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‘Go As A River’ a gem for Colorado history buffs

“Go As A River” is the debut novel by Shelley Read, a fifth-generation Coloradan. And what a story this is! Drawing on her family’s history in Colorado, Read crafts a stunning, unique and time period appropriate coming-of-age narrative told in intimate first person.

It is 1948 and Victoria Nash, known as Torie, is 17 and she has already suffered a major blow that changed her life’s course. When she was only 12, she lost her mother, beloved cousin and her aunt in a tragic car crash. Torie lived a quiet life on a farm near Iola that featured high-quality peaches.

Because of the times, Torie was immediately expected to fill the shoes of a fully grown woman. This meant that she was expected not only to go to school but to plant and maintain the kitchen garden, cook all meals, wash clothes, clean and take care of the smaller critters on the farm. This while her father and brother, Seth, did “men’s” work. Her brother is a high tempered young man who has always given her grief. She also had to deal with unpleasant and demanding Uncle Og, in a wheelchair since returning from World War II.

It was autumn when a random encounter on a town street with a dirty stranger caused an even larger change of course for Torie. The young man was only asking for directions, but there was an instant connection. Wilson Moon – Torie called him Wil – had just jumped off the train going through town as an escapee from an Indian boarding school in New Mexico. Thus begins the story of innocent love, loss, unbelievable strength and endurance.

if you go

WHAT: Author Shelley Read will discuss her book, “Go As A River.”

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday (March 23).

WHERE: Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/3JF2jFS.

Torie doesn’t understand her attraction to this mysterious young man. But unlike the other men in her life, he is gentle and undemanding. The two teens are drawn to each other and can’t stay apart. As their relationship grows, they must hide their feelings and meet secretly. It appears that Wil’s Native American blood has brought out the bigotry and racism of the town and community.

After Wil disappears, Torie discovers she is pregnant. Overwhelmed but unable to deal with either her family or the town’s reaction, Torie leaves with some supplies and returns to a small mountain hut where she used to meet Wil. Read’s descriptions of the surroundings and Torie’s solitary immersion in wild and raw nature while she is pregnant are detailed and so real that readers will feel, see and smell the woods, stream and skies.

Torie finally gives birth to a son and realizes that they both are starving. Weak and hopeless, she heads back to civilization. At a small clearing, she spies a visiting young family having a picnic. Desperate and hiding she leaves her son in their car, praying that he will be well cared for and be loved.

Torie’s life again changes as she reaches home, returning to her caretaking life. Time flies, family changes and Torie becomes Victoria. The peach farm becomes a constant and important part of her life until the government decides it is going to build a dam and flood the valley. Victoria determines that the peach trees must be saved. Yet another battle she has to fight. Alone again.

Readers might be surprised to learn that Iola was a real town where 200 to 300 hardworking people lived until the 1960s. It is located near the Gunnison River where the Blue Mesa Reservoir was constructed, which displaced families who had lived there for generations. In 2018, the severe drought and low water level revealed what was left of the town. As Torie’s hometown, Read’s loving and accurate descriptions bring the town back to life.

In “Go As A River,” Read’s prose is almost lyrical in her depiction of the land she clearly loves. The characters, especially Victoria, are empathic, appealing and authentic to the times. This debut novel is a gem to be enjoyed by anyone interested in Americana, Colorado history and lives that matter.

Leslie Doran is a retired teacher and freelance writer.