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River Music by Mary Soderstrom


Gloria Murray’s daughter jokes that Gloria would have sold her first born to further her musical career — a reproach closer to the truth than anyone but Gloria suspects.

Gloria, born just before the Great Depression, knows from the moment she hears a soaring song played on the piano that she must follow that river of emotion. After an adolescence playing in churches and hotel lobbies, she prepares to study in post- World War II France, when another sort of passion intrudes and, halfway through her year abroad, she finds herself forced into a hard choice that she shares with no one. Her career blossoms, she marries, and has two more children, and her secret seems best forgotten – until, thirty years later, she learns of the murder of a young composer who could have been her son.

Set against a backdrop of war, economic changes, and social upheavals, River Music explores the sacrifices that women make to fulfill their destiny, the wildcards of sex and passion, and the complicated relationships between mothers and their children.


This part of the story Gloria told her granddaughter Julie several times, but even though she told Frances too, her daughter never listened.

The piano, when it came, arrived before Gloria’s father, on the second Saturday morning in early April when the snow was just about gone, revealing the streets dirty with trash accumulated during the winter. When Gloria woke up, her mother was already in the kitchen, which was unusual for a weekend. On weekdays, her mother made Gloria oatmeal and saw that her face was washed and her school uniform was neat; on weekends her mother slept in.

“That’s the big problem with my job,” she told Mrs. Meade. “The schedule is so different from what a kid needs.” This morning she was up and dressed. She had on a skirt and blouse, stockings, and low-heeled shoes, which also surprised Gloria because her mother rarely looked so plain. Gloria liked the way she looked when she went to work, in a neat little black dress with a colourful scarf topped with a scarlet jacket. “Working clothes,” her mother said. Mrs. Meade would often make some remark about how she ought to be careful not to be too flamboyant or
some people might think she was another kind of working girl.

Her mother didn’t reply to comments like these, and Gloria was given to think there was something wrong about them. But she was particularly pleased to see her mother dressed so nicely this morning, as if she were a teacher or the secretary in the church office.

“Look out the window in front,” her mother said after Gloria had eaten her porridge. “Tell me what you see.”

The two windows in the front room, which doubled as a sitting room and bedroom for Gloria’s mother, looked down from the second storey directly onto the street. Gloria ran out of the kitchen, down the hall past the doors to the bathroom and her room, and across her mother’s room to the windows. She pushed aside the curtains and looked down.

Their building was flush with the sidewalk, only a stoop and a low, brick wall separating it from passersby — not that there were many. The houses along this street had been built when the first factories and warehouses had gone in along the railroad line thirty years before; few people besides those who lived here had reason to use the street. On Saturday the foot traffic headed toward the shops on St. Lawrence or St. Denis, depending on whether the shoppers were English or French or immigrants. Gloria’s mother and Mrs. Meade always headed west, to St. Lawrence. Through the window, Gloria saw a truck, which was a rare occurrence on the street. It was painted white with big black letters: George Smith and Sons, Carters. Two men, both of them dressed in checked, woollen shirts, with black caps on their heads, stood, appearing to wait for a taxi, which pulled up. A tall, thin man in a grey overcoat, wearing a fedora, emerged. The brim of the hat obscured his face, but the way he walked over to the men and began gesturing seemed familiar.

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historical fiction



Cormorant Books