Thursday, March 25, 2010

Athol Dickson's "River Rising"

I grew up in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, in a suburb of New Orleans. Jefferson extends from Lake Pontchartrain on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south. Below New Orleans and to the east, separated from Jefferson by the Mississippi River, is Plaquemines Parish. For a very long time, Plaquemines was governed by one man, Leander Perez, who was known for his less-than-liberal views on all things, including race.

It is the fictional town of Pilotville, set in 1927 Plaquemines Parish, that is the setting of Athol Dickson’s 2005 novel River Rising. As in all of Dickson’s, “place” plays a very important role, often becoming another major character in the story. And that is what happens in “River Rising.”

The Rev. Hale Poser guides his leaking pirogue (that’s Cajun for canoe) into Pilotville from New Orleans. He gets a job as a janitor at the infirmary for the town’s black people, and shortly thereafter performs a healing miracle for a woman in childbirth – or what is believed to be a healing miracle. Then her baby daughter is stolen, and the whole town, white and black, turns out to search. This stolen baby turns out to be only one of many others stolen over the years. Poser, compelled by something he doesn’t understand, keeps looking for her when everyone else stops. He canoes deep into the swamp, almost dying from lack of food and water in the process, and eventually finds the missing baby. And he finds a lot more: an almost unspeakable horror.

This is 1927, and something else is at play – the Mississippi River. The historical flood of that year serves an apocalyptic purpose in the story, and the river will both destroy and expose, and possibly help redeem.

This novel received a host of accolades and recognitions, including the Christy Award for best Christian novel of the year. But its appeal is much broader, for it is not so much a Christian novel as it is a very fine novel written by an author who happens to be a Christian. It is a grand story, and an honest one. And it ends up being a story of great beauty.


Athol Dickson writes on “Forgotten Beauty” at Novel Journey.

The Beauty of Athol Dickson, my post published Thursday at The Christian Manifesto.


katdish said...

Ooo! That sounds like a wonderful read! Thanks for the review.

Louise Gallagher said...

oooh, Thanks Glynn for the recommend! I didn't grow up in the South -- always wished I had! and I really enjoy books about the south so I'll definitely check this one out.

Maureen said...

You never recommend anything that isn't good. I'll put this on a wish list.

Anonymous said...

sounds good.