J. Robert Lennon's "Broken River" could be his breakout novel

Each time J. Robert Lennon drops a new book, I think, "This is the one. This is the time the general public will discover J. Robert Lennon." Entertainment Weekly will give it an A+, Angelina Jolie will tweet about it or some such thing.

Famed writer of thrillers Lee Child calls Lennon’s latest novel, "Broken River," “compelling from the first page, and then smart, sophisticated, suspenseful and satisfying throughout — [it] is a first-class ride.” It has also been chosen as the May 2017 Indie Next #1 Pick, so who knows, perhaps "Broken River," his eighth novel, will be that breakout book. It is certainly worthy of that distinction.

I have been a big fan of J. Robert Lennon for well over a decade, my first discovery being a paperback copy of "The Funnies" I found at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early aughts. Since that first foray into Lennon’s work, I have always found his writing style eminently readable, replete with storylines that allow themselves to be stuffed with so many thoughts and ideas to ponder — morality, mortality, raison d’etre, all that kind of stuff. Starting with "The Castle," his first novel for the outstanding indie publisher Graywolf Press, Lennon began with much success to introduce new elements of a deeper psychological (and perhaps parapsychological?) bent.

"Broken River" continues Lennon’s path deeper into what, for lack of a better term, I will simply call enhanced weirdness and spookiness. At its heart, the novel is a thriller and family drama knit together as one. We start with the brutal late-night murder of a couple and the escape of their child and proceed to their empty house, which years later is bought by a family who become the central protagonists of the novel.

All of the action is viewed by the Observer, a mysterious spectral presence that becomes more aware of its consciousness as the book progresses. (That’s the “weird” part.) The book continues forward into the story of a broken family that should or shouldn’t remain united. The husband really needs to get his act together.

I don’t find much sense delving much more into the guts of the story; you can find that in summaries written by better writers than yours truly. I write this short piece only to throw my hat into the ring along with other fans of J. Robert Lennon. "Broken River" is a truly outstanding novel, and you should read it.

Additionally, Lawrence is fortunate enough to welcome Lennon to the library on Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM, an event that will please you if you come, and you absolutely should come.

— Brad Allen is the executive director of the Lawrence Public Library.


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