This is a hard one to write. In no way is this a happy story. It is dire, yet full of beautifully repulsive imagery. Lori is a tortured soul in her adulthood. Her life revolves around the care of her older sister, a mentally and physically challenged young woman since her teenage years after falling from a cliff overlooking a river into which she and Lori had jumped many times without incident. Abby now has the mind and mental capacity of a pre-adolescent. In need to provide constant and consistent care for Abby, Lori has no social life, believing tenuously at first and then with much more serious conviction that Abby has stolen her adult life. Much in the same way that Lori looks back on her teenage years, when to her, Abby was the epitome of perfection, living the popular life that was so elusive to Lori and eclipsing her existence even then. And one day, as Lori visits the swing by the cliff that she and her sister had tied to a tree to permit them to swing out over and plunge into the river below, she discovers Abby having sex with the one boy for whom Lori had intense feelings. Whether or not Abby is aware of Lori’s feelings is not made clear to the reader, but Lori is convinced Abby has intentionally stolen David from her. Lori, in turn, believes that perhaps to be on the same level as Abby, to move from beyond Abby’s shadow, she must become experienced―like Abby herself.
When we meet Lori for the first time in the story, we learn she is obsessed with true crime podcasts and has begun correspondence and then a relationship―of sorts―with convicted murderer Edmund Cox, a man who raped and mutilated at least 20 women. They trade letters, and Lori visits him periodically at the prison. As their relationship intensifies, Edmund has an ask for Lori, a task that if Lori can complete will demonstrate to Edmund her true devotion to him. He entreats her to travel to a backwoods town to find a shack that Edmund owns and has kept hidden from the police. It was his secret sanctuary, and there is a key in a chest there that she must obtain and take to the River Man. Lori recognizes this as her opportunity to rise to the top of Cox’s other devotees seeking his affections, especially Nikko, a young Asian woman who resembles the type of all of Edmund’s victims.
So, Lori undertakes the journey, but she must take Abby with her, as the older sister refuses a babysitter, and Lori knows forcing one on Abby would only ensure a few days of hell for the caregiver. They travel to Killen in search of the River Man.
We flash back and forward, learning incrementally how Lori played a part in not only the fates of Abby’s life but in their younger brother’s life, as well. Petey and Lori shared a secret as teenagers. One so horrible, Petey was willing to kill himself to keep it rather than let it become known. But neither Petey nor Lori knew that Abby had discovered their secret.
Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana is about broken people living broken lives. Triana’s prose is crisp and descriptions of the vile and revolting happenings in the story make those images come alive. This book is not for the weak of heart (or stomach). At a mere 165 pages, the story is lean, and every word serves the narrative. The final stretch of Lori’s journey takes the reader into a Lovecraftian nightmare realm filled with blood and regrets. The meeting with the River Man recalls what it must have been like when Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, making the deal to bring his blues alive. This is not a story for every horror fan. That being said, it was far tamer than I expected after taking in others’ reviews. Still, there is plenty here that could be a trigger for certain readers. Going in, know you will be exposed to rape, torture, suicide, abuse, and incest.