Down to the River (S J Finn, Sleepers)
S J Finn’s second novel is a timely and thoughtful piece of work. Joni Miller is a newspaper journalist living in a small country town with her restless girlfriend Tiff and her teenage son Luke. Years ago, her husband Angelo left without explanation and Joni finds herself curiously unable to sell the house he built and commit to a different-looking future. Joni is covering the angry protests of a local community who have discovered that a convicted paedophile is living in their midst, when she finds a stash of Angelo’s diaries hidden behind a picture frame. The revelation that her former partner might have been molested as a child or possibly sexually abused children himself throws Joni into a tailspin. Finn wisely switches perspectives from Joni to those of her son and even her newspaper boss to tackle the difficult subject of paedophilia. It is a tribute to her well-crafted prose and ear for language that there are startling moments of beauty mixed into the muddier moral and ethical ground. Child sex abuse is never going to be a pleasant subject for an author to cover, but Finn’s writing is neither tawdry nor sensationalist: she uses fine brushstrokes, not broad ones, to paint a portrait of a town in crisis and a woman at a crossroads.
Hilary Simmons is a former assistant editor at Books+Publishing and a freelance reviewer and journalist