I have a strange reader’s relationship with Rick Dewhurst. My limited, personal online contact with him, as well as my reading of his work, suggests to me that he’s a good guy, a good pastor, and a good writer. Yet I’ve had trouble with his novels. I reviewed his novel Bye Bye Bertie, a satire of evangelical culture presented as a mystery story, and had difficulty seeing the point (I suppose that may mean I’m just the kind of Christian he’s lampooning). His novel The Darkest Valley, which I also reviewed, was a story of a failed ministry. It was far more accessible to me, but kind of a polar opposite of the first book – so realistic and tragic that I had a hard time dealing with it.
His new novel, The Dregs of Aquarius, falls somewhere in between. I think it’s far more successful as a novel, and has the further advantage of being hilarious in parts.
Tom Pollard, the main character, is a hippie in a small British Columbia town, (apparently) sometime in the 1970s. He has a job as a bartender, but his life centers on his circle of stoner friends, some of them American draft dodgers, with whom he regularly gets drunk and high. What seems to him a pretty idyllic existence is marred only by two things – as a result of a head injury, he has recently begun to see spiritual beings, whom he thinks of as gods, hovering in the sky. And his girlfriend Ruby, whom he cares for more than he’s willing to admit, is showing signs of being drawn back to “straight” life, and has gone home to spend time with her parents.
She didn’t really want to control me. She only wanted a real person to relate to, and I didn’t want to be one. But then why would I want to define myself or be defined. I knew that if you began to coalesce around a solid identity, there was a good chance you might be held accountable.
Tom’s adventures climax in a marathon “encounter session” (you’ll remember what those were if you’re old enough) that’s as good an example of escalating slapstick as I’ve ever encountered in a book.
I had a little trouble with the ending of the story, but not because I thought it was badly done or inappropriate. On the contrary, it’s exactly the kind of payoff you look for in a Christian novel. It just struck me as oddly… conventional in a book this eccentric.
But maybe that was the point.
It’s also a little jarring that the main characters of this funny book, Tom and Ruby, are the same people as the pastor and his wife who suffer so in The Darkest Valley. It’s a strange juxtaposition, though I suppose there may be a larger purpose.
In any case, I can recommend The Dregs of Aquarius. Not perfect, but a rare example of a Christian comic novel that works. Also a pretty good evocation of a time which (thankfully) has passed forever. Let’s hope.