River Sing Out: bleak but beautiful

This bittersweet story of southern noir swims through familiar waters, with obvious echoes of modern classics like Winter’s Bone. In East Texas, a young lad reaches beyond the loveless boundaries of his white-trash background. But his initial exploration of the bigger world beyond the backwoods might turn out to be his last – he risks everything by sheltering a young woman on the run from a gang of drug dealers.

She’s an opportunistic thief and a junkie; the men hunting her are strung-out scum. Their boss is a manipulative monster, a clear-eyed killer, and he’s in thrall to a remorseless cartel. Addicted and abused, she stole her chance for freedom… which happens to look a lot like a backpack stuffed with crystal meth. And now both she and young Jonah may have to pay in blood for her desperate dash into the bayou.

All of which is pretty much run-of-the-mill for an everyday tale of hardscrabble noir. What lifts River Sing Out far beyond the ordinary is its exquisite, elegant writing which concisely confronts the ugly truth of rural poverty in American society. Souls are stripped bare with mesmerising intensity. The incessant rain, the oppressive heat and the river itself saturate the story. Author James Wade eloquently captures the brutal, beautiful reality of coming of age; first love, deceit, betrayal and rejection, and he weaves all these themes into a nail-biting plot that would do Hollywood proud.

It can be hard-going at times as Wade explores just how bleak and brutal this world can be. Yet ultimately this is a celebration of the strength of the human spirit. It is relentless at times and it should be shocking, but River Sing Out also illustrates the strength of quiet conviction with poetic grace and understated compassion. If you admire the writing craft of James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy or Tim Gautreaux – their ability to immerse the reader in a vivid landscape so powerful you can smell it – then Wade is a new author to watch.

9/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
River Sing Out by James Wade is available at Amazon

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