Meeting across the River has a truly unusual and creative premise for a collection of 20 short stories. Its subtitle, Stories Inspired by the Haunting Bruce Springsteen Song, reveals the premise: every story (each by a different author) was inspired in its own way by Springsteen’s “Meeting across the River.” Editors Jessica Kaye and Richard J. Brewer have selected a wide variety of tales, ranging from serious and intense to light and humorous. Because the song itself is quite ambiguous, the authors have been free to interpret it in many different ways, though all have stuck to the story line and the names of the characters, especially Eddie and Cherry. For instance, consider this stanza:
Well Cherry says she’s gonna walk
’Cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it
But Eddie, man, she don’t understand
That two grand’s practically sitting here in my pocket
We don’t know how the speaker is expecting to get his two grand — drugs? gambling? weapons deal? — but we definitely get a sense of what he is like and what Cherry is like, all from four short lines.
We don’t even know where this is all taking place, although the line “Gotta make it through the tunnel” and the fact that Springsteen is from Jersey certainly suggests that he’s talking about the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel and therefore the deal is in New York City. (Of course I might be biased, since I’m from Jersey myself.) Some of the authors follow up on this idea, some don’t. For instance, here is the opening of Eddie Muller’s contribution:
…He just stares straight ahead at the lights on Canal Street and aims the Cadillac toward the tunnel, getting us the hell out of Manhattan and back to Bayonne.
No doubt about the setting in that story, is there?
Perhaps the most creative setting is found in Eric Garcia’s story: a Monopoly board! Well, actually it’s the fictionalized Atlantic City featured in Monopoly, but Garcia’s characters are, of course, the Parker brothers, and we get paragraphs like this one:
So Jimmy kept walking. Past Eddie’s place on St. Charles, past the new hotel on Tennessee Avenue, past the free parking, Marvin Gardens, the old waterworks, and the rest of the chichi suburbs on Pacific and Pennsylvania Avenues. Jimmy kept moving because he had no choice. Soon he was past the high-rise towers on Park Place and heading for a walk on the boardwalk. After that, he figured he’d start all over again. Maybe find someone else to loan him two hundred bucks.
Other stories in the collection were written by William Kent Krueger, Pam Houston, C.J. Box, Gregg Hurwitz, Michael John Richardson, and a host of other authors. The stories range in length from six pages to 18, but the average is only ten, so the book is easily digested in bite-sized chunks. In order to avoid the easy trap of confusing one story with another — given the similarities of names and themes — I listened to them one or two at a time, spreading it over a period of many months. But of course it wouldn’t be hard to go through all 20 stories, one after another. Try them out in whichever manner you prefer, and be sure to listen to the song at several points along the way.