The line between “literature” and mere “fiction” is admittedly subjective, but if you think there is none, I’d suggest a few dozen pages of Riversong. There’s no way anyone would confuse this book with literature—not with its contrived plot, torturous dialogue, paste-up characters, logic gaps, and prose so florid I suspect the first draft was written with a purple Flair.
The book opens in a backcountry Oregon town, where reclusive Lee Tucker, the daughter of a single, alcoholic, and agoraphobic mother, is about to graduate from high school and must endure last indignity: a senior party alongside a river in which she can’t swim and in proximity with the obnoxious local town rich boy who is intent on getting into her cutoffs. Lee flees his advances, goes off to college to study art, changes her major, marries, moves to Seattle, and never looks back. That is, until her husband, a video game developer, commits suicide and saddles Lee with a pregnancy and over a million dollars of debt owed to local organized crime figures. A mob heavy named Von shows up to shake her down. She sells all she owns–about half of what is owed–promises Von the rest in a week, and flees town with the aid of her best friend, a gay guy she met in college.
Got all that? Wait; it gets more absurd. Lee goes back to her hometown determined to renovate her now-deceased mother’s house, earn some money, sell the property, and pay off Von before he finds her first and kills her for lighting out to avoid the 750 grand she still owes. I’ll bet none of you could figure out that Lee will find that everything for which she was searching was right there in that dusty old river town all along. Sort of. Her old tormentor is still there, but his old man, Mike, is a hard-edged sweetie who can’t wait to bankroll Lee’s plan to revamp the town restaurant. And, of course, what this town of a thousand souls–half of whom seem to be drug dealers and the other half women who have been dumped upon–really wants is an upscale gourmet eatery. And I bet none of you could predict that Lee would find a new love just waiting to take her pregnant body into his arms. Okay, maybe you could, but did I tell you that he’s a Hispanic musician? Or that her gay friend decides to leave Seattle for the better prospects of a redneck country town? There’s also a lesbian character, so let’s give Hardwick props for political correctness. If only she had a Morgan Freeman-like elderly black gent dispensing pearls of wisdom, she’d have all the bases covered. As it is, that role goes to Ellen, her elderly neighbor, former English teacher, and caregiver for Lee’s late mother. I won’t even hint how she’s finally linked to Lee; you wouldn’t believe me.
This is a classic trashy novel, though Hardwick does manage to make the sex scenes read as if they are food reviews, and the food descriptions titillate like soft porn. Most of the book is predictable, the rest improbable. Who knew, for instance, that the Seattle mob underwrote video game programmers? (Why didn’t Lee’s husband just get the money from Rhode Island taxpayers like respectable video game purveyors are supposed to do?) Who knew that the mob’s hired muscle would be so clueless as never to think of searching for someone in the very town from which she hailed? Or that no one could figure out that the grown lads hanging out in a public parking lot might be dealing drugs rather than trading baseball cards? Or that everyone would live happily ever after?
This book is so hackneyed that it leaves a trail of horse manure in its wake.