Knife River A novel

Justine Champine

Book - 2024

"When Jess was thirteen, her mother went for a walk and never returned. Jess and her older sister never found out what happened. Instead, they did what they hoped their mother might be doing: survive. As soon as she was old enough, Jess fled the small town of Knife River, wandering from girlfriend to girlfriend like a ghost in her own life, adrift and aimless in her attempts to outrun grief and confusion. But one morning, fifteen years later, she gets the call she's been bracing for her entire adult life: her mother's remains have been found. Jess returns to the home she'd abandoned to find Knife River - and her sister - frozen in time. The town is as claustrophobic and conservative as ever. Her sister still lives in childhood home and has become obsessed with unsolved missing persons cases. Jess plans to stay only until they get some answers, but their mother's bones, exposed to the elements for so long, only leave them with more questions. Jess lingers in Knife River, caught up in the case and, unexpectedly, falling back into an entanglement with her high school girlfriend. As days turn into weeks, Jess's understanding of the past, her sister, and herself become more and more complicated - and the list of suspects more and more ominous"--

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FICTION/Champine Justine
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Location Call Number   Status
1st Floor New Shelf FICTION/Champine Justine (NEW SHELF) Due Jul 5, 2024
Thrillers (Fiction)
Lesbian fiction
New York : The Dial Press [2024]
Main Author
Justine Champine (author)
First edition
Physical Description
pages cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Jess hasn't been back to Knife River in a long time, by choice. Her small, upstate New York hometown holds a lot of memories, none of them particularly good, but over it all hangs the disappearance of her mother, who, 15 years ago, when Jess was 13, went on a walk and never returned. Jess' older sister, Liz, chose the opposite tack, staying in Knife River so as to not miss a single clue, theory, or suspicion. When Liz receives a call that the local police may have found their mother's remains, the sisters are forced to grapple with potentially finding the answer to the biggest mystery of their lives--and what that answer means for their futures. In her first novel, Champine pours a strong brew of angst, unease, and catharsis, letting childhood roles and regression knock against adult preferences and independence. In the vein of Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, Knife River skillfully blends intrigue, introspection, and the maddeningly powerful pull of family.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Two sisters search for answers when new light is shed on their mother's disappearance. Fifteen years after her mother, Natalie Fairchild, went missing, 28-year-old Jess receives a shocking phone call. It's her semi-estranged older sister, Liz, saying their mother's bones have been discovered by a couple of kids playing in a field. Jess immediately packs up her meager belongings, leaves her girlfriend Sarah's home, and heads back to her hometown in upstate New York. Liz was just 19 when her mother disappeared and she was left to raise her 13-year-old sister, and she's still living in their childhood home. The house feels eerily untouched--there are even jars of canned peaches that a concerned neighbor brought over when their mother first disappeared. Liz once had big dreams of leaving town and studying aeronautics, but she also appears stuck in the past, commuting to the same bank teller job she's had for 15 years and wearing the same clothing given to her when their mother went missing. Liz is convinced that a local man named Nick Haines murdered their mother, but the police, and Jess, are less certain. Jess' memory of her teenage years is spotty, and she feels suspicious of almost every man she comes across. She is also, much to Liz's dismay, very distracted by rekindling her romance with Eva, her first love, who still lives in town. As the sisters try to piece together what happened to their mother (with frustratingly little help from the detectives), they also begin to build back their relationship. While Champine does a decent job of weaving clues about Natalie's disappearance through the book, it's the relationship between the sisters that shines here. Suspenseful and surprisingly moving. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 I was at home when I got the call. It was my girlfriend's home, really, though I'd been living there with her for a year. Sarah was a dermatologist. A calendar keeper, a salad eater, a former horse girl. The only person I'd ever known whose under-the-sink area was spotless and organized. Every morning I got up hours after she left for work and walked around the house, trying not to nudge anything astray. In the beginning, I thought that feeling would pass, that soon enough I would relax into the house and all its surfaces would feel like mine to leave dust on. But still each night I found myself zipping all my toiletries back into my travel case so they wouldn't mingle with her vast array of expensive serums. She had a very involved skin-care routine. Eleven steps, at least. All day she swooped in and out of bright, sterile rooms squeezing and lancing people's skin, then came home and fussed with her own face. She fussed, too, over mine. Occasionally I opened my eyes on a weekend morning to find her already alert, staring at some spot on my shoulder or chest, with a detached laserlike focus. She was always forcing me to apply sunscreen. We met online. Our first date was at an apple orchard. I drove out from Queens, where I was staying in a friend's spare room after breaking up with my last girlfriend, to New Jersey, where Sarah lived. I wound up spending the weekend. We picked too many apples. We made three pies and stayed up until dawn each day explaining all the intimate details of our most formative life events, punctuating the explanations with sex and pie eating and some light crying. We agreed that I would return the next weekend, and then the next, and then soon I was moving in. My friend, the one I'd been staying with, eyed me wearily as I tossed all my clothes into a duffel bag. "On to the next one," she said flatly. Her fifteen-year relationship had come to an abrupt end that summer, and though she insisted that it was fine and for the best and didn't cost her any sleep, I sometimes heard her crying in the night and throwing things at the wall. "That's one way to look at it," I said. "Well, Jess." My friend rapped gently at the doorframe, surveying the bedroom with a vacant expression. "It was good having you here." "I'll come see you still. I'm not going to Siberia." "Not exactly." "Less than an hour away." "That's a long hour." I knew what she meant. I felt a little bad leaving her alone in the apartment--it was large and drafty, and full of furniture she'd shared with her ex. I felt some chagrin, too, for having come there with so much gusto after breaking up with one woman, only to leave for Sarah with similar gusto two months later. In the ten years since I'd left home, I'd never had my own place. When I could, I gave cash for rent to a girlfriend, or to a friend in the between times. All my things fit into a few bags, a fact that had recently begun to bother me, so much so that I'd actually told Sarah I had a storage unit somewhere out near Philadelphia, where I once lived. And I did have one there for a while, years ago, to stow a mattress and bed frame I'd been given, but I stopped paying the bill and the locks were soon changed. Every New Year's Day, I'd privately resolve to learn how to stay happily in one place for a while. Before Sarah, I'd even made plans to go to Maine. I knew someone there, an older lady named Maria who'd since retired from the office I worked at and lived Down East full time near her family. She was actually my boss, but she'd always been soft with me, patient with my errors when I was new, interested in my dayto-day. We kept in touch, emailing a few times a year. She had a daughter who had a job with the parks service, tagging and monitoring the breeding population of peregrine falcons in Acadia. Every so often, Maria sent me pictures taken on hikes up towering, silvery rocks where the birds nested above the tree line. Below were lush valleys of pine and a vast ocean, capped with froth. The pictures, the whole idea of a life in this place, tranquil and pristine as it appeared on my computer screen, tugged at something in me. I didn't see why I couldn't go there myself. Not just to visit, but to live, work, make some kind of home. After all, I was always longing to be outdoors. But then the newness of the year grew stale, and in September I met Sarah and forgot all about the falcons and Maine. When I pulled up to her house the day I moved in, Sarah was standing out on the front steps waiting for me. Within minutes she'd affixed a security sticker to my windshield, adding, "I put you on the gate registry so you can come and go freely." Her beige two-story was one of a dozen nearly identical beige or white or pale yellow houses on the block, which was one of a handful of cheerfully named, freshly paved streets in the development. Everything sat in a horseshoe facing a scenic reservoir with a walking path. There seemed to be a different gazebo around each corner, though I never saw a single person inside one. "You don't have much stuff," she said, eyeing the mismatched duffel bags scattered around the back seat. "Is this everything?" I nodded. In the time we'd been dating, Sarah hadn't come to visit me where I was staying, or met any of the few friends I had. She didn't ask much about my transcription job, either. It didn't bother me. I actually preferred things that way. I liked driving out to her place on Friday afternoons. I loved emerging from the tunnel into the gentle, blue light of day and whizzing past all the ugliness of the gas stations and motels and on ahead toward the quiet leafiness of her neighborhood. Our whole relationship was built on these weekends. Each one was so simple and calm. We would have breakfast on her deck and then go to the garden center to buy potted geraniums or deer spray or whatever she needed for her yard. There was something oddly perverted about it all for me: the way she wore cardigans tied around her shoulders, and that she was friends with all these straight moms in the clean, gated community where she owned a home. Sarah was eleven years older than me, and she'd been married once before to a woman named Francis. A real estate lawyer. They separated right before beginning IVF. I didn't understand how urgently Sarah still wanted children until we'd already been living together for a few months. She'd talked about it some before, and I believed her, but the idea of it all seemed so far away, so irrelevant and intangible to me, and was always quickly brushed aside by the glittering newness of our relationship, buried under all the surging lust and discoveries of one another's interests and fears. Sarah kept a binder from an upscale sperm bank in her study. In it were the detailed profiles of about 150 men, all around my age, with good teeth and advanced degrees. I first saw it one night after dinner when we were talking about her marriage and all the ways it had gone wrong. Sarah exhaled slowly when she was finished, deflating back into her chair and swirling the wine in her glass. She took a long look at my face and said, "You're very mature for your age." This elicited in me an unnerving combination of arousal and revulsion and panic. It was the same thing teachers often said to me growing up. Excerpted from Knife River: A Novel by Justine Champine All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.