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Riven Rock

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,654 ratings  ·  210 reviews
An extraordinary and heartbreaking love story set during America's age of innocence — and against a backdrop of wealth and privilege.

In Riven Rock, T.C. Boyle transforms two real people from the pages of American history into rich mythic creations whose tortured love and epic story is intimate enough to break our hearts.

Boyle anchors his unforgettable tale with the remarka
Paperback, 466 pages
Published 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  2,654 ratings  ·  210 reviews

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Carl R.
May 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
When you’re in a tight spot, it’s not unreasonable to turn to the familiar folks of the past for comfort, so I turned to T.C. Boyle when I needed an airplane book quick. Oh, well, I suppose he did his best, but I wonder why he turned his considerable talents to this lugubrious subject.

Riven Rock is a cheerless tale of obsessions. A novelized account of the life of Robert Stanley McCormick, Youngest son of Cyrus, the reaper inventor, it details the descent of a dashing, eccentric, young aristocr
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, fiction
So, I've had a few days to think about this one. An oddity. Off-kilter and skewed in more ways than one. But I liked it! So, yes, odd is good.

And this is one of the oddest (and saddest) of love stories. The power of love (whatever that is) unites Stanley and Katherine, and a peculiar, unidentified force (call it madness, insanity, dementia praecox, schizophrenia, or the prescribed treatment of said diagnoses)keeps them apart for ...decades. The long, mostly uneventful saga moves forward in time
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly I am sort of bugged down here. I love T.C.Boyle. I totally swallowed "Talk talk" (oh, well, it is a thriller :), and really liked "Women" and many stories. "Tortilla Curtain" was also quite good. "When the killing is done" was tough but I muddled through because the issues were very important IMHO (illegal immigration in "Curtain" and environmental conservation in "Killing"). But "Riven Rock"... well... I just cannot seem to care about any of the characters... learned plenty about t ...more
May 07, 2012 rated it liked it
There were a lot of things that I greatly enjoyed about this book. As usual, Boyle is a master of description. He sets each scene so that you feel you are there reading the faces of the characters and feeling the emotion of the room. Riven Rock is written just as cleverly and well as his other books. The historic nature of the book is also really interesting. Boyle is clearly interested in aspects of the treatment of mental illness (in this book and others) and the book provides a nice overview ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Riven Rock was named by it's prisoner, Stanley McCormick, heir to the corporation that was to become International Harvester. The house in California was acquired and fitted out for Stanley's older sister, whose schizophrenia made it impossible for her to live normally. The estate has a boulder in the middle of which a tree grew and split the boulder in half. This is a metaphor for Stanley's own brand of mental illness, which ultimately led to his being incarcerated there.

While his wife Katherin
Feb 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I was very mixed on this one. As usual, Boyle's writing was wonderful, descriptive, and puts you in every scene in the story. However, to me the plot seemed lacking. There didn't seem to be any momentum to the story. The same things seemed to happen over and over without change. I'll admit there were some fascinating aspects to the story of Stanley McCormick who was the mentally unbalanced heir to the McCormick reaper fortune. The story shifts between Stanley's inability to get along in society, ...more
Derek Bridge
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The brilliant T. C. Boyle, modern-day Dickens, here gives a fictionalized account of the lives of Stanley McCormick, sex fiend and heir to a harvester fortune, and Katherine McCormick (nee Dexter), his loyal wife, who, ironically since she never enjoyed sexual relations with her husband, contributes to the development of the Pill.

There's a lovely counterpoint in this fiction: the story of Eddie O'Kane. O'Kane is presented as one of Stanley's carers. O Kane's problems with women are almost as gre
Katherine Duran
May 12, 2009 rated it liked it
At first, great. Very engaging. The characters grow on you, then begin to suffocate you. I was so sick of the main character's alcoholism, the protagonist's mental illness, and his wife's reluctance to get free from her sick husband.
This author is one of my favorites, but this may be my least favorite of his books.
Tony Torres
Dec 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My favorite book by one of my favorite authors. This is one of those books that I truly wish went on forever. Here is where I fell in love with T.C. Boyle and his slow-build-to-rollicking-crescendo storytelling.
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
But this wasn't the sort of romance she'd dreamed about, this wasn't being swept off her feet and wooed with tender intimacies and anticipatory pleasures--this was psychodrama, this was crazy.

This book is billed as an "extraordinary and heartbreaking love story," and while I agree it's extraordinary in several ways and definitely heartbreaking, I think it's a stretch to call it a love story. It is extraordinarily well-written and at times pretty funny. Relatedly, Boyle puts on an extraordina
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a well written tale with a peek into the world of mental illness. Based on a true story, TC Boyle doesn’t fail to deliver. The story is as sad as they get, though. Mental illness is so challenging and treatment, at this time, at least, very random.
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
This lengthy novel is based on real characters. Stanley McCormick is an heir to Cyrus McCormick, and Katherine Dexter is a socialite, suffragist and scientist. They meet and marry, but the marriage is never consummated. Soon after, Stanley is diagnosed as a schizophrenic and sexual psychopath and locked away -- far from the company of women -- for decades. Katherine is active in the budding woman's movement and as a birth-control advocate. She also oversees her husband's business interests and t ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love how TC Boyle writes. His stories are so character driven and his books immerse you in the thoughts, feelings, actions of ALL of the characters in his stories. That said - it took me a very, very long time to read this book. The writing is dense and the story encompassed the lives of a number of different characters in depth and over a time period of almost 30 years. The story is especially good at delving into the main character - Stanley McCormick - and his descent into madness. His weal ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book having previously read TC Boyle and enjoyed his writing. This book did not disappoint. But it is not a happy tale. Riven Rock is the story of a madman, Stanley McCormick, his long suffering wife, Katherine, and the nurses and psychiatrists who cared for him over many years. Stanley was locked away in a California mansion with male staff and nurses, without contact with his wife or any other female. Stanley, despite many years of care never really gets better although at tim ...more
Geoffrey Benn
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
T.C. Boyle is one of my favorite contemporary writers. This novel did nothing to sway me from that judgement. The central element of the novel is Stanley McCormick, son of the famous Cyrus McCormick. Stanley suffers from a form of psychosis that causes him to brutally attack women. The leading experts of the time decree that he must be totally isolated from women in order for healing to occur. He is thus isolated at a California mansion called Riven Rock, where he is cared for by a team includin ...more
Marie France
You can find a summary elsewhere.
Suffice it to say, that this is a book about wasted lives.

Unfortunately, the time I spent reading it, also feels wasted.

Rich and poor, sane and insane, thrown together or obsessing over one another.
Bad judgement, inadequate care, quacks and feeble characters make this less than an enjoyable read or tale.

Few female protagonists, one-dimensional harpies but one of note:
the one with both the love, the morals and the fibre.
But she too, gets nowhere, ends up empty-han
Tjibbe Wubbels
The prose itself is great, T.C. Boyle has great style, but the story goes nowhere. The scenes just repeat themselves over and over again. Like the treatment of Mr. McCormick and the alcoholism of O'Kane there is no improvement, no momentum, nothing. And since not a single one of the characters is likable, you don't really care what happens next anymore and sink into the dark abyss of boredom. At least I learned a little about life at the start of the 1900's.

Not his best book. Try The Tortilla C
Catherine  Mustread
Fascinating historical fiction about the youngest son of Cyrus McCormick, Stanley Robert McCormick, schizophrenic and reluctant heir to the McCormick Reaper, later International Harvester, fortune. Told mostly from the perspective of his male nurse with flashbacks to his early life and relationship with his wife, Katherine Dexter.

I liked the time period and Katherine's involvement in women's issues of the early 1900s.
Autumn Christian
Sep 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: good-characters
Crisp, elegant writing style. Riveting story in the beginning - however a star taken off because the plot became a bit tedious, and many points felt belabored. Despite that, it's an excellent character study. ...more
Jun 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
I love TC Boyle, but I just thought this book sucked. It put me off reading his novels for awhile, but then last year I picked up Drop City and it was so much better.
Jun 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
God what a hard book to get through, I am still left wondering if it was worth the read : (
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steve Ochs
May 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Any time spent in the company of T.C. Boyle's skills is time well spent... however...

Riven Rock tells a slight story by Boyle standards. The lead characters' teeter-tottering between hope and despair is heart-wrenching, and wrought with his usual enviable prose, but terribly repetitive. Further, we are driven forward by little more than the quality of the writing itself, as none of the characters are relatable or likable to the point of drawing the kind emotional investment that turns pages.

A p
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
T. Coraghessan Boyle is one of my all-time favorite writers - so why I hadn't read Riven Rock is beyond me. It came out in 1998 and I have a beautiful SIGNED first edition, inscribed to me with his usual "Con amistad." Okay, I was working at the time. Now I'm retired - and out it came. WOW. I was mesmerized from day 1 when I began to day 5 when I finished all 466 pages. I knew the basics - it was a literary rendition of the life of Stanley McCormick - the heir to the reaper fortune - and his wif ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
Grabbed this for my train trip to Chicago. Its about 8-9 hours round trip, and I had just read some TC Boyle short stories that were fabulous.
This was not. I, for complete lack of other entertainment, got about half way. I did not care about any of the characters. And, because both this is historical fiction and Boyle tells us upfront, I knew that Stanley is never cured, and that Katherine never leaves him. The story seemed to mostly focus on Eddie (the head nurse), but he wasn't interesting at
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Boyle digs deeply and imaginatively into the story of real life Americans Stanley McCormick and his wife Katherine Dexter. McCormick was mentally troubled in ways the medical and psychiatric community of the time (the book is set mostly between 1903 and 1929) could not properly treat. Dexter married him and then his troubles expanded to a level of danger to her, himself, and others. Boyle adds a third major character, one Eddie O'Kane, one of the male nurses who reside with McCormick in the mans ...more
May 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I spent more time than I probably should have researching to find out what portions of this book were real and what were fiction. I guess that means that the author did fairly well with it, because even the fiction felt real.

I found myself fascinated by the world of the wealthy of the time that this was taking place - and the fact that some of the locations are still in existence in one way or another.

Okay. So maybe that's a middle-of-the-road review, since I like it for its reality as much as
Lori Ide
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another gem from T.C. Boyle. It may have been published 20 years ago but I'm just now discovering it. I love his blend of fact with fiction. I think at this point I've read nearly all of his fiction. Just love his style. And, having some familiarity with Santa Barbara, I recognized many of the locales. My favorite genre is historical fiction so this proved to be a really good read. Highly recommend. ...more
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T. Coraghessan Boyle (also known as T.C. Boyle, is a U.S. novelist and short story writer. Since the late 1970s, he has published seventeen novels and eleven collections of short stories. He won the PEN/Faulkner award in 1988 for his third novel, World's End, which recounts 300 years in upstate New York. He is married with three children. Boyle has been a Distinguished Professor of English at the ...more

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