The Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan
There’s nothing particularly redemptive about Darcie Chan’s new tragi-romance. Josie DiSanti flees her home after losing her husband in a fire that burned down her house in circumstances that are never particularly coherently explained. She brings her two small children, Rose and Emily, with her to live with her aunt Ivy in the little town of Mill River. As they grown up the girls are inseparable but a terrible accident tears them apart. Hint One: this accident is the one genuinely intriguing narrative secret throughout the book.
Years later the two sisters return to the town for the reading of their mother’s testament after her sudden and seeming unexpected death. They learn that Josie will do anything to reconcile her two daughters – even forcing them to move in to neighboring houses during the summer to work together to find Josie’s safe deposit box which, conveniently, contains their inheritance. Hint Two: during this apparent journey of self-discovery, we find out the “terrible secret” of Hint One – which, of course, is revealed to be just as unrealistic as the rest of the overly idiosyncratic plot. And here is where The Mill River Redemption ultimately fails.
The characters fall all too easily into the camps of good and evil, with little depth or weight given to any. The story is riddled with clichéd moments: the awful secret, the misunderstood sisters, the spoilt-in-money-but-not-in-love young boy who brings them all together, and the completely ridiculous and oh-so-predictable plot twist in the final pages. Add to that a smattering of bizarre moments – the town freak who stumbles around handing out “potions”, the priest with a spoon fetish – seriously – and it’s lost.
There are, of course, moments of promise. Although Rose’s alcoholism is painfully crude in its depiction, its influence on her lonely, geeky son is more sensitively handled. The battle with one’s self is something that casts a sombre, almost moving shadow over the tale. The continual jumping between past and present is somewhat dizzying but is at least effective in adding to the book’s overall momentum. And Josie’s continued burning grief over her husband’s death makes for some truly (if slightly over-egged) emotive writing.
With the troubles and problems surrounding addiction at its genuinely dark core, The Mill River Redemption has a story to tell – it just doesn’t know quite how to tell it, But its lack of subtlety in its subject matter renders any attempt to satisfyingly bring home a message fruitless. Chan has a lot of good things to say, if only she could say them.
The Mill River Redemption is published by Ballantine Books at the paperback price of £4.99, for further information visit here.