Published by Picador USA on January 9th 2018
Grist Mill Road is a dark and twisty Rashomon-style narrative which is expertly plotted. The year is 1982, the setting an Edenic hamlet some 90 miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends—Patrick, Matthew and Hannah— are bound together by a single, terrible, and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves could never have predicted, the three meet again--with even more devastating results.
Here is a triple helix of a story structure, a sharp-edged love triangle complete with an Atonement style revelation. Character-driven, gorgeously written and wrenching, it exposes the poisonous resentments, sexual longings, and reservoirs of violence that roil just below the orderly surface of small town life. Like Yates’ critically acclaimed Black Chalk, this too is an “engrossing literary guessing game” one that will keep readers in suspense until the final page.
If you’re a friend or follower on Goodreads, you may have seen my status update at page 108:
“The jury is still out on this one. I’m not a fan of omitting quotation marks and it’s moving a little slowly.”
And this one at page 163:
“Okay, now I’m hooked.”
A brief status update at the end of the book would have looked something like this:
“Huh? What the heck?”
And that pretty much sums it up. Grist Mill Road started out slowly. Everything seemed very obvious and thought I knew where it was going. Until I didn’t. Once I didn’t, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Hence my “shopping be damned” Insta post. While I have no objection to this lead up, per se, I did think 108 pages was a few too many to have to read before all the “good stuff” started happening.
The story was told from the points of view of Hannah, Matthew, and Patrick with interspersed chapters flashing back to the horrific event of 1892 that bound them together. This worked really well for me. I love an unreliable narrator and having three made the suspense almost unbearable. I was constantly doubting each character and couldn’t wait for the truth to come out. Christopher J. Yates in an extremely talented writer in terms of both imagination and execution.
The ending, however, left me feeling somewhat frustrated. While I appreciate books that don’t have neat and tidy endings, I was a little taken aback by this one. I may have been a little more forgiving of the conclusive events themselves if not for the feelings I had about Matthew’s character. I could not reconcile 1982 Matthew with 2008 Matthew. It just seemed like something was missing.That’s all I can say without spoilers but if you read the book, please feel free to DM me for an offline discussion. I am chomping at the bit to hash it out with someone.
This book had an enormous amount of potential. While it fell a little short for me in relation to its potential, I would definitely look forward to reading Christopher J. Yate’s future novels.
Many thanks to Picador USA for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Renee (Itsbooktalk) says
I really agree with you about this book Ann Marie. I was initially really into it then by 40% I was bored with all the food blog details so I skipped to the last 15% and read the end which I never do. It was an odd book imo but I can’t say I technically “read” the whole thing.
Ann Marie says
Thanks, Renee. I’m sorry you didn’t love it but I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I do think Yates is a talented writer but there were too many things that bugged me to give it a higher rating.
This no quotation marks thing is so aggravating. It makes it so hard to read!! I’m ready to give up!
I can’t do it. I can’t finish this book. No quotation marks? What gives? It makes it SO hard to read.
I’m tapping out.
Ann Marie says
I can totally relate. I want my Oxford comma and I want quotation marks!!
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Oh my gosh – Susie (Novel Visits), Tara (Running N Reading) and I have been discussing this. I couldn’t put it down pretty much the whole way through….but, things bothered me. I didn’t love the letters format and I thought Matthew’s perspective should have been introduced sooner. And, I thought the ending was way too thriller-y. But, I’m still giving it 4 stars b/c I can’t ignore that I couldn’t put it down.
Have you read Yates’ Black Chalk? I liked that one more. And – that ending was so open-ended I was positive there would be a sequel.
Ann Marie says
I agree with all of your observations as well. I probably would have given it 4 stars if the beginning didn’t drag for me. It could have easily been 4.5 stars for me with a more engrossing start and a better look into Matthew’s psyche. Despite the fact that he had a reason to be the way he was in 1982, I failed to see how he came to be the man he was in 2008. I also thought the whole job/money situation seemed implausible. I thought that perhaps there was going to be some big revelation that would be relevant to the story but no…
I haven’t read Black Chalk but I would certainly give it a go. He’s a great writer. There were just some things about this book that didn’t work for me. I would not discourage anyone from reading Grist Mill Road. In fact I think it’s a book is inspiring conversation and debate which is a wonderful thing.