River Rising by Athol Dickson

I put River Rising in my Amazon cart while buying some other books—homeschool material I think—saying to myself I should buy a good book like this one, fun to spend money on myself, buy something good to read as though I didn’t have other good books on the shelf to read—books I bought for friends or family and never wrapped up or all those Graham Greene books I bought for $0.99 each and failed to read the rest of that summer as I had planned. So I bought River Rising, and when it came, I put it neatly on the shelf. It’s wonderful to have a new potential read smiling down on me from a line of other potential reads.

I tell myself I should read more and blog less. I say it with a weak voice from behind my gullet, which regularly questions my motives and actions. When I read, it asks if I shouldn’t be writing; when I write, it asks if I shouldn’t be reading or gardening or cleaning, parenting, diapering, fixing, or working on something more profitable than writing what-is-it-again. Moments of clarity or passion prevail at times, of course, or you wouldn’t know me in these words.

I didn’t have a newborn at the time I bought the book. She’s four months old, and the book was acquired a several months ago. I didn’t have her then, so I didn’t have to hold her gassy tummy and wiggly arms. She’s such a precious thing, spit-up and all, and there’s a patch of spit-up cheese on the carpet there, sweet wife, if you would grab a towel while you’re up. I didn’t have the princess tiny when I bought River Rising, so I didn’t have that delay on reading it.

I read most of it—maybe half of it, no, I can’t remember now—while on a trip in St. Charles, Illinois. It was well-reviewed by the better lit-bloggers last year. I won’t repeat any plot points for you here, because you can easily find those elsewhere and for another reason. I knew the gist of the first several chapters as I read them, so I wasn’t surprised at any of it; but the characters were shocked by the conflict around them. I wanted to be too. River Rising is a stirring historical drama, and I wonder if I would have be more thrilled by it if I had been more ignorant of it.

As it was, I read half of it during my free afternoons in a St. Charles hotel room while tornado sirens blared from a nearby airport and rain crashed like the tide over the hotel’s ground floor section. A bit distracting, yes, and I hadn’t read to the part where the small Louisiana town is threatened by a flood, but it felt appropriately atmospheric nonetheless. I love the sound rainfall, water in general I suppose—a babbling creek, a cascade, rain on the tent roof, rain on the concrete, ocean waves (though the ocean still scares me somehow; it is an alien environment, not caring if I live or get mistaken for food).

I read on a blog that Athol Dickson thought he had to dish out meaty reality in this story, because the historical context demanded it even to the point of repeatedly using an offensive word. Perhaps I’m too steeped in old literature and Southern American stories, because I didn’t give a second thought to that word. I would never use it, but I expect it of Louisianans of 1927.

Proper use of language doesn’t come near my one complaint about this book. Dickson’s admirable writing style stretches thin at a few spots in the latter chapters when he appears to be afraid we will miss one of his plot details. I admit it is an impressive point. I loved reading it at the first revelation and still enjoyed it when it echoed back a few pages later, but when it came up again—twice more I think—with the same isn’t-this-remarkable language tied to it, I worried that Dickson assumed his readers were too dense to catch on.

In long because it can’t be in short, I recommend the book. The story of Hale Poser’s coming to Pilotsville and the trouble he inadvertently stirs up has some wonderful suspense and plenty of local color. The memorable characters conflict over the substance of faith, the basic rights of human beings, and their manmade framework for public life. I just heard that a friend, who reads a great deal, was surprised a modern Christian fiction writer could produce such a deep and engaging story. Perhaps, you will be surprised too, even if you don’t read it in a gale storm.

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