The Darkest Valley by Rick Dewhurst
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –
The Darkest Valley by Rick Dewhurst is a profound novel, and like all profound books is not always easy to read. I’m reminded of an old cocktail party cartoon I once saw, I believe in the New Yorker. A man races toward his wife, through a chic living room filled with partygoers, a highball in his hand, “Niles Peterson is coming. He’s read a book that changed his life. Run!”
This is a story of an ordained minister in Canada’s Cowichan Valley who is about to have his church taken from him. The elders want somebody at the helm who appears a more seemly than Pastor Tom Pollard. His heart for the natives on the nearby reserve and in his center, along with his penchant to help the more degenerate elements of the community, has not endeared him to the most powerful elements in his church.
The novel is not action packed, and in fact is rather depressing, but I kept turning pages. I didn’t like the pastor’s wife, Ruby Pollard, due to her nasty streak which I felt predated her terminal cancer. Her dishonesty in her marriage also turned me off. However, I agreed with her. I would’ve liked her husband Tom to work up a bit of gumption now and then. It became awfully painful watching him fail. And yet, as I turned the pages, I began to care about them a great deal. I also found myself chuckling from time-to-time, as they could be quite pithy. It was apparent they loved each other deeply and were doing absolutely the best they could.
If the most interesting character is Jesse, the self-absorbed atheist/nominal Catholic editor of the town’s small newspaper, the one I liked the best is Will, the half-breed Christian whose new found faith in Christ has angered his native father and his tribe. After Will is kidnapped, I wanted to slap Pastor Tom for having been so listless and apathetic when Will repeatedly tried to tell the man of the cloth of this coming danger. At one point in the story, Jesse says to Tom, “With Christians like you in the lead, it’s a wonder anyone ever joins your flock.” I have to agree.
At another juncture, worldly and jaded Jesse says he’s happy Tom and Ruby don’t hide behind the typical self-righteous Christian façade. He’s thrilled to find they’re as messed up as the rest of us. I do think this is very important to many nonbelievers, especially intellectual nonbelievers whose razor sharp minds have not saved them from the mess, pain, and dysfunction of life. I would highly recommend this novel to them.
My feeling is this is the “every church” story . . . and my meaning is akin to what is meant by the “every man” story. I’m sure there’s more of Tom Pollard and his wife Ruby at the helm in churches all over the globe than most Christians would like to admit. After all, church leaders are only people, calling notwithstanding, and people all have feet of clay. Church politics in churches in every mountain and glen resemble the unkindness and backstabbing in this novel, of this I’m sure. It is obvious the author is a pastor.