“Why it’s a must: It’s the best kind of prose – like a friend who is telling you the wildest story over a beer. Time flies.”
Author Patrick Somerville received glowing reviews for his debut novel, The Cradle, and readers have been anxiously awaiting his new novel, This Bright River. While some authors are haunted by the dreaded sophomore slump, Somerville hit it out of the park with this ambitious, inventive and disturbing novel. A mix of family secrets, thwarted ambitions, and haunted homecomings come together in a page-turning plot that reminded me of both Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys and Julian Barnes' recent Booker Prize winner, The Sense of an Ending.
In today's Guest Author post, Somerville reflects on his real-life experience in a desolate cabin in Michigan's north woods that inspired this sweeping fictional tale.
Just last night, a friend asked where I’d gotten the idea for This Bright River, and I froze up, thinking of my Uncle Joel’s cabin, and the woods, and being there alone for a few days back in my 20s. I’m not a very good pitch-artist – I usually end up rambling whenever somebody asks me to describe a book I’ve written. But This Bright River is particularly difficult to talk about in terms of “the idea” because I spent so long kind of thinking about it before I actually sat down to write it. Maybe I just should have said, “Love,” and then all of us could have gone on drinking.
Instead I told her, after thinking for a second, “The woods around my uncle’s cabin,” as it seemed as true as anything else I might have said.
Thirty-five years ago, my Uncle Joel built a cabin in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and when I was twenty-four, during a difficult time in my life, I asked him for the keys and headed north to spend some time there. More than anything, I just wanted to be away. I didn’t want to think so much as be alone.
My Uncle's Cabin
(Credit: Steve Somerville)
I spent most of my time there reading, writing, and playing guitar. No phone, no internet, no electricity, no people. And for a few days it was everything I wanted: woods, quiet, and peace.
Then the thunderstorm came.
The clouds rolled in over the horizon near dusk, and I remember noting how different it was to experience the early rumblings of big weather having no idea just how big it was going to be. No predictions beforehand, no safety of analysis. Just clouds and noise. I went outside to feel the wind and smell the air, attracted to something, but I found myself afraid to go more than fifty feet from the cabin. Lightning struck pretty close. I saw the gash of light come and go, then looked back up at the sky, then looked back at the cabin, and there was the moment: for the first time in my life, I realized that a storm, in the middle of summer, could kill a person. How had I not known that before? The thought opened a door in my heart, froze me there in the woods just as the rain was coming. Never had I felt the beauty and the monstrous chaos of nature all at once. You can’t have just one or the other. The world is always both.
I ran inside. The storm raged throughout the night as I sat safe and warm within the cabin. The feeling passed and I soon found a wind-up radio in an old dusty cabinet. There was a Bob Dylan retrospective on, and I listened for an hour, and soon the rain had stopped.
I do remember thinking, though, as I finally lay down to sleep: I should write a book about that feeling.
A free sample excerpt from this book is available for download on the product page now.
NOOK owners: go to shop and search for “Patrick Somerville” to download his critically-acclaimed books.
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