by Justine Champine
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Pub Date 28 May 2024 | Archive Date 30 Sep 2024
Random House Publishing Group - Random House, The Dial Press
“A delicious smoke curl of a novel. ”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult
“An intelligent literary mystery.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Paula Hawkins
When Jess was thirteen, her mother went for a walk and never returned. Jess and her older sister, Liz, never found out what happened. Instead, they did what they hoped their mother had done: survive. As soon as she was old enough, Jess fled their small town of Knife River, wandering from girlfriend to girlfriend like a ghost in her own life, aimless in her attempts to outrun grief and confusion. But one morning, fifteen years after their mother’s disappearance, she gets the call she’s been bracing for: Her mother’s remains have been found.
Jess returns to find Knife River—and her sister—frozen in time. The town is as claustrophobic and rundown as ever. Liz still lives in their childhood home and has become obsessed with unsolved missing persons cases. Jess plans to stay only until they get some answers, but their mother’s bones, exposed to the elements for so long, just leave them with more questions. As Jess gets caught up in the case and falls back into an entanglement with her high school girlfriend, her understanding of the past, of Liz, of their mother, and of herself become more complicated—and the list of theories more ominous.
Knife River is a tense, intimate, and heartrending portrayal of how deeply and imperfectly women love one another: in romantic relationships, in friendships, and especially as sisters.
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Average rating from 71 members
The author does a great job of vividly portraying how a tragedy can cause someone to become "stuck." Liz had planned to leave the small town of Knife River, NY to go to California for college, but her plans were halted when her mother disappeared and she was left to raise her younger sister, Jess. While she has a steady job and one friend (Brenda, a former coworker of her mother), her life has otherwise been put on hold, waiting for her mother to reappear or for the body to be found. It is the discovery of her mother's bones that starts out the novel and which will bring Liz's sister, Jess, back to Knife River. Jess and Liz are estranged, and Jess is surprised and saddened to discover that the family home, where Liz lives, has become rundown and is filled with trash and clutter. Jess fled Knife River as soon as she could, and has had a somewhat transient life, finding work that keeps her occupied and financially solvent but does not really sustain her, and going from one girlfriend to another, unable or unwilling to commit to a long-term relationship; even when in a prolonged relationship, she metaphorically has one foot out the door.
The author's description of Liz suggests she is on the autism spectrum. Her meticulous nature and ability to hyperfocus is beneficial in her job as a bank teller but combined with her very blunt/frank manner of speaking, she is socially awkward and off-putting. This does not help her in her interactions with the sheriff. Liz (and Brenda) is convinced she knows who is responsible for her mother's disappearance/death and is frustrated that the sheriff did not do enough at the time of the disappearance, and still won't do anything. Jess does not have that same certainty, although agrees that the individual in question is the most likely suspect. Jess had not intended to remain in Knife River long, but the investigation of the remains is proceeding slowly, Liz needs help/support, and Jess has reconnected with an old girlfriend, whose situation is very complicated. The longer Jess stays, the more she learns about both her sister and her mother. Secrets will be revealed (including the truth about their mother's disappearance), only to be replaced by new secrets, and possibly, with those secrets safely buried, a chance for both Liz and Jess to really live.