Book Review: “The Dredge” by Brendan Flaherty

A Dreadful Drudge of a Dredge

Zachary Houle
Story Lamp Reviews

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“The Dredge” Book Cover [Source: Edelweiss/abovethetreeline.com]
“The Dredge” Book Cover [Source: Edelweiss/abovethetreeline.com]

Title: The Dredge. Date of Publication: March 5, 2024. Genre: Mystery and Thrillers. Publisher: Grove Atlantic / Atlantic Monthly Press. Pages: 240

I’m not the first to say something like this, but I have a credo: “I review terrible books, so you don’t have to read them.” To that end, let’s turn to Exhibit A: Brendan Flaherty’s debut novel, The Dredge. It’s a book that’s so bad, it’s not even so bad that it’s good. It’s flat-out terrible. However, I’m a nice enough guy and understand that you attract more bees with honey, so I also can foresee some good coming out of reading a book such as this one. (More on that later.) Still, be prepared for a book that isn’t entertaining. This would normally be a popcorn and potato chip kind of read (the snacks that you might much on while reading this) but the book is so bland that you’ll probably be hungry for something better after consuming all of those empty calories. (Am I talking about the book, though, or the food you’d be eating while perusing this? Both?) I’m not sure where to begin to pinpoint the deficiencies of this work, so let’s just jump into the plot synopsis, shall we?

The Dredge is a novel that jumps from character to character and then back and forth in time, sometimes within the same chapter. As I understand it, it’s about two brothers — Cale and Ambrose Casey — who grew up in the 1990s in rural Connecticut. While coming of age, their father dies in a mysterious single-vehicle car crash. And they are picked on by the neighbouring Rowe family — whose household has 13-year-old Lily Rowe, a girl who Cale finds attractive even as she makes fun of him — who has an abusive father at its head. One day, Cale and Ambrose spiral out of control and do something that (as the publicity materials point out) is somewhere between “self-defense” and “family preservation,” and bury the secret in a pond. Flash forward 30 years and Cale has changed his name and is selling real estate in Hawaii. Ambrose, meanwhile, has stayed in Connecticut and runs a construction firm. Both men’s lives get upended when said pond from their youth is about to be excavated to make way for a new retail development. What will they do to protect their guilt? All in all, this plot summary makes the book seem to be not so bad. However, it’s all in the execution, which is where the book finds its faults.

But I said up front that I’d talk about the good things about this book. So I can say that the cover art is striking. (However, never judge a book solely on its cover.) Someone has thought highly of the book to splurge on nice packaging. And the book is short, mercifully so. I read it in two sittings and takes about three and a half hours to get through. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t read a lot of books out of sheer business or, well, illiteracy, that may be an important factor in deciding to read this. And the book’s release date is apt as the book deals with the messy transition from winter to spring as the book is set in March 2022 in the present section of the read. So, there. These are my recommendations for reading a book that I would ultimately caution you away from. And, oh, how I can! First, this novel is hardly convincing in its portrayal of domestic abuse. The Rowe household is depicted as dysfunctional, yes, but if I were a young girl and my dad was making sexual googly eyes at me and had no other redeeming qualities, I’d be more than just a mean daughter as depicted in this work. I’d probably be either homicidal or suicidal. (I mean, I’m only guessing. However, the entire character seems to be off.) Secondly, the dialogue and overall literary quality of the work is stilted. For instance, author Flaherty uses the word “peopled” as a substitute for “people had” and doesn’t do this in a stylish or literary way — it just comes across as lazy writing. What comes out of his characters’ mouths additionally feels unrealistic and is akin to creating caricatures of people. For instance, a character might joke about another character digging a grave while wearing nice clothing, and the other character will retort something that doesn’t jibe with what the first character has said at all — they may, as an approximate example, joke about the weather or something unrelated in turn.

I could probably go on but suffice it to say — and I can’t find a polite way to say this — that The Dredge is the work of a rank amateur, the kind of first novel writers write when it comes to trying to find their voice and develp an idea that isn’t hackneyed or cloying. This is a mystery that isn’t mysterious and a thriller that doesn’t thrill in the least. I was surprised that the publisher has categorized this novel as being “literary fiction” on NetGalley because this is far from being the polished and poetic manuscript that would merit such a distinction. The Dredge is a failure on most accounts. Namely, it’s silly and boring. It needs to flesh out certain characters’ motivations more. And it needs less of one character trying to explain his actions 30 years ago to a two-year-old toddler. (Yes, this does happen in the book.) Don’t say that I didn’t try to warn you, but if you like your reads to be short and unchallenging then The Dredge may offer something to you. Otherwise, pass me the bowl of popcorn, and let me look for thrills and spills from better, more accomplished writers to tell you about.

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Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com

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Zachary Houle
Story Lamp Reviews

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.