Bee Ridgeway: “River of No Return”


Imagine being in a situation where you face almost certain death and at that instant you feel the very essence of yourself pulled away, landing you 200 years in the future. You are told by others like you that you can never return to your own time, so you get acclimated and resettled.

But one day you learn otherwise. You can return to your time. And when you do so, many of your new sensibilities, customs and mannerisms return with you, making it difficult to see the world the same as you once did.

Bee Ridgeway is a professor of 19th-century literature at Bryn Mawr University and “The River of No Return” is her first novel — a story of love and conflict and being in the right place at the right time.

PGN: Why write a book about time travel? BR: Part of my inspiration was my students. Not everyone chooses to come to an all-women’s school in 2013. Many of them just want to do something different but many of them maybe aren’t prepared to read 19th-century literature when they get here. And then I love that moment when they come in and they love it. They get it. It is like they performed time travel, because that’s what really good books do to the reader.

PGN: Did you deliberately choose to not have gay characters? BR: Now that’s an interesting question. When I started writing it, it was a huge deep, dark secret. I only told my girlfriend and my brother. I did not tell my parents. I told no friends until basically a year and I had sold it. And then it gained momentum and I got an agent and it started being a big deal. It was so exciting. Eventually I thought, Why are there no gay characters? I’m totally, like, lesbian about town, I teach gay stuff, you know at the college, and a lot of my friends are queer and it was like, What’s wrong with me? And then I realized, I kind of wrote it in the closet! You know what I mean? It was a really important secret to me. It was also writing about my own happiness and being queer. It was also a beautiful secret aspect. It was a secret pleasure, like queerness is a secret pleasure.

PGN: Tell me about the characters. BR: Well, the main character is a man. He’s very much my character. I don’t think I’m him, but he’s the one who first came into my head, he’s the type of character I always said I would have if I ever returned to writing. There’s a way the gender differences, including his own masculinity in the 19th century, is different than in the present, which makes it a kind of a gender study than anything about sexuality. Masculinity in the 19th century was more violent and more effeminate. He could beat the shit out of someone and then walk out in the open carrying, like, purses or something. It’s a weird kind of perversity, but in a good way.

PGN: You said you are going to write a sequel. What can we expect? BR: I am going to introduce some new characters and I think I might include some gay characters, I don’t know yet. I know I will bring some of these characters back as part of the story because they are part of the time travel family. There are a lot of loose ends and unresolved pieces and I have a couple of characters that need to play a bigger role in the next one.