Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
For a first novel, this one is well done; to a point. Michael Neale's format is that of a biography, and he certainly convinced me. In fact, I had to (repeatedly) refer back to the tagline on the cover: The River: A Novel.
The story begins with our narrator stuck, for 3½ hours, at the Denver airport. He's hoping to kill that time with a book and his iPod in the nearly-empty boarding area. Instead, a character "out of a Discovery Channel documentary" sits down next to him.
And, in sharing his story, changes our narrator's life.
Gabriel Clarke's story begins, and life as he knows it ends, on a September day in 1956. A bright and energetic blond-haired, blue-eyed 5-year-old, Gabe and his father live at the Big Water Adventure Camp in Corley Falls, Colorado. With the summer season over and looking forward to a well-deserved day off, Gabe and his dad hike to The River's Firewater gorge.
But before Gabe can even get his feet wet, two kayakers run into trouble - and their accident turns the young boy's life upside down.
From there, we follow Gabriel as he moves to Kansas to live with his mother and loses himself in grief. Dark, dark days where he crawls inside himself, unable or unwilling to interact with the world around him. It seems as though he has blocked the details of that day in September, even as emotion and fear of the water cripple him.
Time passes and Gabriel grows older. He begins to move outside his grief; to feel the pull of The River. Eventually, through an interesting set of circumstances, Gabe returns to his roots and is given a chance to finally, and fully heal.
The characters and plot of The River are well-developed and well-written. Until the end which, I have to say, feels incomplete / half-finished.
In the interview with Andy Andrews, included in the back of the book, Mr. Neale tells us that The River (always capitalized) is supposed to symbolize some sort of spiritual journey to find our true purpose and to lead a full life. But, and perhaps it is only me, Gabriel comes off as rather selfish and uncaring at the end.
His mother is struggling financially, the elderly couple's health is failing, and his dog is (it appears) dying. Yet, this young man - on whom everyone depends - just takes off. Not to mention, we spend several chapters following Gabe's budding romance with Tabitha, only to never find out what happens with the young couple.
The epilogue does have Gabe inviting our narrator to find him, run The River, and learn the rest of the story. So, hopefully, this means that a sequel is in the works. Otherwise, it's simply a disappointing finish to an interesting novel.
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.