Prepare to Be Enthralled

If you read my blog (as little as I post, this is no great imposition on your time), you’ve already heard of Athol Dickson, an author who’s making his way toward to top of my list of favorites.

It’s my privilege to review his latest, which releases today.

The Opposite of Art. The title intrigues, causing us to think, to wonder.

“Sirens called him from his dreams.” The opening line awakens our imagination.

The opening paragraph lets us know on no uncertain terms that we’re in the hands of an artist.

An artist, perhaps, who may be a little like the protagonist, Sheridan Ridler – a genius in oils whose search for the perfection of beauty drives his life.

Though only in his twenties, he’s already making his mark on the art world. That is, until the winter’s night he’s thrown into the Harlem River by a hit-and-run driver, and his body is never found.

During his near-death experience, he catches a glimpse of indescribable beauty and emerges from the river obsessed with the desire to recreate the Glory in whatever medium he can get his hands on.  But it’s too marvelous; he can’t attain it. Just when he thinks he’s getting it, he realizes he can’t approach it. Not sure what’s happened to him, nor even, at first, who he is, he wanders in search of answers. But mostly, in search of the Glory.

Ridler leads the reader around the globe as he seeks help from holy men, traveling from New York to the jungles of Thailand, the bazaars of Istanbul, the desert city of Tel Aviv, the Eternal City of Rome, a massive shrine in Mexico, and finally, to a traveling circus in New Mexico. Wherever his foot falls, he reaches for the Glory, to capture and enshrine it in paint; but in every place he seeks it, it’s just beyond his grasp.

Throughout his quarter-century pilgrimage, he’s unaware that he has a daughter—and she’s unaware that he, the father she never knew but has always idolized, is alive. When fresh Ridler look-alike paintings start showing up, received in the mail by various people whom the artist had formerly known and wronged, she goes on a quest of her own: to find the source of these mysterious new works. She doesn’t know that the man who deliberately knocked Ridler off the bridge twenty-five years ago is pursuing him too. And they’re both gaining on him.

It’s a magnificent tale, rich in symbolism and allegory yet a good story in its own right. If the book weren’t so thick (paperbound, 384 pages long), I’d want to frame it.

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