Once upon a time, several lives ago, I was a Spanish major in college, and for a literature class I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic, Cien Anos de Soledad—in Spanish. In the middle of the book something odd happened; it started raining yellow flowers, I think, or something like that. I re-read and re-read, but I couldn’t figure out whether there was some Spanish idiom I wasn’t getting or if it was really supposed to be raining yellow flowers. I had to ask the Spanish professor, and he said that yes, it was raining yellow flowers, and that was my introduction to “magical realism.”
So, when I read on the back cover of River Rising that the novel “explores a variety of complex issues, such as racial equality and religious faith—all with a tasteful touch of magical realism,” I thought I should prepare for a wild ride. What I wasn’t prepared for was the “variety of complex issues” part. And I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by the powerful story that Dickson tells. Comparatively speaking, the magical stuff was fairly tame. It was the part of the book that could be real, the part that felt real, that made me stop, think and breathe deeply.
River Rising is set in southern Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, just before and during the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. The characters are residents of Pilotville, LA, a small town surrounded by swampland, and one stranger who comes to town to find out about his parentage. Hale Poser, the stranger, grew up in an orphanage, became a preacher, and now has come to Pilotville in hope of finding out something about his heritage. As soon as Rev. Poser hits town, strange things start happening, odd things like fruit growing where no fruit is expected to be, things that are attributable either to God or to chance or to Hale Poser the Miracle man. Along with the good and the merely odd, evil things begin to happen, too. A baby is kidnapped, and Mr. Poser may be responsible for her disappearance, or he may be her saviour.
By the time you get this far in the book, I think you’ll be hooked. As you read on, you’ll encounter more “magical realism” but also more and more Biblical allusions and symbolism and more and more food for thought. Hale Poser is Moses, or maybe Noah, or a miracle worker, or a prophet, or maybe a representative of Satan. Pilotville is heaven on earth where black folks and white people work together and help each other and get along, or it’s a hell on earth where things are not at all what they seem to be on the surface. There’s a flood, reminiscent of the Biblical deluge, but also strangely enough, a reminder of recent events in New Orleans, events that hadn’t even occurred at the time that River Rising was written. Even so, the book shows, as Katrina’s devastation showed, that such a flood can be horribly destructive, but also can provide an opportunity for cleansing and for a new beginning.
The novel also explores slavery and race relations using a plot premise that may be as old as the hills but one that I hadn’t thought of before. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was surprised and and intrigued by the basic plot of this story and the possibilities inherent for drawing analogies to spiritual realities.
River Rising was published by Bethany House and is available from Amazon or other bookstores. In case you need more information or persuasion to read this spiritually challenging and fascinating novel, here are a few other blog reviews of River Rising:
Lars Walker: “Buy this book (or at least keep it in mind for when it comes out in paperback). Bethany should be rewarded for publishing something this good, and Athol Dickson ought to be the bestselling novelist in CBA. He ought to be a bestselling novelist in mainstream literature, for that matter.”
Christian Fiction Review: “If this is an example of what Christian fiction will bring us in 2006, we are in for a banner year. Highly Recommended.”
Violet Nesdoly at promptings: “Dickson does not hesitate to sink his teeth into some pretty grand themes.”