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River Rising
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Using the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 for inspiration, the author sets his story in Pilotville, where river pilots have built quiet lives, white and black going their separate ways but without the usual Jim Crow rancor. Under the guiding hand of Papa DeGroot, who founded the Pilotville Negro Infirmary in 1894, the black population has felt secure in their daily struggles and thankful to Papa for being so good to them over the years. Then along comes the Reverend Hale Poser, a blue-eyed black man in search of his past, with gentle ways and a deep love of God in his heart. Poser takes a job at the Negro Infirmary, eschewing the title of reverend, happy to be of service to those less fortunate. When a woman in the infirmary, Rosa Lamont, experiences complications in childbirth, Hale lays hands upon her and, miraculously, baby Hannah is born with out the need of surgery by a drunken white doctor who tends to the patients in emergencies.

The town is amazed by Rosa's easy delivery, rejoicing at the Hannah's birth and looks upon Hale Poser with new interest. Then the unimaginable happens and Pilotville is thrown into chaos, white and black uniting for a time in common effort. Hoping to be of service to the distraught parents, Hale undertakes a journey into the swamps that will uncover the implacable darkness of man's inhumanity to man, throwing him into the deepest moral crisis he has ever experienced in his orphaned life, challenging his faith in himself, the world at large and his God. But this is a man of such deep and abiding faith that he will turn adversity into revelation, opening himself to the great lessons that await in the dangers that inhabit each moment of daily life for some time to come. Hale Poser bridges two worlds with one heart, an instrument of change more far-reaching than even he can understand.

Using the terrible flood of 1927 as a vehicle for his narrative, Dickson writes a parable of darkness and light, ignorance and redemption, reaching beyond the obvious to the deeper chambers of human understanding, elevating the conscious world and questioning the moral compass of the residents of Pilotville. Indeed, the reader may find reason for reflection as well in this simple, yet profound statement on the nature of good, evil and the territory in between. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
So many reviews here have covered the plot.

Bottom line: It will haunt me forever. I love to visit New Orleans and the bayou country, so the atmospheric setting, a main character itself, grabbed me and held me from the start.

And having grown up in a quiet mainline denomination, I now enjoy what Poser desired--mixed congregations that do read beyond "Be still and know" and apply the last of the Psalms. : )

With its well-drawn main characters, subtle use of dialect, often lyrical prose and powerful, sometimes shocking plot, there's no surprise it won the Christy for Mystery and Suspense.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is Louisiana's To Kill A Mockingbird. Hale Poser is chaplain of a New Orleans orphanage where he had lived as an orphan. In 1927 he discovers his file in the orphanage attic, and it propels him to Pilotville, Louisiana and his roots.

Poser is desperately searching for some sense of who he is, where he came from, and who his parents were. Pilotville lays in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana, far from almost any place and accessible only by boat.

Poser gets a job as a janitor in the African-American Infirmary and is content to fit in and listen--until he saves Rosa and James Lamont's new baby daughter, Hannah, from dying at birth because the doctor was too drunk to perform a needed caesarean section. Did the janitor/reverend perform a miracle?

That's the debate until baby Hannah is kidnapped from the hospital. But who would take her? And is there a connection to the other mysterious disappearances of children over the years? Rosa is devastated and the father won't stop searching the bayous for their daughter. And Hale won't stop praying and thinking and seeking answers, not only to his own questions, but to questions people in town sometimes think about--but never voice out loud.

Can you be a slave and not know it? Can someone appear to be kind and benevolent and yet be truly evil? Can people with absolute power over another's life be brought down? Can separate but equal become equal together? Can the truth really set you free when you tell people and they don't believe you anyway? Is God listening and are prayers answered?

This book will grow on you. It will make you ask questions that need to be asked. And the reader will look for answers that are there to be found. You will see the worst side of man--and man at his best, seeking the God of the universe. Once you pick up this book you won't want to put it down until you've turned the last page.

Armchair Interviews says: River Rising made could easily make your top ten best books of 2006. It is a spectacular read; one that we believe will be read and reread, with something new found each time.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
With elegant prose, themes of racial reconciliation and masterful storytelling, Athol Dickson's fourth novel, RIVER RISING, is a must-read for the new year.

As the story opens, the Reverend Hale Poser poles down the Mississippi River in his ancient pirogue to the town of Pilotville, Louisiana, humming a disturbing tune and looking for clues to his heritage. The blue-eyed African American orphan has an unusual closeness to God and the ability to seemingly work miracles.

It's 1927, and slavery is only a distant memory for most folks in Pilotville. But simmering under the surface of the seemingly tranquil race relations in the small town is something as sinister as the darkest parts of the swampland. Although blacks and whites exist in a sort of harmony, they refuse to worship together. And, since 1883, twelve newborn babies have disappeared, snatched from their mothers at night while they and their little ones were sleeping. Who wants these children? And for what nefarious purposes?

Hale helps Rosa Lamont deliver her baby, which is seemingly breech (the first "miracle") and grieves with them when the baby abruptly is kidnapped. He then rouses the town, both blacks and whites, to hunt tirelessly for the infant. "He had come to find his mother, or his father, or at least a tombstone with their name --- his own name, whatever that might be --- and here he was, looking for a stranger's child instead."

In search of the newborn, Hale embarks on a dream-like journey on the tumultuous Mississippi River. Dying of thirst (with the fetid swamp water mocking him all around), he drags himself at a shore where inconceivable horrors, long thought laid to rest, await. To write more about this portion of the book would be to give away a central part of the plot, but although the plot twist here might seem to demand a suspension of belief, it is nevertheless a compelling part of the book. The looming specter of the coming flood lends atmosphere as the story itself reaches a climax.

Hale wrestles with his identity and his own awareness of who he is, who God is, and how to communicate love to those around him. His self-consciousness about the miracles he performs becomes a paradox and its own (a bit long-winded) lesson: "Then someone spoke that word miracle, and it entered his foolish head to ask for what he already had, and miracles had seemed to come, and in his heart of hearts he saw them as an outgrowth of his faith, which was of course the very death of miracles, because he had found the surest way to lose a miracle is to try and hold it in your hand."

What Dickson brings so beautifully to his narrative is a focused sense of place, in this case, Louisiana's flooded swampland, the Mississippi River and its inhabitants. In one lovely descriptive passage he writes: "Back by the river, low embankments had contained the sides of the stream, but here the waters spread out farther on each side, with the banks lower and not easy to make out beyond the rows of conical cypress trunks. With so many trees standing in the water, it became more and more difficult to determine where the main channel lay. Did it run between those tupelos yonder, or did it cut off to the left? Everything around him looked the same, yet nothing was repeated."

Readers who enjoy a good tale of suspense wrapped around thoughtful faith themes will appreciate this excellent novel from Dickson.

--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In 1927, Reverend Hale Poser, raised in an orphanage in New Orleans, returns to his birthplace, Pilotville, Louisiana, in seeking information about his past. When Hannah Lamont, newborn daughter of Rosa and James is kidnapped from the Pilotville Negro Infirmary he enters the desperate search. What he finds in the backwaters of the Mississippi is an evil from the past, long thought dead. His once rock solid faith is destroyed by what he finds and the horrors of what he's forced to endure.

Released from one nightmare, he enters another when he's arrested for the kidnapping of baby Hannah. But during a devastating flood, he finds peace and hope and seeks to give freedom to those he left behind.

Athol Dickson weaves a wonderful tale of heartache and hope, bondage and freedom, racism and equality in River Rising. Through intimate detail, he brings to life the swamps and river country of 1927 Louisiana. This story will stick in my mind for a long time to come.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Athol Dickson has proven before that he is a writer of wisdom and skill. With "River Rising," he delves deep into a corner of America's past, touching on themes of race and redemption in the bayous of Louisiana. He wrote this novel before the New Orleans flooding, and so it is with almost prophetic insight that he uses a similar disaster to great effect in his story's conclusion.

The book opens quietly with the return of Hale Poser to a small town in search of the truth and his past. He carries himself with a soft-spoken majesty, and yet we sense things are not all as they seem. Soon, Hale's efforts to bring unity to the village lead to disturbing discoveries--and this Christ-like figure finds himself going through every toil and tribulation foisted upon those he has come to help. Secrets rise to the surface. Hope refuses to die. And yet Dickson's storytelling never bogs down in sentimentality or sappy coincidences.

Each year a few books rise above their genres, transcendent stories about life. "River Rising" joins the ranks of Monk's "The Secret Life of Bees" and Cramer's "Levi's Will," revealing truth--in it darkest and brightest moments. This is what great fiction is all about.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Athol Dickson is one of the most talented writers in the CBA, and River Rising proves it. A masterfully woven tale, the story gripped me from the beginning and only tightened its hold with each turned page. Dickson knows how to tell a story and his writing is clear and succinct. No frills. I highly recommend this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
RIVER RISING is set during the Great Mississippi Flood in the racial climate of Pillotville, Louisiana in 1927. Although it has its share of racism and poverty, Pillotville was not quite a typical town. Blacks and whites lived in distant harmony and the black population was fairly secure.

Prior to the flood, Reverend Hale Poser journeys to the town of Pillotville in search of his roots. Posner raises interest because he is a black man with startling blue eyes; there is a vague mysticism surrounding him. Employed as a janitor at the Negro Infirmary, Posner lays hands on a woman during complications in childbirth and the baby is delivered in perfect health. He is becoming somewhat of a celebrity until the baby he helped deliver disappears.

Dogmatic about finding the baby, Posner's search takes him on a journey deep into the bayou swamps; there he uncovers the darkness of man's inhumanity to man. He finds the truth about his past and happens upon an unimaginable scene. Suddenly he is questioning his faith, humanity and God. The racial climate of Pillotville is thrown into chaos and Poser wonders if he can bridge two worlds and become an instrument of change. As the rain descends on Pillotville, Posner finds a renewed faith and reaches farther than even his natural mind can understand.

Dickson uses a narrative voice to tell an allegoric tale of ignorance and redemption, of darkness and light. In the swamp beyond the tupelo and cypress lurks a lingering evil, sleeping in dreadful seclusion. Dickson questions the moral compass of this backwoods, isolated outpost on the Mississippi River. RIVER RISING is a simple story surrounding the nature of good versus evil and all conditions lodged between the two. With it's vivid airy setting, well-developed characters and disturbing conclusions, it is being compared to books like 'Kindred' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

Reviewed by aNN

of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 9, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
What a great book! Normally I wouldn't have read this type of book but one of my favorite book reviewers, Tim Frankovich, highly recommended it so I said sure why not. For starters it's not an allegory like the Booklist review says. Even though the main character's compared to Moses he's not that either. The story deals with many issues but is written so well it's almost like you don't notice you're learning something about yourself. Get this book. You won't be sorry.

Update 1/31/2012

It's been six years since I've read this book and it still remains strong in my memory. I consider it one of the best books I have ever read. I have given away many copies and even had unbelievers read my copy. Everyone loves it! I'd thought some would find it offensive with the strong Biblical message but that has not been the case. If you have not read this book then you need to get yourself a copy and be prepared to be amazed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is a book to be read and experienced in a deep place in your heart and soul.

Set in the latter 1920's in Louisiana, the author took me (a high country desert dweller) into the swamps and waterways, into a world quite foreign to me. His evocative use of language made this story from the past seem very present. The novel is layered with meaning and truth and challenges for readers today.

It will be a long, long while before I forget the Reverend Hale Poser. I highly recommend this book.
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