Desert Isle Keeper
Long Bright River
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.
Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.
Shannon: This is the first book I’ve read by Liz Moore, but after finishing Long Bright River, I put a few of her other novels on hold. Have you read anything else she’s written?
Dabney: I have not. But, whoa, after this book, I’d like to. I found this book to be riveting and I know you did too. What struck you the most?
Shannon: One of the most important themes of the novel is sisterhood. The relationship between Mickey and Kacey is incredibly nuanced, and in many ways, it’s what propels the story forward. I was invested in both women almost from the beginning of the story, due in large part to the remarkable way the author allowed readers to know them both so well. How did Moore’s depiction of this relationship work for you?
Dabney: It’s interesting to see the world through the eyes of just one person in the story. In this case, since we only get Mickey’s view–it’s a first person narration–our view of the sisters is her view. Sometimes first person narratives are too limited for me but in this case the way Moore tells the story switching between Then and Now lets us see how profoundly Kacey and Mickey are connected. Their relationship is heartbreaking, believable, and complicated in the way that sibling relationships inherently are.
Shannon: You make a good point here, and so, I’d like to talk a bit more about Mickey. She grew up in the shadow of addiction. It obviously had a profound effect on her, and I loved the way the author used the flashbacks to younger Mickey to illustrate the changes she went through as she aged. I found her an easy character to have empathy for, even if I didn’t always agree with her choices. How did Mickey work for you?
Dabney: I like unreliable narrators and Mickey is that. Every adult in her childhood let her down in part to addiction but also because–and I’m thinking of her grandmother Gee here–they simply aren’t capable of compassionate, good caretaking. Mickey’s ability to understand people is, as a result of her borderline abusive childhood, flawed. She makes mistake after mistake about the people in her life–and perhaps nowhere is that more true than with Kacey. She alienates people unnecessarily and compromises herself at work. She takes shortcuts that are hard to accept although Moore does a stellar job of showing the reader why. Mickey isn’t a character I admire but, even with all her flaws, Moore made me understand and respect her.
Shannon: Gee was a hard character for me to feel good about. She treated Mickey and Kacey horribly and didn’t seem to be aware of the harm she’d done. In her mind, meeting their physical needs counted as caring for them. I was relieved to see Mickey taking a different tack with her own child, even if her parenting decisions weren’t always the wisest. Moore excels at helping us see all sides of complex issues, and that’s one of the things I liked best about this book. What stands out for you?
Dabney: Long Bright River makes the world we see in the headlines–the thousand people who overdose every week, the families destroyed by addiction–palpable. So, in a way, what stands out for me is the world-building. But the book is more than a grim urban Hillbilly Elegy. Moore’s characters are layered–both tragic and heroic–and, despite their contradictions, worth rooting for.
Shannon: I completely agree with you. By creating characters we can empathize with, Moore helps us realize that real people are affected by addiction every day.
Dabney: Yes. And despite it being a grim world, there’s humor in Moore’s writing. It is a nerve-wracking read but it didn’t make me sad by the story’s end.
Shannon: Getting back to the novel’s narrative structure for a moment, what did you think of the flashbacks? There’s a part of me that would have liked to see some of those scenes through Kacey’s eyes. I wondered what she was thinking and feeling, especially as she spiraled deeper into addiction. I wasn’t necessarily displeased by the author’s choice to filter everything through Mickey, but I did have questions about Kacey’s perspective.
Dabney: I very much liked the structure of the story. I’ve read this book twice and am now convinced that the greatness of this book lies in more than its depiction of a city hollowed out by drugs. Mickey’s voice and the way she tells the story, what she gets right and what she gets wrong, is brilliant. If we’d heard Kacey’s or anyone else’s voice, I think it would have been a lesser book.
Shannon: I can definitely see that. So, I hate saying this since it’s only January, but I can easily see this book being one of my favorite reads of 2020. I gave it 5 stars on GoodReads and I’m giving it an A here at AAR. It’s hard-hitting in the very best way, and I loved every minute I spent with these characters. What is your final grade?
Dabney: It’s an A- for me. I wasn’t wowed by the identity of the murderer and I struggled, at times, with how utterly inept Mickey can be, but the book is a fabulous read despite those limitations.