Synopses & Reviews
When Odile Mével, a French clothing designer, agrees to smuggle ceremonial May Day banners out of the former Soviet Union, she thinks shes 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.
Odiles 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 Seinean endeavor that has fervent meaning for both Max and his subjects. And as if this werent excitement enough, he begins to suspect that Odile is having an affair.
Marital deceptions deepen and multiply even as the details of Odiles and Maxs 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?
From the Hardcover edition.
A New York Times
Odile Mével is a French clothing designer, her American husband, Max, an independent filmmaker. When Odile agrees to buy a selection of ceremonial May Day banners in the Soviet Union and deliver the contraband to Paris she earns a new job description: smuggler.
Soon her fellow courier disappears, her apartment is ransacked, and her friend’s houseboat is firebombed. While Max has no inkling of Odile’s dealings, he finds himself embroiled in a baffling film world mystery of his own. As their escapades deepen and their deceptions multiply, Odile and Max discover their secrets are connected—endangering not only their marriage but their lives.
About the Author
“Intriguing….Mooney writes sophisticated, unstrained prose…his erotic scenes still pulsate [and] some of the best passages lay the art world open like a gleaming pomegranate.” —Karen R. Long, The Plain Dealer
“This lushly cinematic mystery…is a good beach book for the highbrow set—those who take their thrillers with a dash of art history.” —James Cihlar, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Ted Mooney has had one of the most interesting and ambitious literary careers of the modern period.” —Sam Tanenhaus
“Dazzling…philosophical entertainment doubling as a riveting, unconventional thriller [and] rendered with such painterly depth that the luminous city [of Paris] nearly becomes a character…The web Mooney so expertly weaves…concludes in shimmering, charged fashion.” —Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe
“As Ted Mooney proves in his nuanced literary thriller The Same River Twice, it is perfectly possible to find a novel that has it all…A joy to discover…Odile [is] a magnificent character.” —Danielle Trussoni, The New York Times Book Review
“A rich, multilayered, powerfully unsettling novel [that] succeeds on a number of different levels: as a page-turning mystery in which conceptual art meets the scientific vanguard of stem-cell research and as a meditation on the trusts and betrayals of marriage, on truth and illusion and the relation of each to artistic creativity….The whole comes together in a morally ambiguous manner that seems equally surprising, disturbing and inevitable. ‘Paris is a small place,’ says more than one character, as the reader discovers just how small the city—and the artistic community and the world of international crime—can be.” —Kirkus, starred review
“This tour de force [is] a taut and lively literary thriller that mingles the worlds of Paris and New York art collectors and filmmakers with a seamy and violent criminal underworld as it explores the nature of art, fate, and inevitability.” —Library Journal
“Ted Mooney has written the impossible—a smart page-turning thriller that doubles as a darkly luminous literary jewel. The Same River Twice marries art smuggling (Soviet banners, no less) and border crossings, Paris and films with two endings, the Russian mafia and houseboats on the Seine, wives, lovers, daughters and disappearances, all bound up in secrets that could change the world. Read this stunning novel once for the pleasure of the hunt, and twice for the treasure between the lines: the pounding of the human heart, the intricate tick-tock as the gears of destiny accelerate. Mooney is a magician, and his new book sparkles like a mysterious city.” —Jayne Anne Phillips
“Ted Mooney’s The Same River Twice is a superbly written and wonderfully paced novel, rich with mystery and foreign intrigue, that succeeds as both a page turner and a work of literary fiction.” —Oscar Hijuelos
“All too often literary excellence and suspense coexist in inverse proportion within the pages of novels. But The Same River Twice is that very rare beast—a literary thriller. I would have loved the book for the limpid beauty of the prose and the quirky sophistication of the characters, but my infatuation turned to compulsion as I became obsessed with unraveling the intricate skeins of conspiracy in which Ted Mooney ensnares his Parisians. Patricia Highsmith couldn’t have done it better.” —Jay McInerney
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Ted Mooney’s dazzling new novel, The Same River Twice. At once a race-to-the-finish thriller and a work of literary fiction, Mooney’s book, set largely in the Paris of the mid-1990s, examines the way lives intersect as the old world order falls away and people are left wanting to believe that “a new life was possible, even if not for [them].”
1. The first two chapters of The Same River Twice
are devoted to Odile and her American husband, Max, respectively. What is your first impression of each character? When Odile reflects on the very first page that “all was not well at home,” what is she referring to? Does Max see this problem in the same way? How close do Max and Odile seem to each other, as a couple? What part does money play in their current situation? How do their respective professions affect their way of viewing the world and each other? At what cost or to what benefit?
2. In the second chapter, we learn how Max and Odile met, apparently by accident. How much can we confidently infer from Max’s recollection of this encounter? What isn’t said? Compare this meeting with the story (mulled over in passing by Turner in Chapter 6, p. 54 ) about the one woman besides Odile with whom Turner was unquestionably in love, the one who prompted his move to Paris. What light, if any, do these two encounters shed on Turner and Odile’s relationship? On Odile and Max’s?
3. The faculty of sight—vision in all its aspects—plays a central role in the book, both thematically and structurally. Most obviously, Max is a filmmaker, obsessed with light; Odile a clothing designer; and Turner a dealer in fine art objects. In what other ways do visual concerns inject themselves into the story line of The Same River Twice? Consider also the author’s writing strategy: though we are often privy to the thoughts of Odile, Max, or Turner in a given scene, much of the time the author simply shows us—to an almost cinematic degree—what they do, leaving it up to the reader to determine the motive, meaning, and likely ramifications of their actions. Why do you think the author chose this method of advancing the story? Does it clarify or obfuscate? Enrich the story or detract from it? What part does ambiguity play in the book?
4. In Chapter 2 (p. 15), we are told that Max thinks of Jacques, his studio assistant, as “a true child of the image age.” What do you think he means by this?
5. During the course of the book, Odile experiences periodic episodes of déjà vu, and, toward the end, Allegra, Max’s daughter from his first marriage, develops the same tendency. What function does this “misfire of the mind,” as Max calls it (p. 242), serve in the book? What other “quirks of consciousness” do the characters experience? Taken together, what do all these small slippages of reality suggest?
6. Many objects, images, actions, or phrases reappear again and again throughout the book. The queen of spades, for example, comes up variously on pp. 118, 120, 142, 186 (absent where it’s expected), 238, and 305. The card does not seem to be a symbol of anything. Why, then, does it recur like this? What does the repetition suggest? Similarly, the image of a bear is invoked in various ways on pp. 9-10, 90, 122-23, 166, 265, 300-301 and 349. In what ways do these allusions to bears illuminate one another? Or are they merely arbitrary? Consider especially the repeated references to the music of Heinrich Biber (pp. 33, 39, 222, 223, 312, 350). Does the recurring allusion to “a small sonata” by Biber function in the same way as the frequent reappearances of the queen of spades and the bear? And what about all such repetitions—there are many others—taken collectively? Do they imply something else?
7. On p. 56, Turner watches part of a film in which “a scarlet-haired woman in her twenties race[s] frantically through the streets of Berlin. If she didn’t raise a hundred thousand deutschmarks in the next twenty minutes, her boyfriend, who was supposed to deliver the money to her gangster boss, would be killed. Small obstacles in her path—a flock of nuns, a boy on a bicycle, some workmen carrying a sheet of plate glass—kept delaying her and made it seem certain that she would fail to get the money to him on time.” Then, much later (p. 203), when Odile is chasing down Turner’s assistant, Gabriella, in the streets of Bastille, she encounters exactly the same obstacles—in the real world—and they cause her to lose track of Gabriella momentarily. The author calls no attention to this duplication, but since The Same River Twice offers many similar leakages from one reality to the other, the device appears to be intentional. What do you think these crossover moments imply about the world we live in?
8. A great number of films are mentioned directly or “quoted” by the action in the book. Do they share any particular qualities that set them apart as a group?
9. Max makes an open-ended promise to Odile on p. 37, and, when he realizes the time has finally come to keep that promise (p. 322), he feels “immense relief,” even though its fulfillment will prove to be immensely burdensome. What’s going on here? Do the events that immediately follow change your view of his and Odile’s marriage, or do they confirm it? How?
10. Given all that you know by the end of the book, do you think Odile was genuinely in love with Turner during their affair? Or was she using him in some way? Or possibly just being frivolous? Don’t answer too quickly.
11. Why does she redirect Max’s hand (on p. 335) so that it is Turner, not Thierry, whom he shoots and kills in Chapter 34?
12. In Chapter 35, we find ourselves inside Turner’s mind, sharing his every thought as he dies. How do his experiences in passing from life to death reflect the book as a whole? Do the conclusions to which he comes (e.g., that “Odile had cared for him”) seem to you real or delusional?
13. Max kills Turner without even asking Odile why she wants him dead, though in fact Max has only the sketchiest idea of what’s actually going on. And yet we know his relationship to Odile is hardly a passive one. How does this affect your view of his character? Of their marriage? Have you ever trusted or loved someone enough to do something unthinkable for him or her without the slightest question or hesitation?
14. Who in this book do you consider to be guilty of an immoral action or crime? Why?
15. Can a couple go on to have “a new life” together (as Odile and Max apparently do) while still sharing a terrible secret of which they never speak? Have you ever shared an unspeakable secret with someone, never once alluding to it after the event in question took place? Did the silence affect your relationship? Positively? Negatively? How?
16. Do you come away from the book feeling that lives are determined by fate, free will, or accident? Why? In the West, “fate” is usually considered an antiquated or romantic notion, while “accident” is seen, at least by secular society, as the true shaper of lives. In what ways does The Same River Twice make the case that “accident” is nothing more than fate’s preferred disguise?
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