Thursday, September 27, 2012

The River by Michael Neale

The widely promoted fiction novel, The River by Michael Neale is a visually striking book- complete with an authentic vintage, weather worn cover and embossed print cover- what you might expect from an old beat up leather journal.  The story is about a traumatised boy who witnessed his father's death as he heroically saved some tourists from drowing in the river.  While  there are not a lot of gory and graphic  details about his father's death, the author Michael Need provides authentic psychological insight into the mind of a traumatised child.  After that surreal nightmarish event, Gabrieldoes on to live with his estranged mother who tries to take care of him as best as she can within her limited means.  Basically his mom is an outsider, who simply does not have the financial means or knowledge needed to get Gabriel the help he depserately needs.  As a child he is withdrawn, as if sufffering the effects from PTSD and as an adult he just never quite fits in or succeeds as he is forever haunted by the loss.  As if from a child's point of view, Gabriel is missing so much of the detail about his father's death, it just doesn't make sense- he feels as if he is orphaned or abandoned.  He suppresses his anger and rage which he feels towards the River- which took his dad's life.  Yet at the same time he is compelled to return to the river-  it is an obsession.
It is amazing to see the life long psychological impact that tragedy had on Gabriel's entire life. He often "retreated into his own thoughts. They were the only safe place in his life, the only place he could control. Indifferent to the world abd his future, Gabriel plodded along, performing the same routines day in and day out...and little else.... he was a shell of a person..." Page 110. What this book lacks in action, it makes up in authentic and genuine insight into the mind of one who experiences an unthinkable tragic event. I imagine that Neale had some background in the field of psychology, in order to provide the accurate details of the battle within the mind.
 Finally an outside catalyst helps him to take the steps needed to confront his fears, and for closure introduces Gabriel into vieweing the River from a new, yet more "spiritual" perspective

It is as if the River holds a supernatural mystical power. In fact, the River is personified as if it were a diety where as Tabitha, a character in the book explains, "The River gives it to you [courage] after you take the first step, but a lot of people don't know that because they never get in the boat.  If you don't get in you'll never know what you're missing" (page 157). In a handwritten entry by R. Allen Clark, another character, explains that as a guide he felt it was "a magnificent privilege to introduce people to the majesy [of the River].  You don't have to say anything.  Just take them there and The River says it all". (page 216)  The  River takes on a life of its own, and is revered or even idolized. In the novel every reference to the river is analagous to a reference to a diety as it is always  printed in upper case- "The River" if it is a god.  Devotion to the River is taken to a new level as if it were a religion. Homage to the River is almost cult-like- as if this is the type of medicine Gabirel needs to overcome his deep rooted pain. This mystical line of thinking is reminiscent of new age or  Native American culture in that they too gave power to nature. In contrast to facing the River with anger and recognising his dad's death as a senseless tragedy, the new mystical thinking offers comfort.  This new age philosophy transfers the power rightfully due to God, over on to the River- in a psychological attempt to recreat the original representation of grief and pain, and reinvent  The River, into an entity with purpose. 

 As a blogger I received this book from Thomas Nelson publishers for the purposes of writing this review. 

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