Entertaining and brilliantly written first novel....As stunning in its use of language as it is touching in its human revelations,
The River Warren is an impressive debut from a writer entirely at home in what may still be America's greatest single resource-its magnificent, if embattled, unspoiled rural landscape. Denver Post
Somewhere between the weight of Faulkner and the ease of Kesey, Kent Meyers brings to American fiction a tenaciously gripping story that moves with the subtle subterfuge of an aging river current....
The River Warren is a seductive and dark tale that closes with a welcome sense of light and fulfillment.
A bizarre and perhaps malicious incident in a small Midwestern farm town is the focal point of this skillful and sensitive first novel. When Two-Speed Crandall careens down a hill and crashes a semi-trailer loaded with Leo Gruber's cattle into the bank, the barbershop and the hardware store, he kills himself and his wife, who was in the passenger seat. The townspeople are suspicious: was the accident suicide and/or Two-Speed's way of punishing his wife, who was finally ready to leave him? Like the river that runs through the town and that serves as a metaphor for time and memory, the nine characters who narrate this novel determine its shape and direction. Ably differentiating their voices, Meyers presents various versions of the events that led up to the accident. The narrators include a bystander who witnesses the wild ride, the town doctor, a wise old fisherman and six other players in the drama, chief among them Crandall's son, Luke, and Gruber's son, Jeff, who are friends even though their fathers barely tolerated each other. Through the interweaving of secrets and memories, we come to the closest possible understanding of why the crash happened. Along the way, the relationship of Luke and Jeff assumes its own importance. While the frequent switches in point of view are a bit frustrating until readers have a larger sense of the story, there is a cumulative rise in tension as the background becomes clear. Meyers's best accomplishment here may be the devastatingly beautiful passages on the death of Jeff's younger brother, Chris, from the viewpoints of Jeff and his mother. Here Meyers hones his sometimes fevered prose and achieves a simplicity of expression that conveys the arc of grief and acceptance. Editor, Dallas Crow. (Sept.) FYI: A collection of Meyers's essays, The Witness of Combines, is coming in September from the U. of Minnesota Press.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Two-Speed Crandall, the local mean drunk, crashes his semi into several downtown buildings, killing himself, his wife, who was also in the cab, and a load of cattle, the small Dakota town fixates on the incident. Meyers's cliched use of chapters narrated in the voices of various characters, including a retarded man, as they react to the incident, seriously flaws this part of the novel. Whether it was really a murder-suicide or an accident is never explained, nor is the town's fascination with Two-Speed. A more promising plot line is the longtime friendship between Two-Speed's son Luke and Jeff Gruber, whose father's cattle were in the truck. The novel feels like a set of short stories in its disconnectedness. Still, there are some real gems here, including the dreamlike sequence in which a sportsman experiences the river returning to its powerful postglacial state and Jeff's recalling the helpless horror of witnessing a farm accident in the middle of nowhere. Meyers' real skill is in conveying the subtleties and stoicism of farm life, compared to which the truck accident seems like a senseless flamboyance. -- Reba Leiding, James Madison University Library, Harrisonburg, Virginia
. . .[T]he novel's central point [is that] people are afraid of what they can't understand, and even a man as totally without substance as Two-Speed Crandall can dominate . . .thoughts. . .fears. . . .He dominates, in fact, precisely because he is so empty. --
The New York Times Book Review
Debut literary novel by a South Dakotan teacher.
The River Warren resists description. The river of the title no longer exists, but once surged as a vast tributary of an incredible mile-high glacier that covered much of the Dakotas and Canada and left a lake that makes Superior look like a puddle. With a sort of poetic justice, the community of Cloten, South Dakota, draws on its own vast night-river of gossip, half-truths, and memories in order to fathom the quite unbelievable murder/suicide enacted by Two-Speed Crandall. Crandall, easily Cloten's most outstanding eccentric, has promised his wife, LouAnn, that he'll perform an act never to be forgotten by the town. So Two-Speed cranks up his semitrailer, which is loaded to the siderails with Leo Gruber's cattle, starts accelerating downhill (having deliberately ruined his brakes, to insure disaster to come), with his wife beside him praying that he stop, and roars at top speed straight into Cloten's downtown, demolishing several cars, the hardware store, the bank, and the barber shop before coming to a halt in Angel Finn's, both dead, and with most of Gruber's cattle dead as well. Analyzing this freighted event requires interior monologues from about ten townsfolk, including Two-Speed's brilliant but disaffected son, Luke, whose best friend, Jeff Gruber, is in love with Luke's pregnant wife, Ellen. Did the horror have something to do with nine-year-old Chris Gruber's demise when a tractor fell over on him? Or did Two-Speed have a bizarre sexual guilt that focused on retarded Pop Bottle Pete, whose stream-of-consciousness mimics the idiot Benjy's in The Sound and the Fury? A muddy, turbulent tale filled nonetheless withstrong moments and singing sparks, especially about farming on buried glacial rock.