River of the Brokenhearted by David Adams RichardsRiver of the Brokenhearted by David Adams Richardssticker-burst

River of the Brokenhearted

byDavid Adams Richards

Paperback | June 15, 2004

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In the 1920s, Janie McLeary and George King run one of the first movie theatres in the Maritimes. The marriage of the young Irish Catholic woman to an older English man is thought scandalous, but they work happily together, playing music to accompany the films. When George succumbs to illness and dies, leaving Janie with one young child and another on the way, the unscrupulous Joey Elias tries to take over the business. But Janie guards the theatre with a shotgun, and still in mourning, re-opens it herself. “If there was no real bliss in Janie’s life,” recounts her grandson, “there were moments of triumph.”

One night, deceived by the bank manager and Elias into believing she will lose her mortgage, Janie resolves to go and ask for money from the Catholic houses. Elias has sent out men to stop her, so she leaps out the back window and with a broken rib she swims in the dark across the icy Miramichi River, doubting her own sanity. Yet, seeing these people swayed into immoral actions because of their desire to please others and their fear of being outcast, she thinks to herself that “…all her life she had been forced to act in a way uncommon with others… Was sanity doing what they did? And if it was, was it moral or justified to be sane?”

Astonishingly, she finds herself face to face that night with influential Lord Beaverbrook, who sees in her tremendous character and saves her business. Not only does she survive, she prospers; she becomes wealthy, but ostracized. Even her own father helps Elias plot against her. Yet Janie McLeary King thwarts them and brings first-run talking pictures to the town.

Meanwhile, she employs Rebecca from the rival Druken family to look after her children. Jealous, and a protégé of Elias, Rebecca mistreats her young charges. The boy Miles longs to be a performer, but Rebecca convinces him he is hated, and he inherits his mother’s enemies. The only person who truly loves her, he is kept under his mother’s influence until, eventually, he takes a job as the theatre’s projectionist. He drinks heavily all his life, tends his flowers, and talks of things no-one believes, until the mystery at the heart of the novel finally unravels.

“At six I began to realize that my father was somewhat different,” says Miles King’s son Wendell, who narrates the saga in an attempt to find answers in the past and understand “how I was damned.” It is a many-layered epic of rivalries, misunderstandings, rumours; the abuse of power, what weak people will do for love, and the true power of doing right; of a pioneer and her legacy in the lives of her son and grandchildren.

“David Adams Richards is perhaps the greatest Canadian writer alive,” wrote Lynn Coady in the Vancouver Sun. From this winner of the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award comes a story of a woman’s determined struggle against small town prejudice, and her son’s long battle against deceit. Richards’ own family ran Newcastle’s Uptown Theatre from 1911 to 1980, and Janie is based on his grandmother. Cast upon this history is a drama that explores morality and “the question of how one should live,” as The Atlantic Monthly said of Mercy Among the Children, his previous novel.

Reviewers agree that Richards’ fiction sits firmly in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky by concerning itself explicitly with good and evil and the human freedom to choose between them. Once again, in River of the Brokenhearted, his twelfth novel, Richards has created a work of compassion and assured, poetic sophistication which finds in the hearts of its characters venality and goodwill, cruelty and love.

From the Hardcover edition.

Heather's Review

I can't resist a story that stars a strong-willed, determined, and passionate female. And if she rises up against the odds, I am even more hooked. Mix in the intensity of small town family feuds and the turning of tides as one generation gives rise to the next and you have a story which sweeps you up – totally. A terrific read.

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Born in 1950 in Newcastle, New Brunswick, the third of six children, David Adams Richards found his calling at the age of fourteen after reading Oliver Twist. He had never read a novel before, and was first disappointed that there were no pictures. Then he picked up the Dickens novel almost by accident one day, and after reading it wa...
Title:River of the BrokenheartedFormat:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 8 × 5 × 1.15 inPublished:June 15, 2004Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385658885

ISBN - 13:9780385658881


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this Another great piece of literary fiction from David Adams Richards. I read everything by this author and am never disappointed. Makes me wish I was a character in one of his books.
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from heather is schill it didn't sweep me off the couch... this story sucks
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Story Which Sweeps You Away I can't resist a story that stars a strong-willed, determined, and passionate female. And if she rises up against the odds, I am even more hooked. Mix in the intensity of small town family feuds and the turning of tides as one generation gives rise to the next and you have a story which sweeps you up – totally. A terrific read.
Date published: 2007-09-21

Read from the Book

PrologueThe graves of the Drukens and the McLearys are spread across the Miramichi River valley. If you go there you might find them -- “run across them” is not the exact phrase one might want to use for graves -- in certain villages and towns. I don’t think we have hamlets here, but if we do, then in certain hamlets as well.What is revealing about these graves is their scarcity. The scant way they are impressed upon the soil, dispersed here and there about the river. A river that stretches 250 miles from the heart of our province, a river of lumbering and fish and of forests running tangled to the water’s edge. Our ancestors came and founded communities, and over time abandoned them for the greater lumbering towns of Newcastle and Chatham, so that only graves are left. One might go years without stumbling upon one, and when one finally does, an immediate reaction might be to say: “Why in Christ is old Lucy Druken buried way out here?”I suppose some of the brightest of my relatives have lain forgotten for decades in the woods, forgotten even by their own descendants, in fields that have become orchards or mushroomed into forests again, the descendants having moved on, first to the towns and then west to the cities of Montreal or Toronto, or south to the great and frantic United States. The graves’ occupants unremembered. Yet in what love and sorrow might they have been placed?Two hundred years have passed to find what is left of us still here. Last October I came back from the train station in the debilitating gloom of a rain-soaked autumn day. He had demanded the key that morning, when I said I was leaving.He spoke to me in his slightly limey way -- being the only memory he ever retained of his father, and so the thing he held onto, come hell or high water, for a memory gone over sixty years. A limey with a Miramichi brogue.“Yes -- well, then -- you can just give me the key, can you not -- leave it here” His hand shook as he pointed to the table. “And we will think no more of it; I will not even call you a traitor -- just remember I could not leave people in the lurch -- as much as I wanted to -- if they were lurching I’d stay!” he said turning away at that moment.I found it hanging upon a string outside the winter door, waiting. I came into our small house, with the broken mirror in the foyer, to find him sitting in his straight-backed chair in the absolute middle of the small den, equidistant from the memorabilia of both British and Irish roots -- the cross of Saint George and a broken Irish bagpipe, staring out at me in perplexity, his hair now thin against his fine head, his tie done up very properly, hankie in his breast pocket, dark high socks and well-polished shoes on his feet. Each shoe tied with a small bowed lace, which never really did anything but make my heart go out to him -- especially when I realized it took upward of fifteen minutes to get each shoe on. He was drinking some mixture of aftershave and vermouth -- a pleasant enough concoction, he said, to starve off his “dearth” of gin gimlet he might on occasion -- at two in the morning, or five in the afternoon–go searching for. I told him I did not have anything on me -- no Scotch or rum.“Do you know,” he said to me, “you are absolutely right, my lad. I have been thinking of giving it all up.”“What up?” I say, turning away so he will not see the gin I have tucked in my tweed jacket.“This place -- this house -- sell it and go away! Is that a gin cap I spy --”“Where?” I say, looking about the room. Trying to make no sudden moves, I pick up a cushion and hold it against my pocket.“That cap?” He clears his throat.“What cap?”“Why, my son, the cap on the gin bottle -- you have glided a cushion over it.”“Glided a cushion?”“Is it glided -- I’m not sure --?”His fingers tremble just slightly. He is looking around for something -- a cigarette, I suppose.I take the gin out, hold it before me like a newborn infant.“Yes -- there it is -- you are a saviour -- I always knew you were -- and foolish me in the process of changing my will -- wondering who to leave all of this to” -- he waved his hand abstractly. “You just went out to get me some gin --”I go into the kitchen, get the glasses and pour out our libation.“Gin’s the drink,” he says, smacking his lips and looking at the two glasses to see if they are perfectly symmetrical. He takes his, shakes just a bit getting it to his lip and, confident his immediate plight is over, downs it in a draught.“You found the key all right?” he says.“Absolutely.”I came back once to find 223 newborn baby chickens in the house. I believe it occurred when he upset a crate of chicks somewhere in his travels. He was imprinted on them and they followed him home. He came in the house, the front door left ajar, picked up the letter opener to open his increasingly oppressive pile of bills, and saw 223 little yellow chicks staring at him. He opened the door and told them to go. They did not. He then tried to hide them in the dresser drawers, and keep this from me when I came in.“Do not say one damn thing about what you see in this house,” he said. I found them walking the halls, sitting on his lap, as he pretended not to notice. In fact, he remained until I bundled them up and took them away, ruefully dismissive of us all.“I will not go,” I say to him after our gin.“And why not?” he asks. “Why won’t you go wherever it is you are wanting to -- go?”“Because you’re my father and someone needs to stay with you.”“Oh -- well then -- I see -- very noble of you -- Wendell my boy. Lets drink to nobility.”I guess I can drink to that as much as anyone.My father Miles King once told me that some are damned by blood, by treason, by chance or circumstance, some even by the stars themselves, or as Shakespeare, denying that, said, by ourselves. This in a way is a journey back in time to see how I was damned.My name is Wendell King, and I have looked for these forgotten places, and found them in their quietude and hope, and have gone to the archives, reading old tracts, deeds, family history, searching out what I can, to try to dislodge the secrets that have plagued my father’s life.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. Does Wendell King’s point of view influence the telling of this story? Is he “damned”?2. Richards is interested in the theme of power and its capacity for corruption. He has said his own experience of this was at university during the Vietnam War, when he saw friends misuse the peace movement for their own gain; he saw people bullied and humiliated, and was ostracized because he refused to participate. Show how characters in this novel abuse the power they are given, and consider where the author feels true power lies.3. Wendell says Jane McLeary became “in all her dancing tragic scope one of our great Maritime women, though she never wanted greatness.” In Richards’ previous book, Mercy Among the Children, he explored the idea of sainthood. Does Janie see herself as a kind of saint? What is the nature of the legacy she leaves Ginger, and how does Ginger cope with it? Is it a blessing or a curse?4. The theme of illness and medicine runs throughout: George King’s illness, treated with “medicine from Dr. Giovanetti and what he called stingers -- that is, gin and beer mixed;” the mixture of sulphur and milk with rotted herring that Elias sold to the mother of Rebecca and Putsy for her young triplets. Gin is dispensed in spoonfuls like medicine. Then ‘Abigail Mahoney’ insists on being called ‘the Doctor’. How do sickness and alcoholism affect the lives of the characters?5. Maclean’s magazine has spoken of David Adams Richards “swimming successfully against the tides of literary fashion” for exploring “the idea that reality has an underlying moral structure.” How does his differ from the vision of some other contemporary writers?6. When the patriarch Isaac McLeary arrives from Ireland in 1847 and is shipwrecked, he takes his family to live in a cave; five of his children die over the winter. “Unfortunately the old man did not know there was a church and a school and stores a few miles away. And when he did find out he did not tell the others, because he was mortified by his lack of resolve in finding this out before half his family was dead.” Later, while Janie defends her theatre, her son Miles is left alone in the house with his dead father. At various times, people defend their actions as being “for the children.” How are the weaknesses of adults visited on the children?7. Winston Churchill is portrayed as a figure of strength because he is maligned and criticized for years, and yet eventually is needed to save England. How does the desire to be liked and to belong in a community become a negative force on individuals?8. When the first movie is shown at the Regent and Tom Mix fires his gun, men go running from the theatre; women emulate the beautiful actresses. Gradually, as talking pictures are overtaken by television, and the drive-in is overgrown with weeds, the family business becomes less and less glamorous. How does this affect the fortunes of the McLeary family? How do Wendell and his father react as they find themselves old-fashioned and conservative?9. How do rumour and lies become more powerful than the truth? Does Rebecca at times seem as powerful a woman as Janie?From the Hardcover edition.

From Our Editors

From the author of the Giller Prize-winning novel Mercy Among the Children comes the utterly beguiling, big-hearted story of one woman's resolute struggle to overcome small-town prejudice and deceit.

Editorial Reviews

“River of the Brokenhearted is a distinguished addition to a body of work that has to be considered the equal of any other in Canadian literature.”—National Post“Richards is a painfully sharp observer, who possesses one of the most distinct and compelling voices in contemporary literature.”—Toronto Star“[A] century from now readers will discover in Richards’ novels the same heartbreaking treasures we find in the novels of Thomas Hardy.”—Kitchener-Waterloo Record“Richards is as Shakespearian in his tragicomic humour as in his elemental themes of good and evil, hatred and love . . . . a magnificent tale of forgiveness . . . ablaze with . . . gnarled, powerful and unblinking prose that follows his characters down to their innermost circles of personal hell -- and the deep, unfashionable, moral vision that underlies the writing.”—Maclean’s“As a pure storyteller, Richards has it all over . . . just about every male writer in this country . . . River of the Brokenhearted delivers a highly readable study in kinds of damnation that are as common in the towers of Bay Street as on the banks of the Miramichi.”—The Globe and Mail“River of the Brokenhearted is a wonderful, sad novel that reflects our capacity for strength, loyalty and forgiveness. With its strong sense of justice, this book is also a testament to the power of faith — in all its many forms.”—Edmonton Journal“It’s hard to believe that a single imagination can produce characters as large as these, but it has been done here.”—The Hamilton Spectator