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Heron River: A Novel
Heron River: A Novel
Hugh Cook
Mosaic Press, 2012
285 pp., 19.95

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James C. Dekker

The Real Thing

A Canadian story of darkness and grace.

You're a postwar Dutch immigrant and a lifelong member of the Christian Reformed Church. You also write stories. You know fiction does not always mix easily in your confessional tribe or the broader evangelical world. We like the facts, Ma'am, just the facts—which too often we confuse with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That could make your life difficult. Funny thing, though: your people tell stories too. Maybe they yearn for something "just the facts" can't always deliver.

So, you teach English for decades at Redeemer University College (Ancaster, Ontario). You absorb true stories from the immigrants and the wider Canadian world into which they have dived, prospered, and suffered. You discover an affinity between all those stories and the poetic and historic truth of the Christian faith whose people always need their storytellers, even if they don't always understand them.

All the while, you keep writing with a saint's dogged perseverance. Your precision, your unerring eye for place and faultless ear for conversation coalesce into two collections of short stories and two novels since 1985. A steadily growing readership hangs on every word, every character, every unpredictable slip, shift, and drift in the unfolding tales.

In the early 1980s, you publish Cracked Wheat. Those stories tease community foibles while re-framing moral choices made by Canada's newcomers. In one memorable story, a college student—was that maybe you?—drives a Lower Mainland British Columbia summer bread route for college tuition. He manages to veer away from sexual temptation along the way. Old values count in a new land.

Over the years, your eye, ear, and imagination sharpen. In Homecoming Man, you draw an aging, ill, war-surviving widower. Turned secretive and morose, he suffers mutely. His doctrinaire piety is often a dry well that can't lave his memory's festering horror and guilt. His son, hoping to reclaim home after broken ventures in fast-lane North ...

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