not in an intrusive way. The reader feels the chill in the air, smells the woodsmoke, and gains an understanding of the taciturn, conflicted man at the center. There is not a cliched moment here, ...more
Angela Juline
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written - absolutely loved the characters and the story - and I just felt for Wes so much...even when I was so frustrated by his inability to communicate. Impossible to read this story and not feel the pain.
Suzanne
This book was billed as a Western by Goodreads, but I would describe it as literature and art before I would use that term. In short, I was blown away by Black River. Hulse uses a former correctional officer to address the issues of self-imprisonment, forgiveness and redemption, within a gorgeous literary style and a stunning Montana backdrop.

It was a page turner, but even more, it was an eloquent and rewarding work of fiction that will haunt you long after you've read the last page.
RoseMary Achey
What makes a book dark? Death, Suicide, Cancer, Torture, Family Dysfunction? If those elements qualify, then yes, Black River is a dark book.

The main character is a retired man of very few words. He recently lost his beloved wife to a long bout of cancer. He returns to their hometown to spread her ashes and in the process we learn the background of his life.

What was striking for me is this book was written by a woman, a young woman at that! I usually don't read the inside back flap, the
...more
Wendy
Feb 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-reads
Finished this on the plane while headed to NC. This is not a fast-paced book at all. The slow pace really fit the setting of the story - an old Montana town where not much changes and everyone is connected in some way. The descriptions, however, were beautiful and there were some surprises unfolded. Your patience will be rewarded.
Joann Amidon
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How do you shape your life after tremendous loss? How do you forgive? Is it possible to do either? In this beautifully written book we struggle with Wes as he faces these issues, knowing the solution will not be an easy one. The descriptions of music, horses, prison life and life in general are very compellingly rendered in this captivating story.
Ada
Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
The author lays down trails of misleading hints leaving the story open to one type of ending, or so I thought. I was hesitant to pick up this book since it's classified as a 'Western.' Westerns intimidate me because I fear that I will not comprehend the words and style set out for me to discover. This book is my exception. It was a strong story with true family roots that was beautifully written.
Joyce
I have so many notes about this book--we read it for a book discussion--that I've put off writing about it. Where to start? It affected me more than I expected. I always like a good western-set novel, and this is that, with western themes and the stark landscape in the background. I'm not getting into plot--that's easy enough to find and the description with the record is accurate, but there's so much more. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, and each chapter leads us deeper into the ...more
Mrtruscott
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 *s

I loved this book, its Montana setting and its sort of stereotyped characters that weren’t so stereotypical after all.

Others on Goodreads have reviewed this book, and I happily defer/refer to them, especially with regard to the way that music was written about and made a part of the story.

I always say I dislike comparisons, but this book made me think of The Hour of Lead, if it had been set in contemporary times. Small town backstories, gossip, idiosyncratic neighbors — horses.

This year,
...more
Leslie
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I've had kind of a conversion while going through this book a second time (listening to the great audio narrated by George Newbern). The first time through--read quickly, on a digital device, on a cross-country flight--didn't allow me the time to appreciate the writing, to see the nuances, to take a breather after especially tense moments, and to stop and think about the characters and all the things that were going on. There is a lot going on--some things on the surface, some below, and some ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Black River by S. M. Hulse 4 20 Sep 04, 2015 04:36AM  

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S. M. Hulse received her M.F.A. 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.
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“So easy to go sailing off this road. A wonder more folks didn't. All that space, waiting.” 1 likes
“But one thing I can tell you for certain is that someone else's faith just ain't much comfort.” 1 likes
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