You are on page 1of 2

S. M.

Hulses novel Black River is the story of one mans trauma and its profound,
years-long aftermath. The consequences of thirty-nine torturous hours of Wesley
Carvers 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. Wesleys struggles after Claires 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: Claires accounts are in the present tense, while Wesleys 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 Claires story, told from her point of view, alter or complicate the
central narrative, told from Wesleys perspective?

3. Do you believe that Bobby Williamss 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. Wesleys reaction to Williamss 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 Wesleys journey toward peace in the
town of Black River?
7. What was your reaction to Scotts suicide? How did that plot development
affect your opinion of the novel as a whole?

8. On page 171, as Wesley reflects on Scotts death at the railroad crossing,


Hulse writes: He was starting to know something he didnt want to know,
had been starting to know it ever since Dennis first told him about Scott. Hed
kept it at bay . . . and he knew hed 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
relationshipbut 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
Wesleys return to Black River influence that conversation? What do you
think the novel suggests the future holds for the two men?