The Cure, by Athol Dickson

A while back I made an attempt to write a novel in which one main character was someone who (like me) suffered from Avoidant Personality Disorder.

I wrestled with that book for months before finally giving up on it. I realized at last that the character was so timid and passive that even I—who was him, more or less—didn’t care what happened to him.

That was kind of my problem with The Cure, too. I’m not saying it’s a bad book. I recommend it, especially as compared to most Christian Booksellers Association fare. But I had trouble, especially with the main character.

The Cure concerns the town of Dublin, Maine. Homeless people have been collecting in Dublin in unusual numbers, because of a rumor that’s gotten around that somebody—no one is sure who—in Dublin has a cure for alcoholism. The town’s economy is bad, and an influx of non-productive visitors is the last thing it needs.

Among these homeless is Riley Keep, who grew up in Dublin. Once he was a pastor here. Once he taught at a nearby college. From here he went to Brazil as a missionary.

But a tragedy in Brazil (explained to us gradually, in flashbacks) broke his heart and most of his faith. He became an alcoholic, abandoned his wife and daughter, and went on the road. He’s only come back now because he has a friend who won’t last much longer without the Cure.

Riley’s ex-wife is mayor of Dublin now. But nobody recognizes him at first.

Then one day he wakes up in an alley, his hunger for alcohol completely vanished. In his pocket he finds a small packet of powder, along with a note explaining its use, and a chemical formula.

He gives the powder to some others, and they are immediately healed. Then everybody finds out about it, and the others want the Cure too, and Riley is attacked by a mob. That’s only the beginning of the trouble, as the army of the homeless becomes a genuine civil threat, and powerful people who want the Cure start pressuring Riley and everyone he cares about.

It’s a good idea for a story, but (in my opinion) the execution here could have been better. Riley Keep is essentially a passive guy, and he deals with all crises by taking the line of least resistance. This provides an excellent moral object lesson, but makes a story that might have been very gripping, just irritating in places. A better protagonist, I think, would have been the mayor, Riley’s ex-wife, who has some spirit. It would have called for some re-plotting, but I think it would have made for a more compelling narrative.

Another flaw is that what is supposed to be a big revelation toward the end was telegraphed miles off, because the author falls into a much-overused character stereotype.

Dickson is Dickson, and he’s not capable of producing a really bad book.

But I wanted to like The Cure more than I did.

5 thoughts on “The Cure, by Athol Dickson”

  1. You have a point, certainly, but I enjoyed the book a lot more than this. Riley’s scurrying away from the light to avoid recognition worked for me, even as I hated how he wouldn’t talk straight to his daughter or his initial passively accepting whatever his wife said. I identified with him and wanted to see him work through it.

    Still you may be right to say the novel would be twice as good if the lead character stronger, someone who could knock the bad guys back a step and make them rethink their plan of attack.

  2. I liked Dickson’s River Rising. I thought it had a great and unusual plot with a strong protagonist. Based on that, I bought The Cure just after it came out–I bought the hardback, which was something I’d only done previously for Patrick O’Brian–and was very disappointed. And that’s about all I remember about it.

  3. Um, guys, you aren’t helping me decide whether to read this book or not! I am getting a lot of ambivalence instead … 😉

    I too loved River Rising and bought The Cure as a result. I have been vacillating on weather to read it or not.

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