The Dredge

Image of The Dredge
Release Date: 
March 5, 2024
Atlantic Monthly Press
Reviewed by: 

“Deep in characterization and entertaining in its narrative, this book makes a very philosophical point about how well we are aware of those we consider ourselves close to . . .”

Cale and Ambrose Casey and Lily Rowe grew up in Macoun, a small New England town where a combined tragedy known only to the three—and only in part—sends Cale halfway around the world while his brother and Lily stay behind, though avoiding each other.

They can’t have been more different; Cale and Ambrose are part of a tight-knit and loving family while Lily and her brother Ray are the children of neglectful, alcoholic, itinerant parents. Ray is moody and prone to burst of such violence most other children avoid him, which makes it more difficult for Lily to blend in.

Then tragedy happens. Cale and Ambrose have a falling out and Cale leaves Macoun, while Ambrose continues at home with his construction company, and Lily becomes a team manager for another construction company in town. When the owner of Gibbs’ Pond dies and Lily’s company prepares to dredge the pond, hoping to buying the land, the news brings Cale back to town and a reunion between the brothers and Lily, for Gibbs’ Pond holds a secret none of them want revealed.

When the Rowe children originally met the Casey brothers, there was a momentary spark between Cale and Lily, though she did her best to quell any feelings toward him because of the fear her father would find out and cause trouble. Abe Casey, a man who’s generally a few steps ahead of the law because of his drinking, was suspicious of strangers.

After Cale and Ambrose’s father Eli realizes that Lily and her brother are possibly going without food because of Abe’s drinking, he begins bringing groceries to their home, leaving them on the doorstep. Lily is grateful, but Ray sees it in a darker way, thinking Eli is trying to get in good with their mother—known by the townsfolk as a “loon”—equally acknowledged as neglecting her children.

Realizing his father is a potential predator, Ray tries to protect Lily by threatening Abe. One day, finding Abe in a drunken sleep, he kills him.

“When she came home, creeping around the house at first, to what was what, she learned that Ray had actually done it. He’d killed their father, smashed his head in with a cinder block, and then he waited for her to come help him clean up the mess.”

Ray forces Lily to help him bury the body. Since Abe has a habit of disappearing for long periods, they’ll say he’s gone away if anyone asks.

“Ray coached her to deny everything with the police, Family Services, teachers, anyone who asked what they shouldn’t be asking, and she’d learned how to lie well.”

A short time later, Eli is killed in a one-car accident. Ray confronts Cale and Ambrose and hints that he killed Eli—not a confession, but more of a boast. He then shoots their dog Sammy.

“Ray said, with an effort. “I killed your dog. And now, I feel like killing you.”

When Cale and Ambrose react in self-defense, Ray is the one who dies, with the brothers breaking a hole in the frozen pond and sinking his body through it.

And now, Gibbs’ Pond is about to be dredged and secrets hidden for over 30 years will be brought to the surface.

At first glance, the plot might be expected to follow a specific pattern: a crime is committed, years later it will be discovered, and various revelations and backstory into the participants’ lives will bring about forgiveness and justice for all involved—but the story diverges into something surprisingly different.

In backflashes, the story of the crimes is told, giving sharp characterizations of the three participants, all children, and how the events shape the rest of their lives.

Bringing them together again brings a catharsis of sorts: each wants the crimes revealed, but at the same time each wants to justify his part in it, knowing their lives will once again be changed, this time forever.

Justice comes about in a way, as well as forgiveness, though it’s mistakenly given by the only other person involved in the crimes—the elderly sheriff who refuses to believe Eli’s death was the simple accident it seemed to be.

Though some readers may be disappointed by the fact that The Dredge makes a tangent from the usually accepted plot, the story is deep in characterization and entertaining in its narrative; it makes a very philosophical point about how well we are aware of those we consider ourselves close to and how time changes them.

“You don’t know some people, then you do, and then you don’t.”

This debut novel deftly points out that statement.