Black River Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2015
About the Book: A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town, and the convict, who shaped him.
When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.
Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.
How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away.
With spare prose and stunning detail, S. M. Hulse drops us deep into the heart and darkness of an American town.
More Praise for Black River: "This powerful, character-driven novel of family, suffering, mistakes, forgiveness, and atonement begs you to put on a classic bluegrass album and savor the very real world that Hulse has captured on the page. This is a new Montana story, a story of the West that eschews romantic imaginings and instead lives in the grit and complexity of the modern West." —Ariana Paliobagis, Country Bookshelf (Bozeman, MT)
"How can you recommend a heartbreaking sock-in-the-gut? With such precise writing, such reserve underpinning its narrative drive, Black River reminded me a bit of Gilead and left my humanity duly deepened." —Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)
"Wes Carver is a survivor but his life is broken, as were his hands. After his wife dies, he returns to the town and the place that changed his life. Is he ready to face the people? Can he find peace with his life and his faith? Black River introduces us to a place, a song and S. M. Hulse, a talented young author with keen observations of people and place. I look forward to reading her works for many years to come." —Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction (Missoula, MT)
"A lovely austerity infuses this story of damage and redemption, and makes it glow. Hulse is a wise and compassionate writer who understands the tricky and heartbreaking borders between principle and rigidity, justice and revenge. Her debut novel is provoking and memorable." —Deirdre McNamer, author of Red Rover and My Russian
"S. M. Hulse's Black River astounds with its acute evocations of place, its marrow-deep empathy, and its quietly lyrical virtuosity. Here is a novel--a first novel!--that makes good on all that its title promises: Here is the literary confluence of urgent tributaries--the beauty and darkness of the Montana landscape, the meanderings of the human heart banked by desire and adoration and regret, the teeming life that is often obscured though it flourishes just beneath the surface. This is a small marvel of a book!" —Bruce Machart, author of The Wake of Forgiveness
"Like her forbears Kittredge, Proulx, Carlson, Hulse examines the mountains and rivers of the west, its implacable beauty, and makes the landscape her own. In Wesley Carver she has made a mountain of her own, fashioned and then refashioned by the forces of memory, bitterness, and finally, forgiveness. A wonderful debut by a welcome new voice." —Ehud Havazelet, author of Bearing the Body
What People Are Saying: "Black River is such a vivid, compelling debut novel. S. M. Hulse is an astute guide to an implacable western landscape of grief, violence and redemption." —Jess Walter, NYT bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and others
“Black River is one of the best debut novels I've read in a long time. S.M. Hulse is a smart and sensitive writer, utilizing strong, clean and evocative prose to tell us of Wes Carver, a man who is wrestling with the world and himself, haunted by an old horror, tattered family bonds, a wife who is dead but not gone.” —Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone, The Maid’s Version, and others
"Black River tackles themes of Old Testament proportion—the inheritance of sin, deliverance and damnation, good and evil. Its characters wrestle with their pasts and each other; their collisions are filled with rage, miscommunication, and occasionally the wistful hope for a second chance. With an empathic touch, this sophisticated debut illuminates how fine a line there can be between vengeance and redemption. This is a story you won’t forget.” —Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone
"The prose in S.M. Hulse's debut novel Black River mirrors the Montana land in which it's set: spare, powerful, and dangerous. This is a novel about love born from violence, about families torn apart by tragedy, and about a community that must take a long, hard look at its past if it's ever going to see its future. Like Kent Haruf and Larry McMurtry, S.M. Hulse knows the landscape about which she writes, and she understands the hearts of those who live there." —Wiley Cash, author of the NYT bestselling A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy
"Hulse writes with great clarity and precision, her language a celebration of rigor and intensity, and with such awareness of human rage and love—and fear of love—that her novel Black River feels like a river itself, teeming and unexpected and driven. She has an amazing sensibility for creating the understated, the emotionally-pressurized, the contained-and-explosive, the unsaid-and-impossible-to-say. One of the great joys of reading this novel is watching how she manages this—and how her perfect balance allows her deeper and deeper insights into the ways that people, especially men, negotiate their love for, and their fear of, each other and themselves." —Kent Meyers, author of The Work of Wolves