This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Nestled in the foothills of the Elk Mountains and surrounded by sprawling forests, wandering bears and porcupine, the Gunnison River rushes by the tiny town of Iola.
‘On a cool autumn morning, seventeen-year-old Torie Nash heads into her village pulling a rickety wagon filled with late-season peaches from her farm. As she nears an intersection, a mysterious young drifter with eyes dark and shiny as a raven’s wing, grimy thumbs and smudged cheeks, stops to ask her the way.
‘She could have turned left or crossed over, but she did not. She stayed. “Go as a river,” he whispers to her.
‘So begins a mesmerising story that unfolds over a lifetime, as Torie attempts to absorb and follow his words.
‘Gathering all the pieces of her small, extraordinary life, spinning through the eddies of desire, heartbreak and betrayal, embracing and challenged by the landscape she calls home, Torie arrives at a single rocky decision that changes her life forever.’
In Go As A River, by Shelley Read, we first meet Torie Nash in 1948. She’s 17 and living on her family’s farm (which is famous for its peaches, but also deals in livestock) in the small Colorado town of Iola with her emotionally withdrawn father; her brother Seth, who’s a loose cannon to say the least; and her Uncle Og, who returned from WWII a bitter and broken man.
Since she lost her mother, Aunt Vivian, and friendly cousin Cal in an accident five years previously, Torie’s days have consisted of cooking, housework, and farmwork. But when she meets handsome, kind, and wise Wilson Moon (Wil), she goes on an unexpected trajectory, which we follow until 1971, when she’s 40.
This book broke my heart over and over again, in the best possible way. From the prologue, where we learn about a living, breathing town that has come to be evacuated and drowned to make a reservoir; to Torie’s family circumstances; to the reason Wil isn’t in her life for long; to the momentous decision she’s forced to make in the aftermath; to the outcomes of that decision, which she learns about decades later, I couldn’t help but form an attachment to her character and feel her pain.
Despite all life throws at Torie, though, this isn’t a story of tragedy so much as survival. She gets back up again and again, finding ways to carry on, and on her own terms to boot. When she makes big decisions that involve letting go of things, she does so from a place of bravery and wisdom, as opposed to weakness and impulsivity.
Not only that, but Torie’s strong-minded enough not to be swayed by other people’s opinions. It seems that she’s one of very few people in Iola who don’t hold Wil’s Native American origins against him; she sees the humanity in her neighbour Ruby-Alice Akers, whom others regard as a crazy old woman to be avoided; and she’s among the first in the town to agree to sell her land for the new reservoir, even though this makes her an unpopular “traitor”.
In fact, Ruby-Alice is another exemplar of managing to hold on to what you can of yourself when so much has been taken from you. Ruby-Alice lost her whole family to influenza, and her mind has been affected by the same illness, or grief, or both.
Even so, she shows hospitality and care to the people and animals who turn to her, giving you an idea of who she might have been otherwise. Later on, Torie makes two further friends, Zelda and Inga, who have also had to adapt to painful emotional circumstances.
Read’s descriptions of the Gunnison River and its environs are vivid and stunning. Her knowledge of, and love for this part of the world radiates from her detailed and evocative writing, as well as Torie’s own attachment to the land and river, throughout the story.
This is one of those books where the setting is virtually a character in itself, because it’s an essential part of the characters’ lives and they’re constantly engaging with it, and it’s so well-portrayed.
Go As A River is a heart-wrenching and beautiful story of personal strength and survival.