Synopses & Reviews
An Indie Next pick
An Indies Introduce selection
“Stark, tender . . . Impressive work from a gifted young artist.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Comparing [Hulse] to Annie Proulx, Wallace Stegner, or Kent Haruf is no exaggeration . . . Bound to turn readers’ hearts inside out.” — Library Journal, starred review
“Top-of-the-line . . . Hulse handles [this] story like a pro.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town, and the convict, who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.
Wes grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes—undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.
How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away.
With spare prose and stunning detail, S. M. Hulse drops us deep into the heart and darkness of an American town.
"The prose in S.M. Hulse's debut novel Black River
mirrors the Montana land in which it's set: spare, powerful, and dangerous. This is a novel about love born from violence, about families torn apart by tragedy, and about a community that must take a long, hard look at its past if it's ever going to see its future. Like Kent Haruf and Larry McMurtry, S.M. Hulse knows the landscape about which she writes, and she understands the hearts of those who live there."
—Wiley Cash, author of the NYT bestselling A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy
"Black River tackles themes of Old Testament proportion—the inheritance of sin, deliverance and damnation, good and evil. Its characters wrestle with their pasts and each other; their collisions are filled with rage, miscommunication, and occasionally the wistful hope for a second chance. With an empathic touch, this sophisticated debut illuminates how fine a line there can be between vengeance and redemption. This is a story you won’t forget.”
—Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone
"Hulse writes with great clarity and precision, her language a celebration of rigor and intensity, and with such awareness of human rage and love—and fear of love—that her novel Black River feels like a river itself, teeming and unexpected and driven. She has an amazing sensibility for creating the understated, the emotionally-pressurized, the contained-and-explosive, the unsaid-and-impossible-to-say. One of the great joys of reading this novel is watching how she manages this—and how her perfect balance allows her deeper and deeper insights into the ways that people, especially men, negotiate their love for, and their fear of, each other and themselves."
—Kent Meyers, author of The Work of Wolves
"Like her forbears Kittredge, Proulx, Carlson, Hulse examines the mountains and rivers of the west, its implacable beauty, and makes the landscape her own. In Wesley Carver she has made a mountain of her own, fashioned and then refashioned by the forces of memory, bitterness, and finally, forgiveness. A wonderful debut by a welcome new voice."
—Ehud Havazelet, author of Bearing the Body
A former prison guard and talented fiddler returns to his Montana hometown to bury his wife and confront the inmate who, twenty years ago, held him hostage during a prison riot.
An Indie Next Title - An Indies Introduce Title - Long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
"Impressive . . . A] tough, honest novel by a surprisingly wise young writer." -- Washington Post
"A complex and powerful story--put Black River on the must-read list." -- Seattle Times
Wes Carver returns to his hometown--Black River, Montana--with two things: his wife's ashes and a letter from the parole board. The convict who once held him hostage during a prison riot is up for release. For years, Wes earned his living as a corrections officer and found his joy playing the fiddle. But the riot shook Wes's faith and robbed him of his music; now he must decide if his attacker should walk free. With "lovely rhythms, spare language, tenderness, and flashes of rage" (Los Angeles Review of Books), S. M. Hulse shows us the heart and darkness of an American town, and one man's struggle to find forgiveness in the wake of evil.
"Artful . . . Hulse evokes the Montana landscape in lyrical, vivid prose." -- Boston Globe
"Hulse believes that grace happens in a look between two people, or a moment of holding back. A powerful elegy." -- Guardian
About the Author
S. M. HULSE received her MFA from the University of Oregon and was a fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her stories have appeared in Willow Springs, Witness, and Salamander. A horsewoman and fiddler, she has spent time in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon.