I’ve just finished a novel that has restored my faith in Christian fiction.
It’s The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson, published last month by Howard Books. This book is both a literary triumph and a deeply moving statement of faith. It’s classified as magical realism, a genre dear to my heart because it acknowledges the deep mystery inherent in our lives as human beings in a fallen world.
The main character of The Opposite of Art is Sheridan Ridler, the greatest painter of his age. He is also, to begin with, a total jerk. Promiscuous, substance-abusing, utterly self-centered, he paints almost exclusively nude women but never paints their faces, because the paintings are not about them—they’re about him. When he gets knocked into a river early in the book, you can’t help but think he deserves it.
But then the miracle happens. He survives. Or, more precisely, he comes back to life after being drowned. And in the river he has had a vision—a vision of God, or in his terms, the Glory. Possessed by this vision, which fades almost immediately, Ridler disappears from his former life, leaving everyone to suppose him dead. He begins to travel the world in search of a way to recapture his vision so he can paint it adequately. Meanwhile, he can paint nothing else.
I can’t give you any more of the plot without spoiling too much. But I promise you will be riveted through all 384 pages, and you will find the ending as deeply satisfying as anything you’ve ever read.
And on top of all this, Dickson writes beautifully. If I’d bought this novel in print instead of ebook form (which I wish I had so I could lend it to all my friends), it could stand unabashedly on the shelf next to my other favorite volume of magical realism, Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. If you’ve ever read Helprin, you know that’s quite a compliment.
Dickson’s characters are unique and compelling, from the initially unsympathetic hero to the extraordinary villain to the smallest bit player. His settings, which span the globe, are realized down to the smallest sensory detail. If you can’t afford to travel around the world, just read this book.
The Opposite of Art is about art, and it is art. It is proof positive that the highest quality in fiction can bear witness to Christ, even in our decadent age. This book stands as a challenge to all Christian writers to follow Sheridan Ridler’s ultimate example: to empty themselves, be filled with Christ, and create art that will live for generations.