by Sara B. Fraser
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Pub Date 24 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 19 Apr 2022
Mindbuck Media, Black Rose
Sara B. Fraser paints for readers how life in a nothing upstate New York town in the ’90s might look: bleak and gritty. Wattsville was a booming manufacturing town on the Otis River. But now, the mills are closed. The windows boarded up. The same people frequent the same bars every day without fail. What once was a prosperous place is now somewhere riddled with substance abuse, poverty, violence, and hush-hush secrets. But only the river bears witness to all these secrets — and only the river can divulge the truth.
At the heart of these secrets is one family. When Carol’s daughter, Garnet, is caught in the crosshairs of justice and her former boyfriend’s deceit, Carol and her best friend Sam plot to prove Garnet's innocence. Told with beauty and tenderness against the landscape of forgotten everyday America, Fraser’s JUST RIVER connects the complexity and danger we all contain.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 9 members
Just River by Sara Fraser is a well-written general fiction novel tinged with mystery, drugs, LGBTQ themes, domestic violence and prison life. The novel starts off at the end and goes from there.
The story centers around an imprisoned woman, her mom and the neighbor two floors away. With well-developed characters, Ms. Fraser takes us through the life of a gay man who enjoys walking the line between male and female. We also meet the mother of woman imprisoned for fighting back against her boyfriend. Unflinching looks at the loneliness of prison, the devastation incarceration brings on a family and what survival can look like for some women are all covered within. With a smooth flow and insightful writing, this second novel should not be the author's last.
A good read. I would recommend this book. I enjoyed this story.
I received this from Netgalley as an ARC for an honest review.
Just River by Sara B. Fraser is a novel about hopeless people in Wattsville, a small upstate New York town. Once a place with a booming factory, it’s now slower and sadder. It’s the kind of town people leave as soon as they can. And yet, Carol raised her daughter Garnet here. And her best friend Sam finds a kind of grudging acceptance from people around him. Still, their lives are rough and Fraser reminds us that life is unpleasant.
The time is the 1990s, before the promise of a new century. Carol works in a community college cafeteria, ringing up purchases. Her constant worry is Garnet, who’s doing time nearby for accidentally (or not) injuring her wealthy boyfriend. The two depend on each other, but Carol also particularly depends on Sam for support.
At the time, we would’ve described Sam as a gay man into cross-dressing. Fraser uses he/him pronouns for him but gives him strong feminine sensibilities. As the book starts, he finds a decent job at the local paper with an understanding boss. Then he meets Ronaldo and the two circle around a possible connection. But what Sam really loves is singing karaoke, dressed to the nines in high heels and sparkly dresses.
Both Sam and Carol would do anything for Garnet, since they believe she’s wrong incarcerated. She’s in a world of hurt living in prison. But then she asks them to do something risky. Their plan to fulfill the request goes off the rails more than once.
Just River hovers on the edge of depressing, with moments of groaning laughter at the follies perpetrated by its main characters. It’s a tough balance, but Fraser manages to keep propelling the story forward amidst the difficulties.
Carol is every schlumpy middle-aged woman. Sam’s teetering gender queerness is a bit of a trope. And Garnet is a selfish twenty-something who expects life to go her way, despite all indications. I didn’t find any of these main characters especially likable, but I empathize with them. Their lives are a constant struggle to keep from drowning in a strong downstream river current.
This is Fraser’s second book, and I hope she keeps writing. Her work will likely continue to gain polish and subtlety. Right now, though, she delivers many heavy-handed descriptions and a somewhat rushed ending.
Still, I recommend Just River if you appreciate character studies, books set in the 1990s, and a Keystone Kops style “can they pull this plan off?” storyline.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Black Rose Writing, Mind Buck Media, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.
The first book I'd read from this author. It is an emotional read with well developed characters and a storyline that touches on many topics. Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Just River is an interesting tale of trouble in a small town, woven together through multiple narratives. Fraser has a talent for writing engaging characters who make it seem so real I enjoyed following the lives of the people of Wattsville immensely.
Emotional, dark, difficult to read at times.
Small town America, shrinking economy, lost jobs and gay people trying to find their way in a bleak situation.
That woman’s gotten so much Botox, her eyebrows have fused to her skull.
It feels odd, smiling at them, like something might escape her mouth if she doesn’t keep her teeth clenched.
In Wattsville he is one of a kind, whereas he would find many like-minded people in the city. But he’s afraid. Its size scares him, and furthermore he wouldn’t be particularly special. Here, he explains, he’s a unicorn, a big fish in a small pond. “Puddle,” says Chloe. “It’s not a pond, it’s a puddle, my dear. You want to swim or lie there getting splashed? Heavens, the place is bound to evaporate in warm weather.”
Garnet is developing the rigid jaw and tight lips of a person expecting the worst. He is reminded of the way people’s faces look when they’re stuck in traffic, or when they pick the wrong checkout lane in the supermarket.
He must be outside his body… The pain is fading. Is there a solar eclipse? Sam sees, through a vague foggy tunnel, like the ending of the Looney Tunes cartoons he used to watch as a child— D-d-d-d-dat’s all folks!
This was a shrewdly paced and cleverly plotted tale of knotted woe and intriguing complexities that boil down to simple thorny social problems. After I finished I went back and reread the first chapter and found a treasure chest full of tidbits I had not noticed the first time through. Sara B. Fraser has a special brand of magic sprinkled into her wordcraft and I fell right under her spell.
The storylines and writing style were often realistically gritty, flinch-worthy with complex issues, keenly insightful, painfully observant, and yet bewitchingly humorous - all at the same time! Which takes crazy good skills. The characters were well nuanced and oddly compelling while deeply flawed. Most were repressed, oppressed, suppressed, and vulnerable. I was holding my breath while fully invested and rooting for them, even when they annoyed me. Ms. Fraser is a wily minx with a wicked wit and going to the top of my list of ones to watch.
The town of Wattsville, NY along the Otis River is a relic of the industrial age, part of the rust belt. The people of Wattsville are mostly stuck in dead-end jobs, poverty and drugs. Carol is a single mom who works in the dining hall of the local college that her daughter, Garnet attends. Garnet is dating Ethan, one of the town's wealthy residents. When Garnet and Ethan get into a fight, Garnet is the victim of an unjust system and sent to prison with a two-year sentence. With her daughter in prison, Carol leans on her friend Sam and new coworker Ronaldo. When Garnet begins to get hassled in prison, Carol and Sam try to help Garnet and end up starting a chain of events that will affect the whole town.
Just River snapshot of a small town in the 1990's. The story flowed through the connected action of the characters with each chapter narrated by a switching point of view between Garnet, Carol and Sam. The diverse range of characters shows a range of viewpoints, motivations and emotions as everyone deals with what life has dealt them. Sam was an intriguing character as a gay man who dressed as a woman but did not identify as transgender. It was interesting to see his motivations for staying in a small town and how he goes through everyday life. Carol's outlook changes several times throughout the story as regret, depression and acceptance work their way through her life. Garnet's point of view was fun to read as she figured out some important lessons in prison. Just River offers a steady plot with a mix of comedy and tragedy that reflects the real world.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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