Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a creepy fantasy set in the late 1980s.

Alistair Cleary used to play with Fiona Loomis when they were little kids, but over the past several years, they have drifted apart. And then Fiona comes to Alistair and tells him that she has chosen him to write her biography. The story that Fiona has to tell is weird and scary, and Alistair starts to wonder what she's trying to tell him. Is Fiona's tale of a magical world and a menacing villain really a cry for help related to real-world events?

This is a book that's difficult to review, and even difficult to categorize. I called it a fantasy, but it's possible, based on how you interpret the story, that the fantasy elements are all in the characters' heads. I'm impressed at the writing in this book, but frustrated by the ambiguity of the ending. I also feel that setting the book in the '80s is a cop-out -- perhaps this is just my own reluctance at accepting that my childhood is fast approaching the realm of historical fiction for today's readers. But I can't find a compelling reason for choosing that setting, so I suspect there's an element of nostalgia to it. Other reviewers love, love, love this book, so I'm questioning my own reading of it: did it just go over my head? Is it just not my thing -- too dark and gritty for me? I mean, I adored last year's Far Far Away which also had fantasy mixed with dark real-world stuff. Did I miss some key paragraph that should have made everything clear to me? I don't know. It's not that I don't recommend it -- if it sounds appealing to you, definitely give it a try. It didn't work well for me, but I recognize that it has some excellent elements, and that some readers will appreciate it much more than I ever will.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)


  1. I haven't read this yet, but Rachael mentioned when she was reading it that it's the first of a planned trilogy, so the ending isn't actually the ending. She also reminded me of the kidnapping/stranger danger/satanic panic elements of the 1980s, which I remember all too well from my childhood, and gave that as a possible reason for the timeframe.

    1. I did read Rachel's excellent review after writing mine, so I guess I can see the point about the kidnapping panic stuff from the '80s. It didn't loom large in my own life, so maybe that's why I didn't think of it. But even as the first in a planned trilogy, I can't get behind the ambiguity of the ending. It's just too wide open for me. I'll be interested to see what you think of it after you read it.

    2. Yeah, I think how much that stuff affected you in the '80s depended a lot on your location and family (it was huge for me, but much less so for many other people I knew). And I'm really interested to read this one. I'm pretty sure it will make our longlist for the Mock Newbery, so I'll be having a look at that ending before too long...