Go As A River by Shelley Read

In 1940s Colorado, Victoria is seventeen and lives on a farm, where she’s mostly been left to raise herself and do all the cooking and cleaning for her father, brother and uncle, since a tragic accident that killed her mother and other family members. Her life seems to be mapped out, until she bumps into a stranger in town and soon can’t get him out of her head, setting off a chain of events that will change all their lives forever.

Go As A River is literary fiction and written from Victoria’s perspective, starting in the 40’s, but going on with her through life for several decades. It’s sometimes very sad and filled with loneliness, but it’s also often poignant and beautiful, too. Victoria is a resilient woman who often connects with nature and beauty around her, looking below the surface of things, where others are small minded, gossipy and care more about appearances.

From the earliest lines of this book, there is a sense of foreboding and fate in this story that gives the whole a bit of grit and tension that I really liked. The opening image is of the town underwater, having been flooded to make a dam, all the inhabitants gone, but their past caught there, as though under glass. It’s a watery, eerie ghost town. Then there’s something electric about the meeting between Victoria and Wil, but even as she is telling us about the beauty of falling in love for the first time, she’s also telling us that it’s not going to end well. And it’s all the more tragic because Victoria is so young and inexperienced, she doesn’t realise that while she sees in Wil someone handsome and kind, the people around her can only see that he’s Indigenous and what they think they know about what that means.

The characters in this book all feel very vibrant and real, which the author shows us really nicely with little scenes and memories that are telling about their character. She has also created characters that are not stereotypes or one dimensional. There’s not a sense of people being black and white, all good or all bad. The father who doesn’t say much and expects Victoria to work hard and clean for all of them also has a warm side. The kindly woman in town also spreads gossip about Victoria. The people in the small town feel very realistic, after all, people often are kind but ignorant, and can be both thoughtful and cruel. That’s not to say that I liked everyone in this story, sometimes I hated them, but that they were real.

While many things change over the course of the story, the peaches that the family has grown for generations are a constant. They are Victoria’s legacy, her livelihood, but she is also like them, needing care, needing to be held back from budding and branching out til she’s put down deeper roots and also, grown in soil that isn’t the traditionally best for the fruit, but blooming and creating something unique anyway. They are also the most constant thing in her life, as change and time sweep through the story. You can almost taste these peaches, still warm from the sun, as you read this book. But trees need water, and people need to be loved. There is a lack of love and warmth in Victoria’s life, leaving her parched for it. Wil arrives and says early in this book that he will “go as a river”, a phrase she doesn’t really understand until the end of the book, but if she is like her peach trees, he is like the water they need to live.

I liked this book. It was quite sad in places, even tragic, but not depressing, probably because the book doesn’t descend into mawkishness and because Victoria is a survivor, a resilient and kind personality. I also really enjoyed the landscape of this book: Colorado, the peach orchard, and the wild areas, and the descriptions of the small main street and the farms. It really came alive for me as I was reading. This is literary fiction lush with the scent of rivers and peaches warm from the sun.

Read It If: you like resilient female characters, small towns and doomed love stories. Beautiful literary fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for the copy of this book for review.


2 thoughts on “Go As A River by Shelley Read

  1. As always an excellent review and I will be buying this book because it is literally and because the characters are described as real. Also because it doesn’t appear it devolves into a depressor. Thanks so much

    Liked by 1 person

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