An uncommonly clearsighted collection of short fiction (starred)
“Though journalist Anderson is a first-time author, her sensitive and startlingly perceptive debut proves she’s on her way to being a master. With the grace of an adept eavesdropper, these 17 short stories slip quietly into the heartbreaks, disappointments and hopes of people living in Maine’s western valleys… In plainspoken but richly detailed prose, she captures the claustrophobia of small-town life, and in each story, her protagonists seem caught in the moment just before epiphany, looking through windows into what else might be possible. By rooting herself in objects and description, Anderson manages to navigate this interior landscape without veering too far into the sentimental. Of a character visiting a former home where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife, Anderson writes: “When Jeanine sits the groan of the springs is familiar. On one of the pillows is a long brown hair, Diane’s. Jeanine picks the strand up and studies it—no split end—then drops it.” In these small moments, Anderson’s gifts of attention and emotional precision are on shining display. Though the stories here all share a particular world and mood, Anderson also reveals impressive range: Her characters—of different genders, ages and dispositions—each have a distinct voice, and she writes confidently in first-, second- and third-person points of view… [T]here’s not a single story readers will be tempted to skip.
A triumphant, probing debut that promises both literary and mass appeal.”
“Anderson’s debut story collection features the mill towns of Maine and their denizens. Taxidermists, bartenders, hunters, and fishermen fill these pages, with attention given to both their labor and their private lives…. [In “Mavak Tov”] Kat DiMarco, renamed “Ranya” after she joins a cult, fears that her husband is using her brain-damaged daughter to attract publicity. Ranya attempts an ineffective escape by canoe, which Anderson depicts with compassion and grace: “Her leave-taking will be much like her arrival—heedless and alone.” In “The Geometry of Words,” Usha, a college student, understands that two classmates are in love as one uses his sweater to dry rainwater from another’s hair. Anderson seizes on such moments to showcase her strength: clear, unhurried, confident prose with no intentions of showing off. Though Anderson’s settings are similar, she introduces a range of people—from Korean War veterans to Somali refugees—each carefully crafted, each bearing a measure of dignity.” (For full review)
San Francisco Book Review:
“This intriguing book is centered by the understated murmuring of the river in the background; seemingly constant, but, in fact, endlessly changing and with the potential for reinvention. The stories are poignant, written in tight, quiet prose; readers will feel drawn to these characters written with empathy and compassion. Although bleak, the stories are tempered by small rays of hope as many of the characters realize they still have some volition and can try to shape their own fates. River Talk is a sensitive book, carefully constructed, that has a still power reflective of the river itself.” (Full review)
Midwest Book Review:
“These are ‘ordinary’ people involved in extraordinary situations, and they are living their lives on the edge while formulating new worldviews and tools for personal survival. Expect no easy answers – and no easy questions, either. It’s CB Anderson’s talent in bringing together these disparate lives with minimal direction and seemingly effortless observation that makes this literary collection shine.”
Portland Press Herald:
“A collection of short stories that are simultaneously rich, taut and spare… What Anderson portrays so deftly are the undercurrents that hover just beneath the surface… Hers are not stories of high drama or grand ambitions; they’re universal tales of ordinary heartbreak, of small triumphs and moving on. Add a visceral tension between characters that seems spring-loaded, and it’s all the drama one needs.”
Foreword Reviews: (Five-Star Review)
Person and place intersect to offer insight into what dysfunction, within both individuals and families, reveals about us.
The characters in C. B. Anderson’s impressive collection River Talk live in and around western Maine’s river valleys.. Take, for example, the wounded souls at the heart of “Frame.” After Ray moves out of the house, his wife, Alice, plummets into depression and signs herself into a treatment facility in Wellbridge. Now he’s back, tending to their two boys, Sean and Richie. Rushing to get out the door for a visit to see their mother, Ray impulsively decides to bring along a fish tank where “the remaining tetras weave through artificial seaweed, unfazed by their diminished numbers.” Over the course of the drive, Ray recalls his early courtship with Alice and the bright prospects of their future together.
But, as in many of these rueful and closely observed stories, things don’t turn out as planned. Still, the story ends on a hopeful note: “Later, after the aquarium crashes, Ray will remember not the moments his sons fought and he knew that it would end poorly, but something else.” As Alice, an amateur photographer, snaps photos of the boys, “[Ray] noticed Alice had stepped back and widened the angle to include him in the frame. He leaned toward the boys, waited.”
Readers will quickly discern that Anderson, a native of Maine who grew up in a village on the Androscoggin River, knows the area and the people she writes about.
Bushnell on Books:
Writers of short stories would do well to remember poet Robert Browning’s sage advice: “Less is more.” Too many short-story writers forget that their stories are supposed to be succinct, focused and short. Fortunately, author C.B. Anderson doesn’t have that problem.
Anderson was born and raised in Maine and has won numerous awards for her short fiction. This collection of 17 previously published stories shows why those awards are so well deserved…. Readers will discover the uncomfortable reality that may expose them, or the sudden recognition that they know people just like those in these stories.
Literary Hoarders: (Four stars)
I’ve been on a bit of a short story kick this year, and many of this year’s published collections have been wonderful. River Talk easily joins this “club wonderful”. The stories in this collection make for greatly satisfying reading… River Talk is an outstanding collection.
[The story Skipjack] was a remarkably powerful read. Claire and Nora’s father served in the Korean War. However, growing up there were two things they were always warned not to do: Do not touch your father when he is asleep and Do not talk about the war. Now, Reed, their father, is telling the stories like water gushing from the tap. Claire wonders if it’s because “If I tell you this, then you will understand the rest.” It was a story I wanted to settle in with and read more of.
Everything: A two page story that will hit you like a ton of bricks. All kinds of emotion packed in to those few little paragraphs. Perhaps one of my favourites in this collection. And then River Talk happened. Here is another strong story, packed with all kinds of goodness. Ena is remembering a time when she was fourteen and a new family moved in across the street, recounting her story to her fiancé Jack. She would babysit the two kids and their father stayed home most times to work in the barn. All I’m sharing about this one, kids. It’s really good though, again, another favourite of the bunch.
Two Falls: and the hits keep on coming! This was a wonderful, wonderful story. Amina and her husband have escaped the violence and tragedy in Somalia to settle in Two Falls, Maine. A fantastic story told from the point of view from Amina, of the changes and new experiences she experiences in this vastly different new world. Really loved this one too.
River Talk is a collection of seventeen stories, each vastly different from each other, but all considerably well done… 4 stars = excellent.
“In the tradition of Winesburg, Ohio, CB Anderson follows the discrete and diverse lives of characters in a small town, revealing both the heart and heartache that surrounds us all. This is a powerful and wonderfully insightful book; I can’t imagine a reader who wouldn’t come away moved and illuminated.”
—Antonya Nelson, award-winning author of Bound and nine other books
“A stellar, fully realized collection of stories. River Talk is grounded, wonderfully, in the river valleys of Western Maine but Anderson knows her diverse collection of characters just as intimately – their desires, their secrets – and you come away not only understanding a place but the soul of its people.”
—Peter Orner, award-winning author of Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge and five other books
“I adored these stories, every one of which engaged my mind and my heart. Anderson writes with wisdom, generosity, and beauty about people we don’t see often enough in contemporary literature. She gives us minimum-wage strivers, doing their best and sometimes their worst, and asks us to see them, hear them, walk with them for a while. Anderson is a marvelous writer, but her best gift is simple and rare: empathy.”
—Monica Wood, best-selling author of When We Were the Kennedys and six other books
“CB Anderson’s River Talk is more than just an extraordinary debut. It is that rare work of literary art that sneaks up on you, acquiring power and depth from story to story until, by the end, you realize that a master storyteller had been leading you to a surprising and yet altogether inevitable destination. The down-on-its-luck Maine mill town that is the setting for so many of the stories isn’t some distant, rusting relic, the industrial by-product of someone else’s American dream. China Falls is where we all live now.”
—Paul Doiron, best-selling author of Massacre Pond and three other books
“CB Anderson’s powerful prose collection, River Talk, reminds us that lives can be hardscrabble and quietly meditative. The struggling towns of western Maine animate River Talk, with their fiercely believable characters and potent natural backdrops, as in the abandoned mines of the award-winning story “Tourmaline.” Think Alice Munro crossed with Bobbie Ann Mason: the characters in these stories manage to be familiar and mysterious.”
—Carolyn Alessio, Prose Editor, Crab Orchard Review
“Rifts are raw and togetherness tenuous for those living on the banks of Maine’s Mason River. CB Anderson explores her characters with generosity and with an authenticity that catches one off guard–both for how precisely she captures her characters and for how honestly she bares their souls.”
—Cynthia Phoel, award-winning author of Cold Snap: Bulgaria Stories
“Brimming with life lived on the edge of insecurity, Anderson’s collection compels us with its sharply heard and imagined “river talk.” Listen in as the men and women of small towns in inland Maine steadily surprise not only us but themselves. There’s no surprise though in these stories having won already an impressive handful of individual awards.”
—David Hamilton, Editor Emeritus, The Iowa Review