Book info


Gone 'Til November

The Heartbreak Lounge

The Barbed-Wire Kiss

Hey, Eddie, They're Writing Our Song
July 24, 2005


    GIVEN the current discord in the community of Springsteen worshipers -- sour reviews of his April release, "Devils & Dust," led to both fervent Boss-defending and disappointed speculation that "Bruuuuuuuce!" had entered permanent retirement -- the appearance of "Meeting Across the River" (Bloomsbury USA, $14.95) this month may be what is exactly needed to reconcile the faithful. At least in New Jersey.

    When a book of short stories tries to interpret a classic Springsteen song in settings as improbable as Tijuana, Minnesota and Michigan, after all, how far off can a full, united Garden State raspberry be?

    "Meeting Across the River" ("Stories Inspired by the Haunting Bruce Springsteen Song" is its subtitle) strings together 20 short stories that weld the skeleton of a script Mr. Springsteen laid out in his 1975 song, off the "Born to Run" album, to fully developed plots. As raw material, the threadbare lyric gave the writers little to go on besides a nameless down-on-his-luck narrator on his way to a $2,000 score; a guy named Eddie enlisted to take him through the tunnel across the river; and a bent-out-of-shape girl, Cherry, whose radio has been hocked.

    "That particular song had always been somewhere in my head," said Jessica Kaye, a Los Angeles publishing lawyer who developed the idea and contributed a story to the collection. "It's so evocative. I always wanted to write something about it, and I found myself staring at my computer screen. I thought, 'I wish I could give this to Nora Ephron, who's so clever and so charming, or to Stephen King, who'd have a totally different read on it."'

    Ms. Ephron and Mr. King declined, apparently, but the writers recruited by Ms. Kaye and the book's other editor, Richard J. Brewer, are either well known within their genres -- Pam Houston, Eric Garcia and Greg Hurwitz among them -- or first-timers who impressed the editors and a selection committee at Bloomsbury. The resulting book, six years in the making (including a hold-your-breath phase of several weeks in which the editors awaited Mr. Springsteen's permission to use the song), "turned out completely different than what I expected," Ms. Kaye said. "Everybody had vastly different ideas."

    Barbara Seranella, the Southern California writer of the Munch Mancini series of crime novels, set her story, "Payday," near the Rio Grande. "For me, the words made me think of these houses in the desert set on mounds," she said in a phone interview. "I always thought they had to be dope dealers' houses, and I wanted to write about them. I thought they probably crossed the river going into Mexico, that that could be the river. Is there a river in New Jersey?"

    Wallace Stroby, the collection's sole New Jersey contributor, claims to have a better idea of the river Mr. Springsteen intended.

    "It's obvious that the river they're crossing is going into New York," said Mr. Stroby, who lives in Ocean Grove, writes crime novels and considers Mr. Springsteen his "spiritual adviser."

    "I think I brought the New Jersey sensibility," he said. "My story hews a little closer to the details of the song as they are perceived. What New York means to people in this area is something very specific. It represents adventure, danger, sex. Especially in the 70's, when the song was written. It's all encapsulated in this song." And in Mr. Stroby's story, which is set the year before "Born to Run's" release.

    "Of course Springsteen would say it could mean anything to anybody," Mr. Stroby said, offering what sounded like a disclaimer. "This was a book conceived by people from L.A."

    - copyright 2005 The New York Times

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