River Road Winds Between Love and Hate

By Susan Kelly, USA Today

Tuesday, January 7, 2003
A young man dives off a bridge into frigid spring waters, his belief in his invincibility fueled by LSD. It is an impulsive and reckless act that ends his life and rocks the future of those who love him.

The River Road by Karen Osborn examines the double-edged swords of love and family in a way as hypnotically and seductively fluid as the waters that claimed David Sanderson one cold March night. This is a sad but beautifully told tale that speaks to the most elemental
parts of the human experience. Osborn immerses us from the beginning in the hot and cold currents of love and hate that sustain, divide and inexorably pull us all toward an uncertain fate.

Brothers David and Michael and their friend Kay grew up together in rural western Massachusetts, spending idyllic summers running through fields, building forts and swinging
out over the river on old tires. Both brothers loved Kay, but it was David who won her heart and engendered a love that bordered on obsession as the children became young adults.

The story begins when David and Kay come home from college and go for a drive with Michael, a high school senior. The older two are lovers, and on this evening their euphoria is enhanced by drugs. David insists on climbing onto the walkway of a bridge that spans the Connecticut River. Sober, sullen Michael watches from the car as David caresses Kay before stepping onto and then off the bridge railing.

A search turns into a murder investigation. That, in turn, becomes a trial. Osborn doesn't show all her cards at once, and it is suspenseful to watch the angry, grieving survivors get caught up in the machinations of justice.

The story is alternately told by Michael, Kay and Kevin, the boys' father. Osborn's use of varied points of view is her masterstroke, showing compassion for all three characters and revealing their different experiences of David: the lover of danger, the competitive brother, the gifted son.

Interestingly, Michael's and Kay's stories are told in the past tense. It is clear that they are relating, with a measure of understanding, events that happened years ago. Kevin uses the present tense, a real-time narrative that will never see the light of closure.

In real life, this is a time of senseless tragedy. With a gentle and wise voice, Osborn takes such an event and makes it understandable if no less tragic.
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