River of Heaven by Lee Martin – Random House 2008 — and Waleed Aly on Andrew Denton last night

12 Aug

leemartin River of Heaven by Lee Martin reminded me somewhat of the movie Stand By Me, (above) and no harm in that as it is one of my favourite movies.

On an April evening in 1955, Dewey died on the railroad tracks outside Mt. Gilead, Illinois, and the mystery of his death still confounds the people of this small town.

River of Heaven begins some fifty years later and centers on the story of Dewey’s boyhood friend Sam Brady, whose solitary adult life is much formed by what really went on in the days leading up to that evening at the tracks. It’s a story he’d do anything to keep from telling, but when his brother, Cal, returns to Mt. Gilead after decades of self-exile, it threatens to come to the surface.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Bright Forever, Lee Martin masterfully conveys, with a voice that is at once distinct and lyrical, one man’s struggle to come to terms with the outcome of his life. Powerful and captivating, River of Heaven is about the high cost of living a lie, the chains that bind us to our past, and the obligations we have to those we love.

That is from the publisher’s blurb, but I wouldn’t quarrel with it. The novel is beautifully written. Given that the writer is not, so far as I can see, himself a gay man, his empathy with the central character, a 65-years-old who is closeted by social setting and past events, is utterly commendable. This is a book that just may shift a few out of their homophobia, should they be part of that sad but, one hopes, dying social phenomenon. Well, perhaps not in some cases.

In last night’s brilliant interview on Enough Rope Waleed Aly had this to say on another matter — but it fits:

ANDREW DENTON: Can logic speak to prejudice?

WALEED ALY: … it depends on the brand of prejudice …

ANDREW DENTON: Well, that that brand for instance.

WALEED ALY: No. That’s you’re not going to dismantle that through logic. There’s what is there’s a famous saying, you can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t arrive at through reason, and I think that’s a good example of that. that’s a certain there’s a there’s an emotional rage to that.

You really must read that interview, really!

Back to my current novel. See:


That is a music blog, but the post linked to the banner is about River of Heaven — and music; Lee Martin wrote the post.

The first time Largehearted Boy invited me to write liner notes for one of my books it was for my novel, The Bright Forever. At the time, no one knew that the book would end up being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction or that I would spend some wonderful afternoons and evenings chatting with book clubs. Inevitably, during those chats, someone mentions the fact that so many songs are referenced in that novel. This happens in all my work, most recently in my new novel, River of Heaven, a story told from the first-person point of view of Sam Brady, a sixty-five-year-old man, living with a secret in the small town of Mt. Gilead, Illinois. “You have to know the rest of my story,” he says at the end of Chapter 1, “the part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story of a boy I knew a long time ago and a brother I loved and then lost.” With that, he sets into motion this tale of the death of a boyhood friend and what it brought to Sam’s life, particularly his estrangement from his brother, Cal. River of Heaven is Sam’s confession, and along the way, a number of songs underscore his involvement in a past wrong and his present-day journey toward redemption…

A Top Read of 2008.

And back to Waleed Aly for a moment. This so resonated with my own Teenage Calvinism back around the time George Monbiot (previous entry) was born:

ANDREW DENTON: I want to move through your religious journey. When you came back from Egypt and you were studying law and chemical engineering at Melbourne uni, you got involved with what you refer to now as a fundamentalist group, a fundamentalist way of thinking. How would you define that?

WALEED ALY: Fundamentalism?

ANDREW DENTON: Well, the group you were involved with.

WALEED ALY: Oh wasn’t so much a group; it was more me.

ANDREW DENTON: Oh well, you. Well it was a group of one.

WALEED ALY: Yeah, the rightly guided group. I when I think about fundamentalism, it’s a term I hate because it’s so misused, so when I used it I try to define it and what I mean by that is a belief in the inerrancy of your own self. I came back to Australia looking for religious things and when I looked around all I saw really all that was really being offered was a brand of Islam that I think really did inculcate a kind of fundamentalist outlook, a kind of thing that was about purity to the exclusion of everyone else who is by definition then impure. And it’s at that phase that I sort of started doing all the things that people who follow a similar kind of path do and it’s a I think it’s actually kind of form of youth rebellion in a lot of cases.

ANDREW DENTON: What kind of things?

WALEED ALY: Well, like for example the first thing you do, is you go, you find your parents and you tell them off about everything they’ve ever done in their life. That’s the first stage. There’s like people are recognising this.

WALEED ALY: And I actually think it’s that’s partly what drives a lot of this in Muslim Australia, because a lot of our parents they’re from sort of post-colonial societies where. Religion was part of their culture, but that’s what it was. And then their kids were the ones who kind of instead of taking drugs to rebel they became religious. it’s probably not the most aggressive way of rebelling but it’s working.

ANDREW DENTON: Well, not but it actually can be because you it’s it just as drugs are it’s a denial of a certain way of life to go into any mindset which excludes your parents or excludes others.

WALEED ALY: Yeah, and but what it does is it allows you to take a moral high ground with respect to your parents so you can start lecturing them, which as a kid feels fantastic. I mean the opportunity to do that and to explain why everything they’ve ever done is wrong that’s priceless.

Comments Off on River of Heaven by Lee Martin – Random House 2008 — and Waleed Aly on Andrew Denton last night

Posted by on August 12, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, Best read of 2008, book reviews, faith, Fiction, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, humanity, Islam, pluralism, reading, religion, Top read, TV, writers



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: