In a dead-end prison town, a fraught journey home

A first-time novelist follows a quiet Montana man in the wake of grief.

 

“Wesley is one of those Montana men whose mouths hardly move when they speak, for whom words are precious things they are loath to give up,” writes first-time novelist S. M. Hulse in Black River,  a story haunted by loss and violence in a dead-end prison town.

Although the narrative begins from the perspective of Claire, Wes’ wife, at a hospital in Spokane, it quickly shifts: Claire is dying of leukemia. Her last wish is to return to her chosen home in Black River, Montana, where her son still lives. It’s a landscape Hulse describes in gorgeous detail: “The foothills rose abruptly here, as though the earth had suddenly run aground of something much stronger and sturdier and been left with nowhere to go but skyward. Old logging roads crossed the bare slopes like neat surgical scars.”

But Wes, a retired corrections officer, returns without his wife, hoping to reconcile with his stepson, Dennis, the product of a rape that happened shortly before Wes and Claire met. Propelling the plot is a looming parole hearing for the prisoner who tortured Wes during a prison riot 18 years earlier, breaking nine of his fingers, leaving him without the ability to play his beloved fiddle.

The question of forgiveness hovers over Wes, even in his relationship with Dennis. Years earlier, the boy pulled a gun on him during an argument, an incident that prompted the couple’s departure to Spokane, leaving the teenager on his own.

The ostensible reason for Wes’ reappearance in Dennis’ life is the need to dispose of Claire’s remains. Once they have flung her ashes over the valley, old antipathies return, and Dennis wants Wes gone. The stepson and the prisoner, as well as the prison itself, force Wes to confront his true vulnerability.

“What he felt in those days after her death so filled him, so commanded every moment, he knew it was just a hairsbreadth from love itself. Like the same note played an octave apart, at the same time, ringing and resonating together.”

Black River: A Novel
S. M. Hulse
240 pages, softcover: $14.95.
Mariner Books, 2016.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000