It’s hard not to like a man whose idea of revenge is to rip out some scraggly landscaping on somebody else’s property and replace it with mountain laurel. Working in the dark of night with his pitbull Brutus for company, 54-year-old Peter Russo, star of Stevie Z. Fischer’s debut novel River Rules (Green Writers Press), does exactly that – in protest of the construction of a massive power plant in his small hometown of Bridgeville, Connecticut.
It’s more than seeing an ugly factory where pine trees and modest homes used to be that got Russo’s dander up. It’s who orchestrated and will profit from the whole thing: a childhood bully named Brock Saunders who has grown up to take bullying to a whole new level. “Satan with a backhoe loader,” Russo mutters.
Our man Russo has done a pretty benign job of teaching Saunders a lesson for all his past sins – he even planted some daylilies – and it all seems to have gone without a hitch until the cops show up, sirens blaring, lights flashing, guns drawn, intent on arresting Russo for assaulting a security guard, who at that moment is nursing a nasty head wound.
Fischer has done a first-rate job of dropping her reader into a spiderweb of smalltown drama. Russo’s arrest calls half the town into action. He’s got a friend who’s a lawyer, a friend who’s a policeman, one who is a private investigator; friends who can loan him money, take care of his dog, and as the story uncurls, friends who can help him start a business, look for a murderer or patch up a broken romantic relationship.
Bridgeville is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, grudges don’t die, and loyalty is solid, and like any town anywhere, this little place has its share of eccentrics. There’s Ian, the fitness instructor who’s taken a vow of celibacy; Nancy, the obese asthmatic who opts for bariatric surgery hoping that will increase her odds for online dating; Rachel, a recovering addict; Sherry who lives in the woods; and two hapless Latinx kids Russo met in lock-up. It’s all good, though, as plots and subplots weave together, exposing who bashed the security guard in the head and who threw the woman’s body in the lake.
So close to real life that it’s hard to believe River Rules is fiction, but then sometimes real life is so close to fiction, it’s hard to believe it’s real life. You’ll fall in love with the citizens of Bridgeville by page 22. Or sooner.
River Rules is now available.
About Stevie Z. Fischer
Stevie Z. Fischer writes about the dynamics of people, nature, and power in small-town New England. Her first novel, River Rules, looks at how everyday heroes can be forged as lives are changed by forces seemingly beyond our control. Stevie’s focus on the bonds of friendship, love of nature, and refusal to be marginalized shines through in River Rules. Although she has worked in jobs ranging from cheese slicing to strategic analysis, nothing has been so transformational as paying attention, walking her dog, and never meeting a stranger. Stevie teaches writing and lives in Connecticut.