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What I read: Go as a River by Shelley Read

As I was reading this book, and now, a couple of weeks later, I am still in awe of the fact that “Go as a river” is a debut novel. And with a name like that, I wondered if it is a pseudonym – but, “Shelley Read” is the author’s real name. It was written in the stars, I guess! Destined for a literary masterpiece.

“I would say I tried, as Wil taught me, to go as a river, but it had taken me a long while to understand what that meant. Flowing forward against obstacle was not my whole story. For, like the river, I had also gathered along the way all the tiny pieces connecting me to everything else, and doing this had delivered me here, with two fists of forest soil in my palms and a heart still learning to be afraid of itself.”

Go as a river Shelley Read Roelia ReadsIt is an epic tale, spanning several decades. It starts off in the 1940’s where we meet 17-year-old Victoria (Torie) Nash. The story is told from her point of view (first person). She lives on a peach farm in Colorado with her father, brother, and uncle. After her mother tragically passed away when Torie was only 12, she became responsible for the domestic duties.

During a trip to town, she has a chance meeting with Wilson “Wil” Moon. She is intrigued by this caring, kind, and sensitive stranger.

“The stranger’s eyes were as dark and shiny as a raven’s wing. And kind – that is what I remember most about those eyes from that first glimpse until the final gaze – a gentleness that seemed to fountain from his center and spill out like an overflowing well.”

He is unlike anyone she’s ever encountered before, and at that moment in time, her life changes forever.

“Just as a single rainstorm can erode the banks and change the course of a river, so can a single circumstance of a girl’s life erase who she was before.”

Wil is Native American, and a drifter, and new in town. Although the bigoted townsfolk are quick to drive Wil out of town, a forbidden but fleeting love affair ensues.

“I learned from their subtle relations… that love is a private matter, to be nurtured, and even mourned, between two beings alone. It belongs to them, and no one else, like a secret treasure, like a private poem.”

And that is where I will stop sharing details of the plot, as I want you to, like me, to rather go in blind and experience Victoria’s journey of healing and self-discovery yourself.

“Try as we might to convince ourselves otherwise, the moments of our becoming cannot be carefully plucked like the ripest and most satisfying peach from the bough. In the endless stumble toward ourselves, we harvest the crop we are given.”

The storytelling is enchanting and almost lyrical – exquisite. “Go as a river” is a moving story that will stay with you long after you read the last pages. The prose is perceptive and evocative.

“There is a kind of sadness that transcends sadness, that runs like hot syrup into every crevice of your being, beginning in the heart then oozing into your very cells and bloodstream, so that nothing— not earth or sky or even your own palm— ever looks the same. This is the sadness that changes everything.”

The role of the landscape and nature with all its beauty and cruelty, is skillfully weaved into the storytelling – almost like a character on its own. And, as with nature, it tells of the power to heal. The imagery is captivating and picturesque. The story is well-paced to enable the reader to fully experience Victoria’s journey and emotions.

“I looked around me at the birth and growth and death piled atop one another, at the open bellies of downed trees feeding new sprouts, all the life pushing through every crook and crevice and possibility for light. It was an ancient intelligence far too rich and complex to fully grasp but exactly what I needed to remind myself that it is in these layers of time that everything becomes itself… Strength, I had learned, was like this littered forest floor, built of small triumphs and infinite blunders, sunny hours followed by sudden storms that tore it all down. We are one and all alike if for no other reason than the excruciating and beautiful way we grow piece by unpredictable piece, falling, pushing from the debris, rising again, and hoping for the best.”

It is a story of devastating heartbreak, betrayal, selfless decisions, and tragedy, but left me in awe of Victoria’s wisdom and compassion.

“A new life was unfolding before me. I never stopped questioning the choices of my past, but in the known world, each step surely unfurls the next, and we must walk into that open space, mapless and without invitation.”

Themes of grief, discrimination, and resilience and what the true meaning of “home” and “family” is.

And a special shout-out to Victoria’s female friends, Zelda, and Ruby-Alice.

“Women endure. That’s what we do.”

“That’s nonsense,” she replied more harshly than I expected. “A woman is more than a vessel meant to carry babies and grief.”

I was also surprised to learn that the environmental devastation of the town of Iola was in fact true, by the way!

“Imagine a town silent, forgotten, decomposing at the bottom of a lake that once was a river. If this makes you wonder whether the joys and pain of a place wash away as the floodwaters rise and swallow, I can tell you they do not. The landscapes of our youths create us, and we carry them within us, storied by all they gave and stole, in who we become.”

Highly recommended for anyone seeking an emotionally reverberating and transformative reading experience.

With thanks to Exclusive Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Read an extract:  Go As A River (Penguin Random House SA)

The Details

*From Exclusive Books

About the Author

Shelley Read Home (shelleyread.com)