River Rising

As I am always on the lookout for well written, wise, and honest novels that include Christian characters, I’m most delighted to have discovered Athol Dickson.

His novel River Rising brings to vivid life a village in the Mississippi Delta at the time of the Great Flood of 1927. The book gives us a cast of memorable characters, most noteworthy Hale Poser, whose search for his origins sets the story in motion and who delivers the novel’s spiritual depth. He is a black fellow who grew up and then stayed and worked in a New Orleans orphanage until he came upon documents that gave clues to his parentage and pointed him to Pilotville, a community that exists for little reason other than to house pilots of small boats who guide merchant ships through the delta.

In Pilotville, Mr. Poser finds work in a Negro infirmary endowed by a White philanthropist. When a newborn Mr. Poser helps deliver is stolen, he joins in the futile search. And after everyone but the baby’s father gives up the search, Mr. Poser persists and discovers that other babies have been stolen from the infirmary. He follows evidence into the surrounding wilderness of swampland and gets lost, starved, severely weakened, and finally plunged into what appears to be a nightmare, a cotton plantation where slaves live in abject and brutal subjugation.

The novel’s singularly chilling portrayal of the plight of slaves and the cruelty of those who enslave them is alone plenty to make the book required reading, especially for those lobbying to trivialize school history curriculum.

But even more valuable and gripping is the character of Mr. Poser, of his goodness, humility, and dedication to truth. Though I hesitate to call him exactly a Christ figure, like prominent characters in most of the best Christian stories, he is close enough to show what honest Christians, and all of us, might well at least strive to be.