I have a couple thousand books in my library. Probably less than 20 of them are fiction. For some reason, I just do not normally read fiction books. I might read one a year. Maybe one. And so when I picked up The River by Michael Neale I did not know what to expect. And honestly, I sort of even struggle writing a review on a fiction book. How should it be judged?
Let me begin by saying that in many ways, I was pleasantly surprised. For being his first novel, he is a really good writer. Let me offer one example of how Neale paints pictures that help the reader engage in the story.
"The River had brought another unexpected surprise to Gabriel--Ezra Buchanan. Spending time with Ezra was like peering through a window into the epic landscape of his past. Every conversation with Ezra, like the stroke of a towel on a dirty windowpane, brought more and more clarity. Each conversation breathed new life into Gabriel." (220)
He is a very colorful writer. The story reads fast and engaging. The characters are relatable. Without spoiling the story, let me share a summary of the storyline. A tragedy happens to Gabriel Clarke when he was just a young boy on The River in Colorado. Because of this, he is forced to move to Kansas for most of his life. But he kept feeling a pull back towards The River, even though he was scared to death of it. When his friends go on a camping weekend to Colorado, a few years out of High School, Gabriel finds himself having to deal with his inner demons. Towards the end of the story, he realizes that that The River is the place that he was created to be.
But I did have a few problems with the story. It was engaging. It was interesting. I found myself wanting to read it constantly. But in the end, I'm not completely sure of the moral of the story. There is nothing in this book that deals with God or Jesus (I think God's name is mentioned only once). There was more spiritualistic imagery in this book than imagery about God (for instance, the recurrence of the hawk that kept flying around Gabriel).
The one exception might be if Neale intends for The River (which is always capitalized) to be imagery of God. For instance, it could be interpreted that Gabriel Clarke, at the end, realizes he is created to be with God, or The River. The Journal (which is also always capitalized) that he receives from his father and grandfather, and reads continually, could also be a reference to the Bible. But that does seem like a far stretch to me. I just do not know how to interpret this book.
If I were to guess, I would say that The River is about finding that place or dream or calling that someone feels in life. My dad could claim that he was created to build buildings. Maybe you might claim that you feel most fulfilled teaching school. It is probably a book about chasing your dreams. I just question the absence of Christianity in this book. While I appreciate many books that Thomas Nelson publishes, this book could have been published by any number of secular publishers. To me, there seems to be hardly anything Christian about it.
But that doesn't mean it is a bad read. But if you are looking for something Christian, it might not be for you. If you are looking for something interesting and engaging, it might be worth your time.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”