Broken River Summary & Study Guide

Lennon, J. Robert
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Broken River Summary & Study Guide Description

Broken River Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Broken River by Lennon, J. Robert .

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Lennon, J. Robert. Broken River. Serpent's Tail, 2017.

J. Robert Lennon’s latest novel, Broken River, begins with the mysterious and brutal murder of a couple just outside of their house in the woods near a small town in upstate New York. These events are chronicled by a very detail-oriented preternatural Observer. Once these events have concluded, the murders remain a looming enigma over the family that eventually inhabits the house.

The perspective then switches to the young daughter of the murdered couple as she struggles to comprehend the tragedy she just escaped. Lennon explores the resilience of a child’s mind to survive such horrific events and their following chaos. The child returns to the house for the night after fleeing the scene of her parent’s demise, leaves the next morning, is found by a neighbor, and spirited away to become part of that great mystery that hangs over the rest of the novel.

The Observer watches the changes the house endures for more than a decade, until finally it is sold and remodeled by an artsy family from Brooklyn. Reminiscent of the family torn apart years earlier, the family that moves into the home is comprised of a mother, Eleanor, a father, Karl, and their daughter, Irina. The entire family is comprised of artists, with both mother and daughter writers and the father a sculptor. Their move is the result of Karl’s habitual infidelity.

Not long after the move, which has had no effect on Karl’s ability to sleep with his mistress Rachel, Irina and Eleanor have become fixated on the murders that occurred on their property. They each secretly post their findings to an internet forum and interact with each other without knowing. Karl, in an effort to resume his affair with Rachel, signs Irina up for guitar and painting classes which he takes her to and meets Rachel in a hotel nearby during.

Eleanor knows that Karl remains unfaithful to her. Though she is not in love with him, his betrayal still hurts her and has a negative impact on her writing and health. The stress her failing marriage puts on her drives her to spend more time with her daughter, often at the local library or coffee shop. During one of these trips, Irina meets a girl named Sam, who she believes to be the missing daughter of the murdered couple, because they share similar names.

Sam is in town to reconnect with her brother, Daniel, who has just been released from prison for growing marijuana. Upon release he moves in with a girl he met outside of the prison, takes over her incarcerated boyfriend’s marijuana growing operation, and gets Sam to distribute some of the product for him. Despite not being who Irina thinks she is, the two girls form a friendship, which leads to Karl hiring Sam to babysit Irina while Eleanor is out of town because he is an inadequate parent.

While all of this is going on, two of the three men who killed the people all those years ago, Joe and Louis, have been reunited, albeit unwillingly in Louis’s case, to monitor people Joe is fixated on in Broken River. Joe believes that the couple he killed have somehow cheated him of some money and he is determined to collect it. He is led to believe that Sam is the girl who escaped that night as Irina has posted a picture of her to the forum claiming it to be the case, and as such thinks she could know where his money is. Louis is a reluctant participant in Joe’s stalking activities as he is very afraid of Joe.

The plotlines begin to converge when Joe and Louis crash a party that Daniel is hosting, having discovered that Daniel has taken over the marijuana business that used to be Joe’s. Though Louis tries multiple times to calm Joe down, the large man confronts Daniel in the cellar underneath the party and shoots him and his girlfriend dead. Joe and Louis then flee the scene of the second murder they have committed to go to the house where they committed the first.

Sam, having received word of what transpired at the party from a girl in attendance, figures out that the two men are headed for Karl and Irina’s house, where she is babysitting. She convinces the two that her concerns are valid and they hide in Karl’s studio behind the house. Louis and Joe, after searching the house, break into the studio. Louis kills Joe, and Karl stabs Louis with a knife he crafted in the studio before he can realize that Louis means him no harm. Louis shoots Karl in the head in self-defense and flees.

While this is going on, Eleanor has been in New York City for meetings about the novel she just finished. Her latest book is different from the others that made her moderately famous, and her long-time agent adds to the stress of her life by telling her it is not yet ready to publish. She then drunkenly decides to meet her husband’s mistress for dinner. When the two women meet, the stress pushes Eleanor over the edge and she collapses. Rachel accompanies her to the hospital where they both learn of Karl’s death.

The novel ends with the Observer finally free of the tethers of these people’s lives in which he has been entrenched for more than a dozen years. He contemplates the paths of the lives of the characters and reveals that Samantha Geary, the girl who got away, is now Jenny Murray, an adoptee living in Manitoba, Canada who has no knowledge or care of any of the events that have irreversibly changes the lives of Eleanor, Irina, Sam, Louis, and the others.

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