The River King by Alice Hoffman

river king

A dark and charming story of friendship, love and social divides in small town America, this book is Alice Hoffman at her magical best. Carlin Leander, a beautiful swimmer, joins the Haddan school on a scholarship and makes friends with loner and social outcast August Pierce, who is secretly in love with her. When Carlin falls for the school hunk, who is also hazing August mercilessly, things start to fall apart. The school itself is steeped in mystery and tragedy, and the wealth and power of it’s students divides the town in have and have nots, school pupils and staff against the local population. The new photography teacher Betsy Chase finds herself feeling lost, engaged to another teacher, who appears to be quite a catch but doesn’t fulfil her. Abel Grey is the policeman who finds himself drawn to her, and finds himself unable to let things go when tragedy strikes the school.

The past will not lie buried in this small town, and the truth is always just below the surface, but not many people are willing to scratch to find out what’s there.

The book is beautiful, and flows like the river that lies at the heart of the story. I know it sounds like there is a lot going on (more like a romance novel), but at heart, the book is a mystery, a story about crime and privilege. It’s about the way in which not facing loss and painful things can leave us numb, yet we can never really escape them until we do. The past is very much alive in River King.

Read it If: You like magic realism or mystery. You’ll read it in one sitting.

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