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The Same River Twiceby Ted Mooney
Synopses & Reviews
THE PALE RUSSIAN youth whom Odile had engaged as her driver displayed neither fear nor pity as he sent his battered panel truck hurtling through the streets of north Moscow, and he now assailed her additionally with the plot development of a movie in which he seemed to be inviting her to invest. Odile spoke no Russian and he no French, so he framed these imaginings in an imperfect English that from time to time required him to take both hands off the wheel and, for her benefit, shape the vectors of his desire in the air before them. It was a slate-gray afternoon in March that threatened snow.
Odile, having been in Moscow for three days, found herself quite ready to leave. Assuming the success of the present outing, her fifth of the day, she and her partner, Thierry Colin, would in less than three hours be boarding the train that would return them to Paris. Though she had no regrets about agreeing to this venture, all was not well at home, and only her driver’s studied recklessness kept her from brooding over her troubles.
In due course, they arrived intact at an open cobblestone square off Tsvetnoy Bulvar, not far from the Circus and the old Central Market, now padlocked. Along the square’s eastern periphery ran a row of dilapidated kiosks, only one of which, lit feebly within, might conceivably be open for commerce. Her driver stopped a short distance away, executed a brisk three-point turn, and backed his vehicle up to the mouth of the scorched-looking structure. The day’s business had taught them that it was impolitic to leave the engine running, as prudence might otherwise dictate, and he hastened now to shut it off.
After taking a moment to collect herself, Odile got out of the truck and headed with as much aplomb as she could muster to a spot behind the kiosk where three men stood smoking in the frigid air. They didn’t look particularly surprised or happy to see her.
“Good afternoon,” she said in English. “I am told you are well stocked with the merchandise I require today. Perhaps we can discuss it.”
The spokesman for the group, a compact, muscular youth barely out of his teens, considered her carefully. “You like drugs, sweet-pie? Hash from Afghanistan?” He smiled accommodatingly. “Or maybe you like big American refrigerator? Anything you need, gorgeous, we fix you up.”
Odile had left Paris somewhat impulsively and hadn’t thought to pack for the weather. She had been cold since Warsaw, her pleated plaid overcoat was self-evidently French, and the offer of refrigerators struck her as an insult of some kind. She shrugged and said nothing.
As if they had been waiting for just this signal, the other two men approached a steel storage bin appended to the kiosk. One produced a key and, cursing immoderately, set about unlocking it.
“We have also souvenirs, patriotic mementos. Maybe this is what you come for? Very good merchandise. Kick-ass.”
In fact it was what she’d come for, and she was annoyed to realize that the men had known this from the start. Russia more and more impressed her as a place of thundering redundancies, and in the spirit of this recognition she had learned to state her purpose clearly.
“I’m looking for May Day flags of the Soviet years. If they are the right kind, I will buy them all from you immediately in dolla
When Odile Mével, a French clothing designer, agrees to smuggle ceremonial May Day banners out of the former Soviet Union, she thinks she’s trading a few days’ inconvenience for a quick thirty thousand francs. Yet when she returns home to Paris to deliver the contraband to Turner, the American art expert behind this scheme, her fellow courier (previously a stranger) has disappeared, her apartment is ransacked for no discernible reason, and she has already set in motion a chain of events that will put those closest to her in jeopardy.
Odile’s American husband, Max, has no inkling of her clandestine moonlighting. An independent filmmaker whose recent taste of commercial success has left him at a crossroads in his career, he by chance makes a surreal discovery: unauthorized copies of his first film, with a technically expert, and completely different, ending. Baffled as to who would have either the motive or the means to commit such intellectual piracy, he investigates this fraud and soon runs up against the Russian mafia and, possibly, a human-trafficking operation. At the same time, he is becoming ever more preoccupied by his next artistic project: filming the actual lives of people intimate to him and Odile, a Dutchman and his American girlfriend who are meticulously restoring their century-old houseboat on the Seine—an endeavor that has fervent meaning for both Max and his subjects. And as if this weren’t excitement enough, he begins to suspect that Odile is having an affair.
Marital deceptions deepen and multiply even as the details of Odile’s and Max’s escapades appear ever more connected. The couple must now confront exactly what they are willing to do for the sake of their marriage and, indeed, their lives. Meanwhile, Turner, too, has a great many irons in the fire, which suddenly threatens to burn out of control.
Hugely atmospheric, perceptively written, and grippingly suspenseful, The Same River Twice is a page-turner that also poses questions of existential importance. What is the nature of inevitability? What agency do we have over our destinies? And is a different ending ever possible?
After three virtuoso performances, Ted Mooney delivers a career-defining novel about expats living lives on the fly in Paris.
When Odile, a French clothing designer, agrees to help smuggle Communist folk art out of the former Soviet Union, she bargains only on cash payment and a few days’ inconvenience. But by the time she returns home and delivers the contraband to Turner, the scheme’s mastermind, her fellow courier has disappeared in transit, her apartment has been ransacked, and she has set in motion events that will endanger everyone she holds dear.
Meanwhile, Odile’s unwitting American husband, Max, discovers mysterious pirated copies of his first movie with a fraudulent alternate ending. Soon he is brushing up against the Russian mafia as he films close friends, a Dutchman and a young American, busy restoring their houseboat on the Seine—an endeavor increasingly vital to both Max and his subjects. And Turner’s own Russian complications begin to seem strangely akin to those encountered by Max, who by now suspects Odile of having an affair.
Deceptions widen and events converge in this ingeniously constructed page-turner that poses hard questions about inevitability and fate—and returns an acclaimed author to the front rank of American fiction.
About the Author
Ted Mooney’s previous novels are Easy Travel to Other Planets, Traffic and Laughter, and Singing into the Piano. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, Granta, and The New American Review. The recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, he lives in New York City.
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