Skip to main content

Grist Mill Road

Review

Grist Mill Road

GRIST MILL ROAD will turn you upside down. If you actively seek out novels that leave you unable to guess what is coming next, or that feature unreliable narrators, you need to get this book and slip it to the top of your reading pile. The unreliable narrators created by author Christopher J. Yates won’t have you guessing from beginning to end, even though you should be. And I really haven’t given away anything by telling you that, either. That’s how good Yates is at what he does in this tale that is equal parts love, revenge and coming of age.

The book is told from the viewpoint of three people --- Patrick, Matthew and Hannah --- as it bounces back and forth in time between 1982 in the small town of Roseborn in upstate New York, and 2008 in New York City. The reader meets Patrick, known as “Patch” (there is an irony here that is made clear sooner rather than later), first in 1982, and it is through him that we are introduced to Matthew and Hannah as a horrific act is performed and the seeds of a major misrepresentation are planted. The narrative then shifts to 2008, where we learn in bits and pieces about Patch’s present and his situation.

"Surprises --- many of them created by the assumptions of the beholder --- abound in this narrative, which cleverly reveals both too much in parts and not enough in others until we get a full portrait of each of the characters, or something like it."

It develops that Patch is the underachieving son of a regionally powerful politician who eschews paternal help when he is summarily fired from the investment firm from which he has been uneasily employed. Money is not an immediate concern, given that Patch’s wife is both employed as a media reporter and is independently wealthy. Still, his situation chafes, even as he tanks one job interview after another. The reason for this is never explicitly stated, though the implication is clear, if one looks at Patch as the common denominator. He would be much happier working as a gourmet chef, which he freely acknowledges and is demonstrated by the care that he devotes to preparing meals for his wife, as well as by the widely read but poorly remunerative food blog he writes.

It is the blog that indirectly leads him to re-establishing unwelcome contact with Matthew, his bad-boy buddy from his childhood. From this point on, Patch’s narrative, which is never really tight to begin with, starts to unravel, as the reader is exposed to the points of view of Matthew and Hannah. It isn’t so much that everything we know is wrong. What roils beneath the surface of the novel is knowing, and not knowing, the reasons for everything that occurred on a fateful summer day in 1982, and how those events --- and what transpired before and since --- reach forward to irrevocably affect the book’s present and ultimately result in its startling conclusion.

GRIST MILL ROAD does not end neatly. This is to be expected; very few things in this world do. In the short course of two books (including 2015’s BLACK CHALK), Yates has developed a reputation for tiptoeing up to readers and quietly shattering their complacencies and expectations. Surprises --- many of them created by the assumptions of the beholder --- abound in this narrative, which cleverly reveals both too much in parts and not enough in others until we get a full portrait of each of the characters, or something like it. It’s a haunting story that will stay with you longer than you might expect.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 12, 2018

Grist Mill Road
by Christopher J. Yates

  • Publication Date: January 9, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250150280
  • ISBN-13: 9781250150288