The River is the debut novel of musician and worship leader, Michael Neale. Comparable to The Shack and The Reason in its appeal to the churched and un-churched, how do these stories manage to answer questions of life and loss when teaching proves inadequate?
I find myself drawn to The River with its beauty and power. The River can be known, but not fully."
The River by Michael Neale
Printed and published as a tattered and worn journal, the story opens with a chance encounter between the author and Gabriel Clarke, a white-water canoeist and guide to the planet’s most beautiful and most unpredictable rivers.
Gabriel's tale unfolds in the great tradition of John Bunyan, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkein. It’s a deeply spiritual journey in which the nature of the eternal is absorbed into, and revealed through, the story, its characters and – as in Neale’s dynamic narrative, the landscape itself.
Capitalised throughout, The River is the central character, power and consistent presence in Gabriel Clarke's story. From its beginning on the banks of the Colorado, through Gabriele's alienation, fear and ultimate reunion The River is shown to be the source and purpose of his existence.
I must confess, there are times when I've been angry with The River... I've been afraid, but somehow it keeps drawing me in."
Gabriel relates how, as a four year old, The River took his father - also an accomplished and respected guide. Losing the man who would have taught him to love the ways of The River, the young Clarke learns only to fear and hate its uncontrollable strength and power.
Through a succession of good friends, also with deeply meaningful biblical names, Gabriel’s youth becomes a rite of passage. Reluctantly signing up to wilderness adventure, he faces the deep emotions that keep him from reconnecting with The River.
At the very adventure camp his father once managed, Gabriel meets river guide, Jacob, and his daughter, Tabitha. Even before the revealing discovery of the tattered journal events move quickly as the shocking circumstances surrounding his father’s death come to the surface.
When I'm with The River, I just know it's where I'm meant to be. It touches something deep inside my soul."
Michael Neale: debut author
In the turmoil of bitterness toward Jacob for his guide's role in his father’s death, and the realisation that the young woman who looks set to be his life partner and soul mate would never have existed without his father's sacrifice, Gabriel is set to turn his back on the river for ever.
For the spiritually aware, The River is the ever flowing, shaping, creating and cleansing nature of the eternal. The grown, mature and well rounded Clarke is not a man who controlled and defeated the wildness of the river. Rather he’s a man who gave himself to what the river might make of him, if he’d allow it.
For Gabriel, becoming the man he was always meant to be is no easy choice. Coming to terms with his past and learning all his father wanted him to know about The River requires courage and forgiveness – for himself, for others and for The River itself. And that, in truth is often beyond the best of us.
But I do know this. I can't live without The River. I'm still fearful yet drawn in. I'm in awe and yet completely at home… I am captured and set free."
By taking the conflicts between the untamed wildness of creation and the self imposed restrictions of being human, and putting them in a novel, faith driven storytellers show how the latter is incomplete without the former.
In The River, Neale’s story is an encouragement for anyone who realises their need to return to the source of creative, refining power, and a reassurance to those who already have.
October 12th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison