Liz Moore writes a tribute to unconventional motherhood in her 2020 novel Long Bright River. Or maybe my mind is just on that topic with the recent Mothers’ Day holiday. Either way, the story here centers around two sisters, Kacey and Michaela (Mickey) Fitzpatrick. Their grandmother raises them because their mom dies as a result of addiction. And that topic is also at the heart of this book.
So, perhaps a few trigger warnings are in order. Moore doesn’t skirt gently around the topics of addiction and parental neglect. She dives into the hot and uncomfortable pool of frustration, grief, and unhappiness. At the same time, we see Mickey parenting her own son with gentle care despite the difficulties of single motherhood. This sweetness balances the sadness.
Mickey is a patrol officer in the rough Philadelphia neighborhood called Kensington. Kacey works the street, chasing the balance between highs and the dopesick feeling of needing a fix. And then young women like Kacey start dying because of foul play. To make matters worse, Mickey can’t find Kacey. Even though they aren’t close, the sisters skirt each other’s worlds enough that Mickey knows Kacey is alive, if not completely okay. Until she doesn’t.
This is an intense and bittersweet book. My heart just ached for both sisters, each for different reasons. Moore perfectly captured the atmosphere of the neighborhood, including aspects of drug addiction, drug trade, and just general poverty. She also addresses some aspects of community policing, especially the politics of working on the force, and conflicts among police officers.
In the midst of this is a mystery that’s intensely personal to Michaela, and ultimately feels that way to the reader. I held my breath, trying to anticipate next moves. Moore surprised me at every turn.
Most of all, Moore plays out the details of the razor-sharp family dynamics among the large Fitzpatrick clan. Michaela is an outsider, mostly for her respectable job and some past decisions. Kacey, likely an outsider in some families, is accepted in this one and watched over by the whole clan.
The entire book with all its nuances was gripping. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I recommend this if you like intense family dramas that include topics that many families struggle with today. Moore tells it like it is.
Pair with either of these memoirs: Hollywood Park from Mickel Jollett or A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom from Brittany K. Barnett.