Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Opposite of Art

by Athol Dickson
Howard Books 2011
384 pages
Artist Sheridan Ridler is a genius. He sees things others don't; his perception of color and sound, of the life moving around him, is on a completely different plain than the average person, and he translates that onto canvas. People are inexplicably drawn in and moved by his work and, though young, he's already touted as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Then Ridler is knocked into the river by a hit and run driver and is presumed dead. He doesn't die, but he experiences something beyond description, a Glory he longs to capture on canvas. But he fails and the memory fades. Ridler searches worldwide, living among religious leaders, seeking that experience again. His need to convey it to canvas is as desperate as our need for breath.
I've been looking forward to reading this book for months. When it comes to painting vibrant scenes with words and making them breathe, for perceiving action in a completely unique light, no one is better than Athol Dickson. Just listen to these lines from one of his opening paragraphs:
Shivering, Ridler watched the blood-and-bruises rhythm of the red and blue, red and blue, the flashes regular against the dirty masonry, worlds colliding in the patterns of lights and bricks.
Love that! And the amazing imagery continues throughout the novel.

Now, if you're looking for a quick, light read, this isn't that book. Like any masterpiece, The Opposite of Art is meant to be studied and savored slowly; it's intended to show messy lives, and to make you think, without giving easy answers. In that it succeeds.

But there were times where the imagery took over the plot, where the metaphor was so strong I wondered what the author meant. Perhaps that was Dickson's intention, as the book itself quotes:
Ridler had the feeling he should understand more than he did. He sensed something just behind a veil he could not see, ...
My thoughts exactly. As a literal thinker I really struggled with parts of Ridler's journey, parts where I felt I was witnessing it from above, not from within.

Regardless, I relished Dickson's gift for painting with words.

I wonder how much of himself Athol sees in Ridler.

For a terrific review of The Opposite of Art, check out Nicole Petrino-Salter's blog post:  http://hopeofglory.typepad.com/into_the_fire/2011/09/finding-the-opposite-of-art.html

Publisher’s Description
A poor woman in a shabby Los Angeles apartment receives an original oil painting by one of modern art's great masters, easily worth half a million dollars. Although the artist has been dead for a quarter century, the painting appears to have been recently completed. When the world's foremost authority on the artist's work pronounces it authentic, three lives are destined to collide: the sketch artist and roustabout at a traveling Mexican circus who longs to paint the face of God, the daughter the sketch artist does not know he has, and the man who plans to kill them both.

Athol Dickson is the publisher of the popular news website, DailyCristo.com, and the author of seven novels and the bestselling memoir, The Gospel according to Moses. His novels of suspense and magical realism have been honored with three Christy Awards and an Audie Award, and compared to the work of Octavia Butler (by Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (by The New York Times). He and his wife live in Southern California.

*Disclosure: I received this book at no cost from Howard Books for review purposes. A positive review was not required, merely an honest one.*


  1. Good review, Bren. (And thanks for the kudos.) I agree with you. Well done.

  2. Thanks Nicole. Glad to give you kudos. Your review was beautiful.