I love discovering new writers. Well all right, Athol Dickson is not a new writer to anyone but me. But this is my blog. He’s new.

When I listened to the audio of River Rising, I was blown away by the story about the small town of Pilotville, Louisiana, a haven of equality in the deep South of 1927, and about the miracle man who exposes and transcends Pilotville’s shameful secret. I thought, What a beautiful book. Wonder what else he’s written.

I went for another audiobook, because I had deadlines, and my sitting down time was largely taken up with edits and such. I needed something I could listen to when I wasn’t sitting down.

Which meant my next listen would be The Cure, the only other Dickson novel that had been recorded. 

Like River Rising, it was both elegant with spare writing, and rich with an artist’s use of language. It had an interesting plot line, about the town of Dublin, Maine where a cure for alcoholism had been found, and about the questions and intrigues surrounding that discovery.

I had questions of my own. Having had some experience, growing up among the people of Alcoholics Anonymous, I took special interest in the direction the story took. Would alcoholics really flock to such a cure, when so much of their addiction is characterized by denial? Would an out and out cure be the only or even the best solution? I’d known enough recovering alcoholics to observe that the struggle builds into people a kind of gentle strength. Would that strength be lost to an easy cure? (Then again, could we spare that strength to save the lives of those who never do recover?)

Even with his fine writing, Dickson would have a hard time winning me over to this story.

But he managed to do just that, with an ending that first distressed, then surprised me, and at last left me satisfied and renewed.

I’ll leave it at that, because I don’t want to spoil the experience for you. But read or listen to River Rising. And when you’re finished, go get The Cure. Both are wonderful. And by the way, both audios are extremely well narrated.

Now I can hardly wait to read his Winter Haven.

When I started reading River Rising by Athol Dickson, I was pretty sure I would love it. Since its release in 2005, everybody – everybody – had told me I would. And right away, I saw they were right. I love beautiful writing, and River Rising is a beautiful, at once earthy and magical tale. Set in Louisiana in 1927, the story takes us to Pilotville, a nearly perfect little community, a southern town where racism seems not to exist. But a lingering sense of darkness never quite lets its citizens rest, till at last a blue-eyed black preacher named Hale Poser comes to town, and exposes the truth about Pilotville, and the source of the darkness that haunts it.

For a short time while I read, I wondered if perhaps things weren’t too magical in this book, too good to be true. Hale Poser is so godly that he heals the sick by the mere touch of his hands. Still, the plot is riveting, full of the unexpected, and the story had me, heart and soul.

Then, about halfway in, I thought Dickson had done the last thing I wanted him to do. I thought he’d had Hale Poser preach a too pretty, too glib sermon – to the other characters of course, but really to the reader. No! said I. I’d thought so much better of this author!

He redeemed himself. Because that pretty sermon turned out to be too glib even for Hale, and Hale turned out to be not quite so perfect, but vastly a more interesting, more compelling character by the end of the book.

This is a wonderful story, full of simple beauty and complex issues. And full of hope.

You can learn more about Athol Dickson at his website, and you can buy River Rising here.