Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting John Milliken Thompson, who is now on tour reading from his wonderful new novel, The Reservoir. I had heard about The Reservoir back in the spring–it’s from Other Press, which published The Quickening, another novel I admire, and it was getting a lot of indie bookstore buzz. When I realized that it is set in King and Queen, King William, and Richmond, I knew I had to read it.
The Reservoir was inspired by a real crime and trial in Richmond. From the book jacket: On an early spring morning in Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1885, a young pregnant woman is found floating in the city reservoir. It appears that she has committed suicide, but there are curious clues at the scene that suggest foul play. [...] As the identity of the girl, Lillie, is revealed, her dark family history comes to light, and the investigation focuses on her tumultuous affair with Tommie Cluverius.
Tommie, an ambitious young lawyer, is the pride and joy of his family and the polar opposite of his brother Willie, a quiet, humble farmer. Though both men loved Lillie, it’s Tommie’s reckless affair that thrusts his family into the spotlight. With Lillie dead, Willie must decide how far to trust Tommie, and whether he ever understood him at all. Told through accumulating revelations, Tommie’s story finally ends in a riveting courtroom climax.
It’s both an exciting and lyrical read–I couldn’t put it down–and raises interesting questions about guilt and justice and family bonds. I went back and forth, often on the same page, in the way I felt about Tommie. I’m not one for fluffy beach reads (I read Revolutionary Road on my honeymoon), so I think this book, which is both a literary novel and a crime story, would be a terrific summer read or book club pick. You need someone to read it with you, though, so you can argue about it.
Richmonders will love the descriptions of Oregon Hill and Hollywood Cemetery, and I’m sure fellow readers from the Middle Peninsula will enjoy reading about the people and landscape of our counties more than a century ago; I think the historical details are deftly handled, adding richness without overwhelming the story or characters. I have a feeling John will show up at the King and Queen Courthouse Tavern Museum sometime this fall, and I’ll keep you posted if that happens.
In the meantime, check out these links:
His Largehearted Boy book notes (including a playlist of songs that inspired him)
His snazzy website
An audio clip of the first chapter, read by the author