Reading guide for Black River by S.M. Hulse

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Black River

A Novel

by S.M. Hulse

Black River by S.M. Hulse
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About The Book

S. M. Hulse's novel Black River is the story of one man's trauma and its profound, years-long aftermath. The consequences of thirty-nine torturous hours of Wesley Carver's life stretch out for years and are deeply felt, not only by him, but by the people he has loved, the loved ones he has lost, and those he comes to love. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of Wesley in the days and months after the death of his beloved wife, Claire, and of Claire herself at different times of her life with Wesley. Their two stories are deeply intertwined, while depicting two distinct experiences of a shared life.

That life together is comprised of many elements, but the thread that holds them together is struggle: the struggle to love, to heal, to forgive; the struggle to find faith and to accept grief. Wesley's struggles after Claire's death, illuminated by flashbacks to their past and the terrible events that shaped their future, offer a glimpse of the extraordinary resilience of the human body and the human soul.


Discussion Questions

  1. As the novel switches perspectives between Wesley and Claire, the tense also changes: Claire's accounts are in the present tense, while Wesley's are in the past tense. Why do you think the author chose this approach? How did it affect your reading of the book?
  2. How does Claire's story, told from her point of view, alter or complicate the central narrative, told from Wesley's perspective?
  3. Do you believe that Bobby Williams's jailhouse conversion to Christianity was authentic, or that he is, as Wesley asserts to his brother-in-law Arthur, a sociopath just trying to con the parole board with a story of rebirth and reform?
  4. Wesley's reaction to Williams's torture seems to be divided between anxiety about how others perceive him (when they see his hands and the scars on his arm) and how he perceives himself (when he wrestles with the loss of his ability to play the fiddle). What do you think was the most profound impact of the trauma?
  5. Were you curious to learn the details of what happened to Wesley during the prison riot, or did you dread reading the description?
  6. What role do you think Scott plays in Wesley's journey toward peace in the town of Black River?
  7. What was your reaction to Scott's suicide? How did that plot development affect your opinion of the novel as a whole?
  8. On page 171, as Wesley reflects on Scott's death at the railroad crossing, Hulse writes: "He was starting to know something he didn't want to know, had been starting to know it ever since Dennis first told him about Scott. He'd kept it at bay ... and he knew he'd better not come to know it for certain while he was with Dennis." What do you think Wesley was beginning to realize? Did your interpretation of this moment change as you read further?
  9. Both Dennis and Wesley bear responsibility for the difficult nature of their relationship—but is it shared equally between them? Or is one of them more at fault for the tensions between them?
  10. The novel ends with Wesley and Dennis, "father and son" beginning a conversation. In your opinion, how will the events that unfolded after Wesley's return to Black River influence that conversation? What do you think the novel suggests the future holds for the two men?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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