The River Road: A Novel in Stories
- Reviewed by Cassandra Cobb

Brigid O'Connor, a girl who lives alone with her father after her “floozy” mom leaves her at the age of four, manages to remain sensible and innocent despite the wealth of colorful and complex characters that populate her narrow world. A young mentally challenged boy that looks like a girl, the Daley family with their prize-winning cock fighters, a teenage pyromaniac, and two McGinty beauty queens, are just a few of the characters you will come across in Tricia Currans-Sheehan's newest addition to American literature, The River Road.

Despite the oddities surrounding Brigid in her poor, working-class community, she remains relatively normal, and determined to become a part of the community of womanhood to which she feels she has no place.  Brigid is young, naive, unafraid of asking questions about Mary Kathleen Fogarty's teen pregnancy, Mr. Daley's sudden murder, and her own mother and half-sister, and is even willing to snoop her way to answers that occasionally turn out horrifying.

The characters in The River Road are reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor's grotesque “Good Country People.” These characters are flawed—physically, emotionally, or mentally—yet the reader can still muster up some sympathy for them because, like Brigid, we want to believe there is some good in everybody...but it seems like every person you meet in small-town Iowa is hiding a secret. Through Brigid, we are able to peek into the window of rural life and witness the every day happenings of a farming community from Maid Rites at a trapshoot, to baling, to 4-H meetings.

In this setting we also witness young Brigid grow up from a 7 year-old girl to a pre-college woman, and Currans-Sheehan manages to capture that maturation through Brigid's narration of the story.  In the very first paragraph we get the sense that Brigid is young enough not to have formulated her own opinions about the world, but quotes her father instead, “He said it was stupid to waste those bullets on fake birds; you should save them for killing deer or rabid raccoons or, like the pioneers, for chasing that renegade Inkpaduta out of the river bottom.” in that one statement we learn about Brigid's relationship with her father, the environment in which they live, and a little bit of local history. Later in the novel after a failed attempt to house and nurture her wild, runaway half-sister, Brigid reveals her independence from her father and her ability to formulate her own opinions of what is happening around her:

“You're a bigot.”

He spun around. “I'm what?”
“You heard me. You're a bigot.”
“What's that?”
“You know, you're a redneck—you're a prejudiced redneck.”
The story told through Brigid is honest the way only children and writers are allowed to be, and unhindered by flowery metaphor and overly sentimental phrasing. In essence, the writing is a perfect match for the novel's setting.

Currans-Sheehan writes these characters with thorough knowledge of what it was like to grow up on a farm in Emmetsburg, Iowa. She attended Catholic schools in the area until the high school closed down, and graduated from Graettinger Community School. She went on to receive her B.A. In English from Briar Cliff College and continued her education at the University of South Dakota where she gained an M.A. and a Ph.D. In 1988 Currans-Sheehan founded the Briar Cliff Review at Briar Cliff University where she had been and continues to teach in the English department and advise English major students who are entering the education field. Her work has appeared in Fiction, Frontiers, Virginia Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, CALYX, Connecticut Review, and many others. She is the recent winner of the Headwaters Literary Competition, sponsored by New Rivers Press, for her collection of short stories, The Egg Lady and Other Neighbors, published in 2004.