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River Angel: A Novel Paperback – March 9, 1999
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A novel named River Angel featuring a character named Gabriel and a town called Ambient lays its cards on the table from the get-go: in her fourth book, A. Manette Ansay is obviously going to feature faith in a big way. As in her previous fiction, Ansay sets this tale in rural Wisconsin, but unlike her earlier work, which focused primarily on individual families, she has widened her scope to encompass an entire community. The story begins when 10-year-old Gabriel Carpenter comes to live with his aunt in Ambient, Wisconsin. An ungainly, unlovely child, Gabriel is shunned by other children and finds solace in a faith in God that verges on the fanatical. He has heard stories from his father about an angel that supposedly guards the banks of the Onion River and starts searching for it--a search that ultimately brings him to the wrong place at the wrong time and thus to the wrong angel--death.
What would have been simple tragedy in another town or another novel becomes the stuff of wonder in Ansay's Ambient: Gabriel's body is found miles from where he died, smelling faintly of flowers and glowing with an otherworldly light. From this point on, the novel focuses on how the various townspeople react to this supposed miracle. The town priest, Gabriel's teacher, the woman in whose barn his body was found--soon just about everybody in Ambient has been drawn into the conundrum of what Gabriel Carpenter's life and death really mean. As a study of human relationships and a meditation on the nature of the divine, River Angel succeeds on both counts. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
The tiny Wisconsin town of Ambient has visitors: there's handsome but no-good Shawn Carpenter, planning to drop his unkempt, neglected ten-year-old son, Gabriel, off for good with his brother's family near the old home place just in time for Christmas. There's also the angel local lore says lives at the river near town. As told by numerous town residents (Shawn's sister-in-law, the local real estate developer, lovely but sneaky teenager Cherish, her mother and the other ladies of the Faith Circle), the tragedy that occurs when some local punks drop Gabriel into the river vividly unfolds. Using these clear, true voices, both believers and unbelievers of the river angel story, Ansay rivals Jane Smiley in her ability to bring the small-town Midwest to life. Warmly recommended; this is a wonderful novel.?Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Radford, Vt.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
I am also intrigued with the concept of angels. I am a believer in many things - I choose to believe in spirits and signs and fate and the unknown and the hereafter.
This book delivers tremendous insight into these intrigues. I LOVED this story. It is deeply emotional. Ansay does a beautiful job in portraying the lives of select townspeople. And in sprinkling the question of the existence of angels gently upon us. Because I am open to all things spiritual, I am even more a believer of angels - mystical beings - after reading this book.
I am enthralled with Ansay's books so far. The only other novel I had read of hers before this one was FABULOUS - Blue Water. I happened upon the paperback while on vacation years back and upon finishing it, I was an immediate fan of the author. Don't miss THAT story either.
The story begins as a ten year old boy is travelling across country with his father just before Christmas. Shawn Carpenter is a drifter, drifting through life, through relationships. Shawn tells Gabriel how he will enjoy living in small town Wisconsin though he couldn't wait to quit his home town. The two arrive at the old homestead. Confirmed bachelor brother Fred has married Bethany, a lady with two sons. Bethany takes Gabriel and Robert John to Mass. When the trio return home, Shawn has gone. He dropped his son off on relatives. These characters have enough problems without having a young boy pushed onto them.
Time passes. Gabriel's teacher, Mrs Graf, can't seem to like this boy. She can't figure out why. She felt this way about only one child before though she has taught many kids. Gabriel is a fat child always trying to get food from whoever will feed him. Bethany's son, Robert John, is always teasing and tormenting him and encourages his friends to do so also. Mrs Graf is troubled by the boy who will not fight back.
There is a Christian woman's group, the Circle of Faith, formed by a lady who lost her husband in an automobile accident. She has a teen aged daughter. Ruthie Mader started this group to ease the pain of losing her husband and to get closer to God and encourage other ladies to do so also. Ruthie is also very active in her church.
Janey meets Gabriel who is walking along. Some boys have teased and beat him up. Janey takes him to her home, fixes him a sandwich. He is too fat. Janey has problems, she is divorced, childless. Her husband divorced her because she can't have children. She has just joined the Circle of Faith is impressed with this group and feels belonging to the Circle of Faith has made her less unhappy. But Gabriel is always running off and causing problems for his aunt and grandfather.
There is big Roly Schmitt who is a good businessman, makes money happen and is crazy about his ten year old daughter, an only child, highly intelligent, a good kid, Roly's pride and joy. The parish priest, Father George, is from the east, New England, to be exact and wants to go home. He has requested many reassignments but nothing happens. He is homesick and can't get used to the midwest.
Along comes March. Teenagers have been kidnapping kids for fun then letting them go. Young Gabriel walks along the river road one evening looking for the River Angel so he can ask the angel to have his father come back. These three teenagers are pretty drunk, try to grab Gabriel. He runs off possible falls down into the river and drowns. The teenagers swear they never touched the boy, he just disappeared. Gabriel's body is found in the barn on Ruthie Mader's property. Ruthie is having money problems. The body was warm, the boy looked to be asleep. This is strange and there is no answer for this happening.
Then comes the funeral crowded with interested spectators. A shrine is placed in the barn where the body is found. Many people go to the shrine. Some people believe and feel they are helped; others feel this is all nonsense. Some swear this is all true. But there is no answer. This puts a strong effect on this small town. Roly Schmitt is trying to make this town into a larger town with many amenities no different than any other town, Ambient losing its indivituality. But some towns people are fighting this. The shrine plus the story of Gabriel makes Ambient stand out.
This is an interesting read and makes this reader think. There is no answer or is there one.
River Angel is about a unique boy who truly believed.
The story focuses on Gabriel, his aunt who was raising him, several members of a prayer circle, and one of the daughters of the town who was part of the fateful events of the evening that Gabriel is later found dead. The stories entwined with one another in small ways ~~ it's written more like short stories combined to make one novel about a town. Ansay writes with her usual lyrical style about different lives of people and their secret joys and disappointments and how it all meshed together with the legend of the River Angel that people have taken to be their local lore.
It is a very interesting book ~~ dark and depressing in places though but beautifully written and with a grace that is evident in each of the characters written. Ansay is not an easy author to read sometimes but her stories are always compelling and brings the reader further into the book. This is an excellent read ~~ perfect for a bookclub discussion.