Two sisters travel the same streets,though their lives couldn’t be more different.
Then one of them goes missing.
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.
Long Bright River is a book that I almost passed on, thinking that I didn’t want the responsibility of reviewing it. The author has a fiercely loyal fanbase, and literary fiction is a genre that is risky for me to dabble in at best. After circling the book’s Goodreads page for months, the synopsis had a relentless grip on me, and something checked in my spirit telling me I needed to read this book. Perhaps it was the emotional investment in the opioid crisis, due to multiple extended family members struggling with and succumbing to their addiction, or it could have been the promise of procedural suspense in the portrayed investigation, but either way I’m grateful to have listened to that inner voice, and even more grateful to the author for tackling such a weighty subject with tenderness and grace.
“I knew she was dead before I reached her. Her pose was familiar to me, after a childhood spent sleeping next to her in the same bed, but that day there was a different kind of limpness to her body. Her limbs looked too heavy.”
Kensington is one of the relatively newer neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and it’s been hit hard by the growing opioid epidemic in the United States. Efforts towards gentrification are being made, as new businesses are breathing life back into a dying area, but the struggle in pushing back drug related criminal activity is an ongoing battle. As we follow Mickey, a police officer assigned to this particular area, we see things from the viewpoint of a longterm inhabitant who also has an emotional investment in fighting this crisis. Mickey’s sister Kacey is in the grip of her addiction, and regularly disappears for weeks on end before turning back up, causing Mickey extreme anxiety and constant concern that her sister will be the next body she discovers. The story unfolds in two ways; we have flashbacks that give insight into the sisters’ upbringing (an absent father, a mother who passes away which leaves the young girls to be raised by their grandmother), and the present day investigation into the mysterious string of murders that coincide with Kacey’s latest disappearance.
I’ll be honest folks-this is an uncomfortable read. Emotions run deep as the author describes a pair of girls who, for their entire lives, have had to claw their way out of the drain before they drown, and there is an oppressive atmosphere from start to finish. At times, I felt like the air was being drawn out of my lungs by a heavy weight resting on my chest, and yet, I couldn’t put this book down. These characters are so visceral, and I just wanted to reach inside the pages, hold Mickey, and tell her that she wasn’t alone and would be ok. The people we meet during our stay in Kensington are all carrying inner demons that many people can relate to; whether you have been an addict or loved someone who is/was, you’ll find a character here who seems familiar.
For a book that is nearly 500 pages long, it’s extremely fast paced with a gritty, uneasy narrative. An uncomfortable read, for sure, but an important and timely one. Please add this to your TBR if you enjoy dark, serious novels filled with emotional depth and suspense. I see now why Liz Moore has such a passionate following, and am thrilled to add myself to the club.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Liz Moore is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction.
Her first novel, The Words of Every Song (Broadway Books, 2007), centers on a fictional record company in New York City just after the turn of the millennium. It draws partly on Liz’s own experiences as a musician. It was selected for Borders’ Original Voices program and was given a starred review by Kirkus. Roddy Doyle wrote of it, “This is a remarkable novel, elegant, wise, and beautifully constructed. I loved the book.”
After the publication of her debut novel, Liz obtained her MFA in Fiction from Hunter College. In 2009, she was awarded the University of Pennsylvania’s ArtsEdge residency and moved to Philadelphia, where she still lives. She is now an Assistant Professor of Writing at Holy Family University.
Her second novel, Heft, was published by W.W. Norton in January 2012 to popular and critical acclaim. Of Heft, The New Yorker wrote, “Moore’s characters are lovingly drawn…a truly original voice”; The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does in her new novel”; and editor Sara Nelson wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine, “Beautiful…Stunningly sad and heroically hopeful.” The novel was published in five countries, was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and was included on several “Best of 2012” lists, including those of NPR and the Apple iBookstore.
Moore’s short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in venues such as Tin House, The New York Times, and Narrative Magazine. She is the winner of the Medici Book Club Prize and Philadelphia’s Athenaeum Literary Award. After winning a 2014 Rome Prize in Literature, she spent 2014-15 at the American Academy in Rome, completing her third novel.
That novel, The Unseen World, was published by W.W. Norton in July of 2016. Louisa Hall called it “fiercely intelligent” in her review in The New York Times; Susan call called it “enthralling . . . ethereal and elegant . . . a rich and convincing period piece in her review in the Washington Post. The Unseen World was included in “Best of 2016” lists by The New Yorker, the BBC, Publishers Weekly, Vox, Google Play, and Audible.com, among others.