Last year, I read The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. The novel is now available in paperback (it was only available via ebook before) so I wanted to repost my review. Warning: clear your schedule because once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop.
Every good book has a point of no return. It’s when the story becomes so engrossing, when the characters start living and breathing in your imagination, and when you can see their pain as well as your best friend’s longing. Last night I reached the point of no return for The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. It was 1AM, but I kept reading. I could not stop until I was sure that my new friends, the novel’s characters, ached no more. Or ached less.
In The Banks of Certain Rivers, our narrator and protagonist Neil Kazenzakis is trying to return to his normal life after a tragic accident left his wife “profoundly disabled” (according to the book description-I don’t want to give any spoilers about the accident). He’s popular high school physics teacher as well as coach for the girls cross country track team. He’s also secretly seeing his elderly mother-in-law’s home care nurse. On the surface it looks like everything is under control, but slowly Neil’s life starts to unravel. A video of him assaulting a student appears on YouTube and threatens his job, his reputation, and worse yet, his ability to provide care for his wife.
As Harrison introduces each pivotal character in his novel, he offers readers little tidbits of Neil’s past so we can learn how he becomes the person the we currently see. The transitions to Neil’s past are triggered by a stray cat, seeing student in the hallway, and even a bottle of whisky. Some novels quickly jerk you into the past and then back to the present, but not here. It feels natural and gentle, just as if I were in Neil’s shoes.
While the story of the YouTube video and Neil’s secret relationship with Lauren intensifies our protagonist’s story, it’s the relationships between the characters that draw you in. The father-son dynamic is honest and, at times, raw. Neil’s best friend Alan keeps him on the straight path. The two would do anything for each other. Relationships with old friends are prodded and poked, hoping to revive them. Neil’s emails to his wife reveal secrets yet he keeps secrets from her as well.
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison is beautifully written and will capture your heart. It’s currently available on as an ebook on Kindle . It’s free to borrow for Prime members.
For more about Jon Harrison, visit his website.