River of Heaven

River of Heaven

4.5 2
by Lee Martin

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“You have to know the rest of my story, the part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story of a boy I knew a long time ago and a brother I loved and then lost.”

Past and present collide in Lee Martin’s highly anticipated novel of a man, his brother, and the dark secret that both connects and divides them. Haunting and beautifully wrought,


“You have to know the rest of my story, the part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story of a boy I knew a long time ago and a brother I loved and then lost.”

Past and present collide in Lee Martin’s highly anticipated novel of a man, his brother, and the dark secret that both connects and divides them. Haunting and beautifully wrought, River of Heaven weaves a story of love and loss, confession and redemption, and the mystery buried with a boy named Dewey Finn.

On an April evening in 1955, Dewey died on the railroad tracks outside Mt. Gilead, Illinois, and the mystery of his death still confounds the people of this small town.

River of Heaven begins some fifty years later and centers on the story of Dewey’s boyhood friend Sam Brady, whose solitary adult life is much formed by what really went on in the days leading up to that evening at the tracks. It’s a story he’d do anything to keep from telling, but when his brother, Cal, returns to Mt. Gilead after decades of self-exile, it threatens to come to the surface.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Bright Forever, Lee Martin masterfully conveys, with a voice that is at once distinct and lyrical, one man’s struggle to come to terms with the outcome of his life. Powerful and captivating, River of Heaven is about the high cost of living a lie, the chains that bind us to our past, and the obligations we have to those we love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer finalist Martin (The Bright Forever) returns with a meandering, convoluted tale of an elderly gay man who gets jolted from his lonely life. Sammy Brady's quiet existence with his basset hound, Stump, gets interrupted by neighbor Arthur after Arthur's wife dies. Outgoing Arthur places himself in Sammy's tiny orbit, and the two are soon building a ship-shaped dog house for Stump while Sammy ruminates on a secret he's not ready to reveal. When a reporter for the local paper shows up to interview Sammy about the unorthodox dog house, the experience jars Sammy; the reporter is a relative of Dewey Finn, Sammy's childhood friend who mysteriously died on a railroad track. The slow pace picks up when Maddie, Arthur's granddaughter, arrives. Cal, Sammy's alienated brother, is soon on the scene, jump-starting a complicated plot that involves the Michigan Militia and a violent antiques collector bent on securing an item Cal's hiding. Not everyone survives what follows, and Sammy finally reveals the truth about his friend's long-ago death. Martin crafts eloquent sentences, though he often succumbs to Sammy's syrupy nostalgia and has trouble propelling a labyrinthine plot. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Sam Brady has led a quiet, isolated life for most of his 65 years. A closeted gay man in a small Illinois town in the 1950s, he has only his basset hound, Stump, as companion. Sam's solitary life is disrupted first when a recently widowed neighbor forces friendship on him and then when Sam's brother, with whom he shares a long-buried secret and from whom he's long been estranged, returns to town. Some implausibility in the plot contrivances cause many characters and situations to converge simultaneously; certain conspiracy theories involving terrorist plots belong in another novel. Martin's (The Bright Forever ) troubled male characters, struggling with defining their masculinity and sexuality in a community and era allowing for little divergence, ring truer than do his female characters. But Sam's coming to terms with himself and the value of human connection is affecting. For regional and larger public library collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/07.]-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“If you don’t know Lee Martin, you should….[River of Heaven] is a page-turner, both tender and tough, with real insight into how people live and breathe and love and worry.”
Lincoln Journal Star

“Few writers could unfold Sam’s history with the grace and compassion of Lee Martin. River of Heaven is a wise and humane novel, a story of cowardice and courage and the torturous path between them.”
—Kathryn Harrison

“In River of Heaven, Lee Martin has created that rare thing: a literary page-turner. This is a story about the corrosive power of a childhood secret, and the way our lives are shaped as much by what we withold as what we reveal. An elegantly structured, powerful and original novel, full of heart.”
—Dani Shapiro

“Lee Martin’s portrait of Sam Brady, a man in fear of his life and crippled by it, lingers painfully and persuasively.”
—Amy Bloom, author of Away

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.54(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.14(d)

Meet the Author

LEE MARTIN is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Bright Forever; a novel, Quakertown; a story collection, The Least You Need to Know; and two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones. He has won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, a Lawrence Foundation Award, and the Glenna Luschei Prize. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at The Ohio State University.

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River of Heaven 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truely loved this book! Poignant, humorous and thought provoking, it's all there along with a 50 year-old mystery thrown in for good measure. A thoroughly enjoyable read and I was sorry when I finished it. One of the best books I've read in the past couple of years. I highly recommend, 'River of Heaven.'
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Michigan Arthur Pope is stunned when his ¿first mate¿ Bess dies leaving him alone. Still gregarious, Arthur crashes into the life of his sexagenarian gay neighbor, reclusive Sammy Brady who lives quietly with Stump, his basset hound. Arthur persuades Sammy that they need to build a special doghouse for Stump. He designs the canine abode to look like a ship as would be expected by a former navy officer. --- When the Daily Mail learns of the odd shaped doghouse, they send human interest reporter Duncan Hines to interview Sammy, Stump and Arthur. However, Duncan is related to Dewey Finn, Sammy's childhood friend from Rat Town, who inexplicably died on a railroad track five decades ago near Mt. Gilead, Illinois Sammy knows what happened but kept it secret. Sammy¿s estranged brother Cal arrives to hide an antique from a vicious collector as does Arthur¿s granddaughter Maddie at a time the local militia has an interest in both men. --- RIVER OF HEAVEN is an engaging thriller that starts off innocent enough as two elderly men build a special doghouse for Seaman Stump, but begins a series of complicated twists starting with the arrival of Duncan. The spins add suspense and tension, but with so many it can be difficult to keep track as fifty years come full circle. Still fans will enjoy this rich tale in which Sammy never recovered from the secret of what did occur back in 1955 that he promised Cal he would maintain forever. --- Harriet Klausner