I picked up this book through Paperback Swap because it is the July selection for the Semicolon Book Club. Although I cannot meet face-to-face with Sherry and her other book club members in Texas, I trust her book recommendations, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong if I played along this year. River Rising is the third Athol Dickson book I’ve read (read my other reviews here and here), and I actually read the others due to Sherry’s choosing River Rising for the book club, so I have her to thank for my introduction to this very talented author of Christian fiction.
River Rising is the story of Hale Poser, a black man who appears in Pilotville, Louisiana, in the 1920s in search of his roots. Pilotville is something of an anomaly for this time period in the South; on the surface, it appears that blacks and whites get along together and actually have some sort of relationship, even if they are still segregated where it matters most: in the Lord’s house. However, there is an evil lurking in Pilotville that Hale, due to his spiritual vision and his faith, is led by God to help expose.
I’m writing an intentionally vague synopsis because I don’t want to reveal anything about this very suspenseful plot, but I will say that the twists and turns in this story are shocking–it’s a real roller coaster ride. As I mentioned in an earlier review, Athol Dickson’s writing reminds me a little of Frank Peretti’s. However, I end up liking the characters more in Dickson’s books. That is certainly the case in River Rising. Hale Poser is a character who really grew on me over the course of the story: he is a meek Christian man who prays about everything. He has a very childlike faith; when he prays, he actually expects God to hear and answer his prayers. The events that transpire in this story seem divinely (or diabolically, or both) inspired to test Hale’s faith to the breaking point. Hale becomes puffed up with pride due to what he sees as God’s special provision for him, his chosen vessel, and then, when God fails to come through for him when he needs help the most, Hale almost gives up on God. It is in the blockbuster ending that God shows up in a big, big way and redeems the situation.
I use the term “blockbuster” because this book reminds me of a movie–I could see this being shown on the Hallmark channel. I usually don’t care for this type of writing–I find it too predictable, almost patronizing in its predictability. However, the subject matter (which I’m dancing carefully around, in case you haven’t noticed) kept it from being too much this way for me. I’ll leave it at that.
Dickson tackles some heavy themes in this novel, especially for southerners. This quote sums it up pretty well:
. . .although men of every color shared work and sports and whisky, incredibly, God’s own house remained the final refuge of the Fall.
I can only speak from my own experience, but segregation, whether intentional or not, does still exist in the Body of Christ, at least in my little neck of the woods. This book made me take this familiar fact out and study it again before relegating it to the corners of my mind where it lurks, hiding there because it’s something I feel like I can’t change.
If you’re looking for a quick summertime read that still gives you food for thought, this is it.