Where the Rivers Flow North

Written by Howard Frank Mosher
Review by Andrea Bell

This reissue of Mosher’s 1978 story collection was my introduction to the author’s work; it deserves a much wider audience outside New England. The six short stories and title novella take place in Kingdom County, Vermont, in the early or mid-20th century, as do many of Mosher’s other works. The stories are “regional writing” in the sense that they masterfully evoke a sense of time and place— Mosher is gifted enough that he can transport the reader to Kingdom County in merely a handful of sentences—but the characters and stories transcend geography.

Readers expecting cozy New England tales should beware: Mosher’s Kingdom County is a harsh, rural area, filled with resourceful but weary characters who have had more than their share of hard luck and must decide how to handle their lots in life. The dying ex-basketball player and his wife are resigned and numb in “The Peacock,” after joy deserts them. The title character of “Burl” is at peace, oddly so, since she claims to have used hate to survive her fascinating misfortunes. “High Water” (possibly my favorite story, excepting the novella) concerns young Waterman’s refusal to surrender his dream to become a stock car racer, when everything surrounding him (from his father to the weather) is clearly trying to hold him back – and may succeed. The title novella is a McCabe & Mrs. Miller-esque masterwork that tells of old Noël Lord’s refusal to leave his ancestral land in 1927 when the Northern Vermont Power Company decides to build a dam. Each piece in this collection could merit a full review; each one is a lesson in storytelling, and it makes me look forward to reading all of Mosher’s work.