REVIEW: Twisted River by Siobhán MacDonald

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Read this book for: suspenseful thriller, an intimate look at the tensions in domestic life, small-scale and realistic life portrait

Quick Review: An excellent debut novel, with an intense and intimate narrative. Very hard to put down!


Two families who each have their own domestic issues participate in a house swap – from a luxury home in Manhattan to a house in Limerick, Ireland. Both families hope that the vacations will serve to repair their relationships. Instead, the holiday exposes deadly and dangerous secrets. Neither family will come out of this vacation the same.

TWISTED RIVER is the debut novel from Siobhán MacDonald, and this little book is well worth the read. This tightly-written family drama reminded me a lot of THE DINNER by Herman Koch, in that the central mystery revolves around the troubles of a particular set of relationships. TWISTED RIVER has a similar tense feel, and also deals with the lies that families tell – both internally and to the world. If you enjoyed THE DINNER, you will likely love TWISTED RIVER.

Special mention should be made about the writing in TWISTED RIVER. There are enough vague references, misdirection and plot twists to keep any thriller fan happy. It’s one of the main driving forces of the plot, and demands that you continue reading to find out what is actually happening. To help add to the complexity, you gain unique insight into what is going on through the shifting point of view that MacDonald makes excellent use of. You get to understand the situation from the perspective of all the main adult characters.

That shifting viewpoint helps to make these characters even more layered and complex. The reader sees how others see the character, but more importantly, how they see themselves. As this novel deals with issues of abuse, difficult relationships with children, infidelity and more, that shifting perspective really helps to create multi-dimensioned characters, rather than allowing the reader to fall into the trap of labeling them as “good” and “bad”. I’d also like to make special mention of the inclusion of Fergus O’Brien, one of the children. He is portrayed as having something akin to autistic tendencies, and the struggle that his parents face to do something meaningful that will truly help him – and their battle to keep their other child from being ignored in the meantime – is incredibly well-captured, and one of the most human elements of the novel.

The plot was also very human. The idea of a house swap sets up some expectation of what the story will look like, but TWISTED RIVER took it in a slightly different direction. While the conclusion of the plot may not have been the most novel, what really drives the book is the execution of the interplay between the relationships and the characters themselves. This book could have likely survived with even less plot, and still been a decent read!

Put TWISTED RIVER on your to be read pile. It’s masterfully done and well worth the read, which is even more satisfying when you know it is a debut novel!

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