KENSINGTON AVE, PHILADELPHIA:
THE FIRST PLACE YOU GO FOR DRUGS OR SEX.
THE LAST PLACE YOU WANT TO LOOK FOR YOUR SISTER.
Mickey Fitzpatrick has been patrolling the 24th District for years. She knows most of the working women by name. She knows what desperation looks like and what people will do when they need a fix. She’s become used to finding overdose victims: their numbers are growing every year. But every time she sees someone sprawled out, slumped over, cold to the touch, she has to pray it’s not her sister, Kacey.
When the bodies of murdered sex workers start turning up on the Ave, the Chief of Police is keen to bury the news. They’re not the kind of victims that generate a whole lot of press anyway. But Mickey is obsessed, dangerously so, with finding the perpetrator – before Kacey becomes the next victim.
Goldsboro Books’ Book Club Book for January is Long Bright River by Liz Moore.
This book has so many fascinating strands to entice the reader, and the central mystery was actually the least of those that kept me welded to this book until I had finished it. I read it in a single day, staying up until the early hours to get to the end, because I just had to know how all of the facets of the plot played out. An amazing story of family relationships, personal decisions and the life of a city.
The story is written from the perspective of Kacey, a young woman from a deprived area of Philadelphia who grew up in a broken, dysfunctional family, which has had a profound effect on her and her younger sister. Against all the odds, she finds herself in the Philadelphia police force, patrolling the streets of the roughest precinct, where drug use and the criminal industries that support it are rife, and she lives in daily fear of finding her sister as one of its victims. Then a killer begins targeting the most vulnerable in her beat and her fear grows…
At the same time, she is dealing with the personal fallout from a failed relationship and its ramifications on the life of her young son. She finds herself struggling to balance all the aspects of her existence, and its threads soon start to unravel as the different strands that she has tried to keep separate begin to entwine. She finds she has some difficult decisions to make and some unpleasant truths from the past come back to haunt her.
The characters in this book are so complex and so well-developed they had me hooked from the start. Mickey’s relationship with her sister, the reality of their upbringing and the resultant close bond they develop, the circumstances that stretch that bond to breaking are so truthful, so poignant, that the reader cannot fail to be drawn in to the drama. The secrets that then unfold are quite shocking, and raise real questions about what the reader would do in the same circumstances. The author very cleverly sets the characters up to make us see them in a certain light, and then reveals more and more details throughout the book that subtly and slowly change those perceptions, so our initial assessments are utterly changed by the end of the book. It is elegantly done.
There are so many questions about modern society raised in this book which will make the reader ponder, and there are no easy answers to any of them. It is rare that a thriller will make the reader think so deeply about such difficult but very real problems, and the author approaches them with a delicacy and sense of understanding and passion. There is no judgement or condemnation here, just a light shining on corners we might prefer not to address, sitting as we are in our comfortable homes, indulging in a pleasant pastime. This book really brought a side of this city to gritty, vivid life, a side most people would prefer to ignore. I’ve been to Philadelphia and this was not something I was aware of. I am now and it shames me to a degree that we can so easily ignore the struggles that so many people face on a daily basis. I don’t have any answers, and the book doesn’t purport to offer any, but an awareness of this reality is possibly a start.
There is a mystery to be solved but, as I said at the beginning, this is almost incidental and the least relevant part of the story. To a degree, the solving of the puzzle seemed like a bit of a damp squib compared to the stories of the people. This is a book about human fallibilities, relationships, choices and human misery. I found it fascinating, gripping and profoundly moving and would encourage everyone to read it. A fantastic piece of work, and the Goldsboro special edition is something to be treasured if you fancy treating yourself.
Long Bright River is out now and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Liz Moore is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction.
Her first novel, The Words of Every Song (Broadway Books, 2007), centers on a fictional record company in New York City just after the turn of the millennium. It draws partly on Liz’s own experiences as a musician. It was selected for Borders’ Original Voices program and was given a starred review by Kirkus. Roddy Doyle wrote of it, “This is a remarkable novel, elegant, wise, and beautifully constructed. I loved the book.”
After the publication of her debut novel, Liz obtained her MFA in Fiction from Hunter College. In 2009, she was awarded the University of Pennsylvania’s ArtsEdge residency and moved to Philadelphia.
Her second novel, Heft, was published by W.W. Norton in January 2012 to popular and critical acclaim. Of Heft, The New Yorker wrote, “Moore’s characters are lovingly drawn…a truly original voice”; The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does in her new novel”; and editor Sara Nelson wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine, “Beautiful…Stunningly sad and heroically hopeful.” The novel was published in five countries, was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and was included on several “Best of 2012” lists, including those of NPR and the Apple iBookstore.
Moore’s short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in venues such as Tin House, The New York Times, and Narrative Magazine. She is the winner of the Medici Book Club Prize and Philadelphia’s Athenaeum Literary Award. After winning a 2014 Rome Prize in Literature, she spent 2014-15 at the American Academy in Rome, completing her third novel.
That novel, The Unseen World, was published by W.W. Norton in July of 2016. Louisa Hall called it “fiercely intelligent” in her review in The New York Times; Susan Coll called it “enthralling . . . ethereal and elegant . . . a rich and convincing period piece” in her review in the Washington Post. The Unseen World was included in “Best of 2016” lists by The New Yorker, the BBC, Publishers Weekly, Vox, Google Play, and Audible.com, among others.
Moore’s fourth novel, Long Bright River, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books in January 2020.
She lives with her family in Philadelphia and is a faculty member of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Temple University.
Connect with Liz:
Facebook: Liz Moore Writer