Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: The River In Winter by Matt Dean

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Queen’s English Productions
Pages: 397

Jonah Murray is a seeker. He lives a comfortable life – good job, nice home, mother who supports him – but after the death of his lover, he feels lost, and needs help finding his way. Couple that with a series of hate crimes, and Jonah is at his wit’s end. He seeks love, acceptance and identity, but is not sure where to look.

Jonah meets Spike Peterson, a porn star who lights a fire of lust within Jonah. But the lust and love that Jonah feels is not returned, as Spike uses Jonah and then tosses him aside. Spike only magnifies Jonah’s need to find companionship.

After having a breakdown, Jonah meets a counselor, Eliot Moon, who seems to be able to help him. He is invited to join a group of gay men, only to find that the therapist and the men in the group are all trying to become ex-gay men. Jonah feels a hard need for the support he finds within this group, but he knows that to be accepted, he must make sacrifices, that is, give up loving men. Can a gay man find happiness through celibacy?

This year’s Lambda Book Award Finalist, Matt Dean, takes us on an inner journey through a rather icy spot in one man’s life. This is a story that uses excruciatingly beautiful language. It is Dean’s remarkable voice and exquisite prose that makes this novel special, and worth reading.

As for the story, it started with an interesting hook, and made me experience a range of emotions, but then it began to wander, much like the protagonist, down a path with seemingly no direction. It didn’t take long before my interest level began to plummet. To compound the wandering, the prose, though quite beautiful, was very detailed in its descriptions, which slowed the pacing to a crawl. I love rich descriptions, but only when it advances the plot, which this all too often failed to do. These two elements combined to make this, at least for me, a dull read.

The story often spouts Christian doctrine, which I personally found distasteful. Christians, however, will no doubt be untroubled by it.

This story was sometimes poignant, and made me examine my own feelings I experienced during troubling times, and it did so with wonderfully gorgeous language, which is why, no doubt, it earned a Lambda Finalist Award. For readers who like a slow, beautifully written journey, with rich descriptions on every page, I can recommend this read.

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