Knife River: A Novel

Image of Knife River: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 28, 2024
The Dial Press
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Jess, somewhat of a wanderer, lives with her girlfriend, Sarah, 11 years her senior. Never one to settle down in one place or stay in one relationship too long, she is comfortable living with Sarah, though they really aren’t compatible. She receives a phone call from her sister, Liz, stating that bodily remains have been found and believed to be those of their mother, who went missing many years ago. Jess packs up what little she owns and heads home to Knife River, near the Canadian border.  

Liz and Jess are estranged, though they had been close as kids, but after their mother went out for an alleged walk when Jess was 13 and never returned, Liz found herself with the obligation of taking care of Jess. Then, when Jess became of age, she left home and went out on her own. Liz has never approved of Jess’ lesbian lifestyle and has lets her feelings be known, so why should Jess stay with her and deal with her hostility?

Now, with little choice, and realizing her relationship with Sarah is at a dead end, Jess returns to her childhood home. She is amazed to see nothing has changed. The house still looks like it did 15 years ago, yet now with mounds of trash, dust, and the same worn-out furniture. The town and the locals haven’t changed, either, and her return causes a bit of controversy for the highly conservative residents who deride Jess’s lifestyle.

“On the corner, a middle-aged couple idling at the stoplight stared at me from inside their car, their two heads swiveling slowly as I passed . . .

. . . ”It was a stare I knew well; they registered me first, just peripherally, as a grungy young man. Then when I came into clearer focus and the subtleties of my body revealed themselves, their eyes sharpened. These were stares laced with discomfort, even displeasure, that I not only existed but was walking in public so brazenly as myself.”

Though Jess only plans to stay until she and Liz get definitive answers as to their mother’s death, she ends up staying much longer. While Liz fixates on their mother’s murder and other unsolved cases, Jess reunites with Eva, her old high school girlfriend, slipping away to spend nights with her, which causes more tension between her and Liz.

Her intended week’s stay turns longer, and she wonders where she’ll end up next. She doesn’t like being alone.

“All my possessions fit in the trunk of a car. I had nothing. No attachments, no dependents, and still I hadn’t managed to take charge of my own dreams. I was afraid of the sound of my own breath, my own heartbeat, alone in a room. Afraid enough to live with women I often felt nothing for, and to keep living with them even after I’d come to almost despise them, just to have a body next to me in the dark.”

As Jess wrestles with her emotions concerning her mother’s death and the alienation with her sister, one can’t help but wonder where life will lead her. She wants nothing more than to belong and have someone to love.

Liz is also stuck. She’s in a time warp, living in the same house, afraid to leave, believing, even after all these years, her mother will return, and in the years that have passed she has given up the life she envisioned. Now that her mother’s remains have been located, what will she do? Will she follow the dreams she once had for her life, or will she remain stagnant and stuck in the past?

The big question for the sisters now is to find the killer and get justice for their mother. Though they believe they know the identity of the murderer, they are surprised when they finally do learn the truth.

As this tale comes to its climax, Jess and Liz are able to come together, air their grievances, and learn acceptance. This novel is written in the first person with Jess relating the differing scenarios she has dealt with, making this read more involving and relatable. The plot is well fleshed out, offering mystery and suspense along with the portrayal of human frailty, giving intensity to the story.