Athol Dickson,
The Cure
(Bethany House, 2007)

Riley Keep was once a missionary, then the pastor of a church in the small town of Dublin, Maine. His sojourn as a missionary ended in disaster, and in the aftermath, Keep found himself sinking deeper into alcoholism. He disappears from his small town in self-imposed exile in part to relieve his wife, Hope, and daughter, Bree, of his shame. Much later and miles away, the now homeless alcoholic and a friend, Brice, have a a kind of vision that there is a cure back in Dublin, Maine.

When they get there, they find that they are only two in a flood of homeless men and women, all of whom had the same vision. Keep doesn't reveal his identity, and he and Brice take up residence in the homeless shelter run almost single-handedly by Willa David. They learn that no one knows what the cure is. When Brice dies, Keep, in his despair, steals an envelope from the offertory at church so he can buy alcohol. After he's discovered draining the little cups of communion wine, he's thrown out of church.

He opens the envelope, only to find that instead of money, there is a small plastic bag containing white powder and a note explaining that this is the cure. Ingesting the smallest bit of the powder will remove all desire for alcohol, but if the cured individual does take a drink the urge will come back and be much fiercer and more intense. The note also includes the formula.

Keep distributes the powder to as many of the homeless people as possible, but he can't help all of them. This leads to a riot when the people wanting the cure break into the pharmacy and try to force Riley to recreate the cure. In the aftermath, it is discovered that Willa David has disappeared and is believed to be dead.

The plot becomes more complicated as Keep sheds his homeless persona and tries to get the cure developed in another way. Add in an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company that once had a connection to both Keep and David, an estranged wife and daughter and an unsettled town suffering from economic decline, it's all he can do to keep away from sliding down into alcoholism once more.

The writing is elegant and stately; the descriptions of people and places are rich and descriptive. Unfortunately, the rich descriptions weigh down the narrative, making it drag at an agonizing rate. The plot twists seem a bit incredible and sometimes too convenient, and some of the coincidences strain credulity as well. Characterization is also detailed and descriptive and serves its purpose although again, Dickson seems to wander into too much introspection her as well.

This novel does have a strong thread of reconciliation and redemption all the way through, never giving up on anyone. A patient reader won't give up, either.

review by
Donna Scanlon

11 July 2009

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