The Same River Twice

The Same River Twice

3.8 6
by Ted Mooney

View All Available Formats & Editions

A New York Times Notable Book

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


A New York Times Notable Book

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A cut-throat Russian businessman, two ruthlessly ambitious and beautiful young women and a scheme to make unlimited amount of cash—and voilà, you’re caught up in the momentum of a great story. . . . Magnificent.” —The New York Times

The Same River Twice is a philosophical entertainment doubling as a riveting, unconventional thriller. . . . Dazzling . . . shimmering, charged.” —The Boston Globe

The Same River Twice is the tale of beautiful losers living on the edge. . . . [A] lushly cinematic mystery . . . for the highbrow set—those who take their thrillers with a dash of art history.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“It’s too bad that Alfred Hitchcock isn’t still around to direct a movie adaptation of this kaleidoscope of a novel of intrigue.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Same River Twice could almost be filmed straight from the page. . . . [Mooney’s] up-to-date stylistic concerns, art world experience, and nods to 1980s-style branding lend an indefinable chic to a solid thriller.” —The New York Review of Books

“A riveting tale of intrigue and sexual attraction with the Russian mafia lurking in the shadows.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Same River Twice is that very rare literary beast—a literary thriller. . . . Patricia Highsmith couldn’t have done it better.” —Jay McInerney
“Mooney writes sophisticated, unstrained prose. . . . Having spent thirty years as senior editor of Art in America magazine, [Mooney] has honed a penetrating eye. . . . The best passages lay the art world open like a gleaming pomegranate.” —The Plain Dealer

“A tour de force. . . . 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
“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 books sparkles like a mysterious city.” —Jayne Anne Phillips
“Mooney’s women [are] among the most shimmeringly intelligent in contemporary fiction.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“Mooney is a risk-taking adventurer in novelistic possibilities.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A superbly written and wonderfully paced novel, rich with mystery and foreign intrigue.” —Oscar Hijuelos
“A novelist with a gift for razor-sharp dialogue, for the brilliantly chiseled sentence and the memorably vivid scene.” —Newsday
“Rich, multilayered, powerfully unsettling. . . . [The Same River Twice] 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.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[Mooney] is one of those rare writers whose take on the world is so original that one avidly reads whatever he chooses to write about.” —Chicago Tribune

Danielle Trussoni
To shape the everyday happenings of the world into a good story—isn't that what novelists are supposed to do best? Yet readers must often choose between "literary fiction," understood to be works of well-written but meandering prose about the "real world" of human relationships, and "commercial fiction," fast-paced novels in which plot is everything. The literary is assumed to be cerebral and artistic, the commercial mindless and entertaining. One suspects that nobody is completely happy with this divide. So it is a joy to discover, every once in a while, a writer whose prose and plotting take something from both camps. 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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A promising plot involving Russian contraband propels this Parisian thriller, but Mooney (Traffic and Laughter) fails to create engaging characters, and his overworked prose doesn't help matters much. Max Colby, who judges himself to be quite possibly “the most inventive and daring filmmaker of his time,” struggles with creative challenges and with his adventurous wife, Odile, who is having an affair with Turner, an art dealer who has crossed a ruthless Russian mobster and is handling the sale of a small collection of smuggled Russian folk art. Lengthy descriptions of Max's cinematic travails and random filmic insights take up swaths of the book, either supplanting the action or bizarrely coexisting with implausible developments (a pivotal murder is especially hard to believe). Other glitches—wooden dialogue, a far-fetched denouement—interfere with an occasionally savory if predictable yarn. (July)
Library Journal
What begins as simply a way to pass some time while husband Max is out of the country soon turns into something altogether different for Odile, a French clothing designer, in this tour de force of a novel set in the 1990s. Contracted to more or less smuggle some Soviet-era flags out of Russia, Odile is successful in her mission until Thierry Colin, her companion, disappears as they are about to cross the border back to the West. Then, shortly after returning, her Paris apartment is ransacked—with nothing apparently stolen. Meanwhile, Max, an American art house filmmaker in the midst of an aesthetic crisis, discovers that one of his films is being sold on DVD with an altered ending and sets about trying to discover who's responsible. Their differing dilemmas lead in the same direction—toward the Russian mafia. VERDICT 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. Recommended.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Mooney (Easy Travel to Other Planets, 1981) returns with a rich, multilayered, powerfully unsettling novel. The author's experience as senior editor at Art in America and teacher of a graduate seminar at Yale University School of Art informs this novel's thematic exploration of the interrelationship between art and commerce. It 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. A French designer named Odile finds herself paired with a stranger by an art dealer who has hired them to smuggle communist flags from Russia, with plans to market them in Paris as objects of art. The book barely touches on "the political ironies of selling communist artifacts in a venue so aggressively market oriented," though the collapse of the Soviet Union has significant implications for the plot. Odile's American husband, a highly-regarded avant-garde film director, also finds himself caught in a bit of intrigue, as copies of one of his movies surface with an alternative ending he never shot. After Odile's smuggling partner disappears, she is threatened by Russians who suspect levels of conspiracy to which Odile has been oblivious. As allegiances shift and Max's new movie further blurs distinctions between life and art, Max discovers that his own impressions have become "like shards of a broken mirror, each reflecting one or two of the others but refusing to come together into a whole." But as this literary artist creates art about art, manipulating characters he has created who are manipulating other characters he has created, 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.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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 dollars.” She waited a beat while they inspected her person thoughtfully. “The money is in the truck with my driver. If I like them, he will pay you. He has a gun.”

These words had an instant and enlivening effect, and shortly four grandly oversized Soviet banners, perhaps nine feet on their longer side and made of red velvet, lay spread out on the cobblestones for Odile’s consideration. Fringed extravagantly with fine gold braid, they bore across their faces, along with the lately defunct hammer and sickle, a multitude of meticulously appliquéd decorations in satin, cotton, and lightweight wool. Each flag was unique, depicting the several architects and contractors of Soviet communism grouped together in attitudes of slightly pained farsightedness. Different periods were represented, and the personnel varied accordingly. One flag featured a likeness of Stalin, who, by a quirk of handicraft, gazed slyly at the viewer with an expression of robust good humor. He seemed to be sharing a joke.

“Very interesting,” she said after examining the merchandise. “How do I know they’re real?”

A small silence ensued as all present pondered the question.

“I will tell you,” her interlocutor finally said. “Straight up, no bullshit. In all of Moscow you do not find flags like these. Handmade by Russian factory workers to be entered in May Day competition for whole Soviet Union. These are objects of . . .” He turned to the man who had unlocked the bin. “What is English word, Leonya? Cultural . . .”

“Patrimony,” the man pronounced with satisfaction. “Highly illegal.”

“To take them out of Russia is a crime, but we do not take them out of Russia because we are not criminals. Our business is business—this is obvious to everyone. So enough stupidities.” He blew into his fists a couple of times for warmth and calculated. “I will sell you these four very fine artistical objects at the price of”—his ice-blue eyes scanning the sky for counsel—“at the exclusive price of eighteen hundred American dollars cash, no tax. Almost a gift.”

Odile sniffed. As it happened, she’d been given standing instructions to pay whatever was asked, and though mildly shocked by such intemperance she had purchased twenty-six flags over the past three days, never parting with more than three thousand for any single one. Her employer had given her a fifty-thousand-dollar stake to work with, and this would be the last of it. “Okay,” she said at last. “Pack them up, and we have a deal.”

BACK AT THE HOTEL, Thierry Colin was pacing the parquet floors in a state of some perturbation. A girl he’d met in the bar downstairs had contrived to separate him from his wallet and what remained of his hard currency while keeping up her end of a lively conversation about Russian literature. Thierry was an assistant professor at the Sorbonne.

“It’s the unreality of the place that offends me,” he said. “Nothing here is what it seems. A thief’s not a thief, the police aren’t police.”

“At least the girl was a girl, I hope,” Odile said, checking her watch.

Open on the bed lay the five suitcases in which they intended to transport the flags, now piled against a wall in smoldering array. It was apparent at a glance that space would be a problem.

Thierry ran a hand vexedly through his hair. “I wonder,” he mused. “Do we try to conceal them, or just stuff them in?”

“I’m sure it makes no difference.” She shook out one of the flags. “Here, help me.”

Odile had been put in touch with Thierry by the friend of someone she didn’t really know, a social acquaintance who’d guessed or been told about her current situation. Thierry, for his part, had been brought in by a cousin who happened to play squash with the scheme’s American sponsor, an appraiser for the Paris office of a celebrated auction house. Since Odile and Thierry would each be paid thirty thousand francs on delivery of the contraband flags, it seemed safe to infer that the American intended to make a good deal of money.

“What’s our plan for customs?” she asked as they packed the flags.

“I told you: our employer’s taken care of all the details. When we get to Brest, we just give customs our declaration forms and passports, then merci, bon voyage, we’re on our way.”

“Let’s hope so. With your money gone we have almost nothing left for bribes, fines, whatever they call them. Do we even have a clue what the penalty is for what we’re doing?”

“You don’t want to know, Odile. What’s more, it’s irrelevant. Customs has been paid to take our interests to heart.”

At the train station, a massive beaux arts fortress painted verdigris and cream, Odile ran ahead to claim their compartment and Thierry followed with the baggage cart. All westbound trains originated or terminated here, and as the passengers jostled past one another, conferring in the languages of Europe, Odile felt her spirits lift. She located their assigned compartment without difficulty—a two-berth cabin just far enough from the overburdened toilet—and when Thierry appeared on the platform outside, she threw the window open and took the suitcases from him. Ten minutes later he settled into the seat opposite her, and the train pulled off into an occluded sunset.

THE FROZEN RIVER, the enclosing highway, suburban housing blocks of unfaced concrete, ranks of rental garages built into the railroad embankment and guarded by dogs: they watched the landscape unspool until darkness was complete and nothing could be seen at the window except their own reflections.

“It’s a catastrophe, this country,” Thierry said.

Odile shrugged. There was no disputing his assessment.

The train picked up speed, its horn erupting at intervals that suggested frustrations incompletely contained. Balalaika music issued from unseen speakers, and after awhile Odile recognized it as an American pop song that had been popular when she was at lycée.

“When we first arrived,” she said, “I expected something marvelous. Something you could see on people’s faces, a wakefulness after all those years. It was unfair of me, but I thought they would be drunk with freedom.”

Thierry was unimpressed. “Drunk, yes. But not with freedom.”

“Now what seems strange is that I had any expectations at all. My ideas about this place came from nowhere, really. They weren’t even ideas.”

Watching her, Thierry took a cigarette from his coat pocket. “You say expectations, but that’s not what you mean.”

“Isn’t it?” she said. And then, with sudden irritation, “I wonder why not.”

From the corridor came a smell of socks, sweat, and pickled cabbage. The provodnitsa, an imperious, moon-faced woman in her late twenties, had locked all the windows before departure, and the air in the carriage had quickly gone stale.

“You’re describing longings, not expectations,” Thierry said. “And you’re hardly the only one. People want to believe a new life is possible, even if not for them. They still have faith in the fresh approach, the original act, all that. Yet this is a world in which everything of consequence is already known.” He frowned, turning the cigarette slowly over in his fingers as if examining it for fine print. “What to do in this painful situation?”

She pulled her sweater close about her shoulders. “I really don’t want to hear this, Thierry.”


“And you can’t smoke that in here.” Rummaging through her bag, she produced a brush and ran it repeatedly through her auburn hair.

Thierry watched and said, after awhile, in a different voice, “Don’t worry. I know you’re a serious woman.”

In the dining car they had to wait for a table, clinging to the safety rail as the carriage shimmied and bucked. Most of their fellow passengers had changed into loose-fitting clothes for the trip—sweatsuits, gym shoes that were more like slippers—and the mood was markedly more festive than it had been five days ago, traveling in the other direction.

They shared their table with an American student who’d come to Moscow from Beijing. The boy had changed all his yuan—five hundred dollars’ worth—into rubles on entry and had just now discovered that the rubles, which couldn’t be taken out of the country, could only be changed back into yuan, of which there were naturally none to be had. Rather than surrender his net worth at the border, he had decided to spend it all at the next stop with worthwhile goods for sale. Odile was worried by this boy—he would arrive in Paris without any money at all—but the thought brought with it a kind of pique. Someone else would have to take care of him.

After dinner, Thierry stayed behind to play chess with a Pole he’d be-friended and Odile returned to their compartment alone. She rented sheets and blankets from the provodnitsa, made up both couchettes, and lay down without undressing. The music program had been changed to Tchaikovsky. Moonlight fell intermittently into the compartment. The rails chattered.

Odile hadn’t considered herself committed to this trip until Thierry received their train tickets from the American, an hour before departure, and in her rush to reach the Gare du Nord a number of practical matters had gone untended. In particular, she’d failed to get a phone call through to her husband, Max, who was in New York visiting his daughter from his first marriage. After trying twice to phone him from Paris, she realized that her return ticket would get her home before Max anyway, and she set aside the idea of the call without ever quite meaning to abandon it. This lapse now unnerved her. Although it was not their habit to give daily account of themselves, Odile was troubled by her negligence, and she wondered what it might portend. At a time like this, she told herself, I can’t take anything for granted.

She woke hours later to the sound of Russian voices raised in song. When she switched on her reading lamp, she saw that Thierry’s berth was undisturbed, and after a moment’s thought she got up and left the compartment.

Their dinner companion had succeeded in spending his rubles at the Smolensk station and now, at one end of the carriage, spilling into the corridor, a party was in progress. Open cases of vodka and Georgian champagne, jars of Caspian caviar, smoked sturgeon in folds of brown paper: the boy had resolved that if he was to arrive in Paris destitute he might as well make the most of it. Half a dozen passengers had joined him in a mood of dutiful excess.

She found Thierry sequestered between cars, a champagne bottle in one hand, a cigarette in the other. There was a glow about him, a halation that went beyond the ordinary flush of someone drinking alone on a homebound train. Fleetingly, Odile was confused. This very scene, she realized, had played out before her eyes on some other occasion, in some other place.

Meet the Author

Ted Mooney is the author of 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, and he has received grants from the Guggenheim and the Ingram Merrill foundations. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Same River Twice 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
American filmmaker Max Colby is stunned when he finds a copy of a movie he made with a different ending than he filmed. At the same time his ego takes a shot as he always thought he was the best but the new climax is oddly amateurish yet in some ways superior to his though he would never admit this even to himself; his inquiry as to who changed the ending leads to the Russians. Meanwhile his fashion designer wife Odile is contacted for a chance to make some money and help her in trouble lover art dealer Turner by smuggling from Russia Communist Soviet flags to sell as avant-garde pieces. She and her traveling companion Thierry Colin succeed. However, almost immediately after they are back in the West, Colin vanishes and Odile's Paris apartment is broken into and turned upside down as someone looks for something. The Russians are coming as Max begins filming his latest movie about art creating art while hoping to serendipitously film Odile with her lover. Murder spins the cast in ways none would have suspected before the sale of Communist flag as great art. This is a wonderful yet odd thriller that ties the chic art avant-garde film worlds of New York and Paris with criminal mob activity. Everyone is a wannabe Machiavellian manipulator trying to pull the strings of everyone else who are doing likewise. Although the homicide is over the top of the Pyrenees, fans who appreciate something different will enjoy the character driven tale of how dangerous crossing The Same River Twice is when the Russian Mafia are the toll collectors. Harriet Klausner
Loucypher More than 1 year ago
A director, clothes designer, art dealer, actors and actresses, Russian Mafia, lawyers, anarchists, scientists, and children all combine in this book for a wonderful and interesting story. At first I found it a little hard to get into the story but from the wonderful writing I kept giving it a chance. The characters are very well developed and the storyline is very smooth and easy to follow. I especially enjoyed some of the descriptive narrative about France and the people there. Once I got into the story about 70 pages in It was hard to put down. I would definitely recommend this as a good summer read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago