Twin River
by Michael Fields

"'Matthew, this is a wild and uncivilized land, and bad things will surely happen. There are demons in the wilderness. These demons will bring you much sorrow, but by your actions to overcome them, you will become a stronger person. Remember always the words of Paul to Timothy: You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. I remind you, Matthew, that as a soldier in God's army, you must remain strong. You must never cease in the struggle.'"

Beginning with the events in 1778 that forever characterized the Hartslog Valley in central Pennsylvania, approximately 200 miles west of Philadelphia, Fields places the bulk of his story in 1976 with events that forever alter the lives of his rich collection of characters. From the crooked sheriff borrowing a bit of characterization from the favorite TV show of Vietnam War veteran/broken hero and high school janitor/clean-up guy Gene Brooks through the many young people that populate the story, there is always someone to be concerned about.

A book with this many characters can be challenging, but it is worth the effort to get to know them. Each character has his or her own complex back story, his or her own ambitions and fears, limitations, and progress. It's a masterful interplay of widely different people, their histories, their ties to the area, and their inter-relationships. It is easy to understand why the novelist was named a 2012 First Horizon Award Finalist for his debut novel, Chicken Thief Solider.

The story is realist fiction, meaning there isn't necessarily a happily ever after ending. While the action remains steady throughout and the book and some resolutions are reached, the book ends with several questions still unanswered. The dark tone is carried forward through the mysterious motivations of the twins, for example, and the conflicts that are resolved for now, but perhaps not forever. Fields is planning a sequel to the story that may satisfy some of those burning questions and promises to reveal more of this sinister yet beautiful world.

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