About River Run
Katheryn Clegg’s novel River Run begins with a familiar premise: a man suddenly loses his memory of who he is. Everyone he’s ever known is a stranger, including his image in a mirror. But how that premise, which occurs on page one, unwinds over the course of the next 300 pages is far from familiar, as the protagonist journeys backward in time through different names and lives to eventually arrive at "Point Zero," where what he finds is not what he expected.
Destitute in San Francisco, he checks into an emergency room to find out what might be wrong with him. Tests show nothing amiss and he leaves no better off than when he arrived except for the name a hospital clerk gives him, Darren Jones. These pages are among the most visceral of the book with scenes of degradation and hopelessness that inevitably come when you fall to the very bottom of society. Almost immediately Darren meets Billy Fine and his dog Banjo, and the two become friends. Perhaps the best drawn figure in the book, which is brimming with compelling characters, Billy is an enigma—kind, idealistic, intelligent, but bristling with attitude and anger. Darren proves to be resourceful and clever, with no intention of remaining homeless longer than he has to.
When he finally lands a permanent job as a dishwasher, he begins his steady rise. Just as he attains respectability, a man arrives in a private jet to take him home to Houston, where he has another name, a family, wealth and an important job. But as he learns more about who he was, the less pleased he is with his new life and its darker undercurrents. Determined to continue his quest to recover his past life and his memories, he heads off to Boston and yet another life is revealed to him as he hunts down former friends, lovers, and close relations. Seeking to discover who his parents were, he follows the trail to a small town in Vermont and a final revelation.
River Run is a marvelous narrative puzzle, intricately plotted and shot through with sharp humor, tenderness and human insight. Twists and turns put the reader in the shoes of the protagonist as he struggles to overcome obstacles and finally to know himself. But it’s also much more than this, with intimations that his story is our story. Like all characters, whether in a novel or computer game, we deal with the same questions of free will, destiny, and whatever ultimate purpose the author might have in mind.
But this is really only the beginning. Once you've finished the book, you're invited to check out the affiliated website, where all the big surprises are. Aside from the largely promotional and superfluous sites of bestsellers and movie-tie-ins, the "Inside River Run" site is wholly original and may eventually be the vanguard of a new understanding of what we mean by a "novel." And novel, indeed, is what you find there. It's not just backstory, but a continuation of the narrative at a different level, where readers can choose an alternate ending (three are offered), read the emails characters have sent to each other, and see what they have written in other contexts and what has been written about them in newspapers and magazines. There are also additional scenes and a kind of treasure-hunt game to discover the "Enigma of Zero."
I suspect we will hear a lot more of this writer in the future.
JOSH ANDREWS: A New Kind of Novel
River Run is a marvelous narrative puzzle, intricately plotted and shot through with sharp humor, tenderness and human insight . . . I suspect we'll hear a lot more of this writer in the future.