Liz Moore's fourth novel, Long Bright River, begins and ends with a long list of names. Presumably, it is a long list of the book's peripheral characters lost to the opioid crisis, which is still sweeping its way across certain swaths of the United States. Just yesterday, I saw an article in the New York Times, titled, "In Shadow of Pandemic, U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Resurge to Record." We are in the midst of a global pandemic, but despite COVID-19's claims to all the headlines, the opioid crisis in the U.S. has been continuing, steadily simmering under the surface of this year's news.
Long Bright River is not an easy book to read. The last few pages had me close to tears. But stories of addiction, even fictionalized stories, are worth reading. These stories can help us examine the painful repercussions of society's inaction and our acceptance of treating addiction as a crime, rather than as a disease. Beyond that, it's a really good book.
The book's protagonist, Michaela (Mickey) Fitzpatrick, is a 32-year-old single mother of one, and a beat cop in the soon-to-be-gentrified Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Her younger sister Kacey is a drug addict living on the streets, and engaging in sex work to fund her addiction. Growing up, Kacey was Mickey's protector, and the two shared everything, even a bed. In adulthood, the women don't speak, their relationship reduced to cop and criminal. That is, until Kacey goes missing, and young women begin turning up dead on the streets of Kensington, the victims of a serial killer. Every call that comes in turns Mickey's blood to ice. Could the next victim be Kacey?
Long Bright River is a thriller, a suspense novel about cops, but it's also a realistic look at the wide grip addiction has on communities like Kensington, and on generations of families like Michaela and Kacey's. In many cases, addiction begins at birth, and continues to ravage livelihoods through adulthood, curling its ugly fingers around people of all genders, ages, ethnicities and incomes. Grim outlooks aside, Long Bright River is a fantastic book, and one of the best I've read this year. A slow build, it's an illuminating, beautifully written story full of twists and turns. I would love to know your thoughts if you've given Long Bright River a read!
P.S. Cover image from ABC News