By Sara B. Fraser
Carol lives in a small rundown town in upstate New York. She’s caught in the doldrums of a dead end job at a college cafeteria and her best friend and neighbor Sam is trying to stay sober and stay in work. Carol’s daughter Garnet is locked up in prison after being found guilty of assault after fighting back against her abusive partner Ethan. When Garnet starts getting bullied by fellow inmates, Carol and Sam hatch a plan to keep her safe and stop her running straight back into Ethan’s arms just as soon as she gets out.
Set in the Clinton era, JUST RIVER paints a precise and sometimes bleak view of the consequences on a community when industry shuts up shop and a town slowly sinks into dereliction. Author Sara B. Fraser builds her fictitious town of Wattsville with great skill and populates it with carefully drawn characters who still cling to their hopes and dreams by the very tips of their fingers. It is a book of planning and failing, of expectations dashed by bitter reality, of trying to make the best out of the hand you are dealt. Less skilled authors than Fraser may have let the setting and themes, of the repercussions of domestic abuse and substance misuse, sink into a quagmire of joyless social realism but in JUST RIVER the characters never let their circumstances crush their spirit. They make mistakes. They have lucky breaks. They fall down. They get back up. They remain exuberantly human. The characters are messy and contradictory and unpredictable and completely believable. The frustrated loneliness of Carol. Sam’s pride in representing his true self as “a gay man who feels like a woman and dresses like a woman.” Garnet’s conflict and confusion in not knowing how to be loved. Their stories, and that of a myriad of equally vibrant characters, are told in short chapters from different perspectives. It’s a kaleidoscopic view which slowly pulls focus, narrowing and crystallizing as the plot strands come together. And even in the depths of despair there are moments of levity. An accidental poisoning. A bungled attempt to score drugs. The non-appearance of Britney Spears at a karaoke night.
Sara B. Fraser’s prose is fluid, stylish and filled with exquisite turns of phrase. This may be only her second novel but she writes with immense confidence and a rare compassion for everyday people. There is truth and beauty in the pages of JUST RIVER and it deserves a wide readership.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader
Black Rose Writing
By Sara B. Fraser
Sara B. Fraser’s JUST RIVER seems simple at first, but the author manages to skillfully create a complex and unexpected web of relationships. The narrative changes between genres and moods and deals with themes including gay romance, prison drama, and even crime thriller – always with a light and sensitive tone – the result being one hell of a ride.