**** River Rising, Athol Dickson, 2005
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Literally and figuratively. Athol gets the first four-star review of the year, but more impressively, he won several awards with this book.
OK, let's get the annoying question out of the way right off the bat. Athol tells you how to pronounce his name. It's kinda like a person with a lisp saying basil, but without the 'B' on the front.
So, you're saying, what exactly does it take to get the coveted Four-Star Wunderfool review? I mean, if Russo didn't get it, who can? Here's what it takes:
Brilliant writing, a compelling story and unforgettable characters all mixed together into a book that is a must-read for anyone.
Russo came close. Really close. The only thing that kept him him out of the four-star level is the last four words: must-read for anyone. Straight Man is a little raw in spots for my tastes and I wouldn't recommend it to my mother. Still a great book, though.
But forget Russo. We're talking about Athol and River Rising. Up to now I've known Athol chiefly for his questionable movie recommendations. (I rented Ten Items or Less based on his recommend. My advice: miss it if you can.)
But fortunately for all of us, Athol is better at writing books than picking movies. Much better. River Rising has all the elements of a Four-Star Wunderfool pick in spades and passes the elliptical test with room to spare. Athol is a master. This is literature, pure and simple. I'm reading River Rising and thinking, "I want to write like this. It's time to take it to the next level."
The ending had just the right touch of reality and wistfulness. I was a perfect ending. I don't recall ever finishing a book and thinking, "Wow, that was exactly the best way to end this book." I have now.
Now I'll have to read the rest of his stuff. His newest one is up for the Christy. I haven't read anything by the other two finalists, although I did briefly meet Steven James at a film conference this year. If they asked, I'd tell them to not spend too much time working up an acceptance speech.
Fortunately, I doubt I'll ever have a book up against Athol in a competition. One of the advantages of learning how to write screenplays instead of cranking out more novels. Plus, I doubt we'd end up in the same category. Although why River Rising was in the suspense category for the Christy is a little puzzling to me. Great book, but not what I'd call a suspense novel.