DISCLAIMER: It is no secret that Athol Dickson is my client. We have worked together for hundreds of hours getting his works out before you the readers. He has also become something more: friend from across the country, kindred spirit and fellow follower of Christ. But I read The Cure long before I met Athol and Riley Keep is a character close to my heart ever since. There is a lot of Riley in me and I suspect in many of you. If you have read The Cure, join the conversation and leave a comment about how it affected you.
Riley was no longer dead; his ghostly days were over… here at last was something truly good to drink. The Cure is something truly good to drink. – The Cure
There was a time when Riley Keep was a man of supreme confidence: minister, missionary, educator of New England’s finest. Then something terrible happened; he came face to face with his humanity and what he saw changed him. Now he returns home years later an abject failure, a ghost moving among the living. By accident he catches his reflection in a mirror and he sees something far different: failed protector of an entire people, weakling of a husband, incompetent father, and drunkard.
Athol Dickson offers us the most unlikely, and to be honest, most unlikeable of heroes. Riley Keep has fallen so far that when he returns to his home town in Maine along with a dying homeless friend no one even recognizes him. Not the church people, not his former friends, and not even the mayor who just happens to be his estranged-wife. Through an apparent accident Riley discovers something every person trapped by the demons of their personal sins would give anything to have, a magic bullet that would forever take away their addiction. Riley Keep has discovered The Cure.
What happens next is on one level a rousing suspense story and on another a parable of failure and despair. It is the story of far away pagans and the pagan within us all. And in the end it is a story of ultimate hope. As always, Dickson’s characters are vivid, tragic, heroic, well-intentioned, and severely flawed. Even when Riley Keep gets his act together and appears to become a great success, he is within himself a failure. In other words he is real. Perhaps this is why some found this story uncomfortable.
Upon his return to his home town, Riley observes that people walk by him but never look into his eyes, never see him. He guesses it is because they fear they see some of themselves. I think Riley Keep guesses right.
One question for the author, Athol Dickson …
Riley Keep’s character had such depth. How much of Athol Dickson is hiding inside of Riley?
I do indeed have personal experience with drug addiction and with homelessness. In my late teens, I started drinking and smoking marijuana, and soon I began using narcotics of almost every kind, from LSD to heroin. I was stoned pretty much continuously for about eight years. I ended up addicted to methamphetamine, my drug of choice, what some people call “crank” or simply, “meth.” I was also homeless for a little while, although I always managed to sleep on the floors or sofas of my fellow dopers and never spent the night in a shelter. But I do know what it feels like. So I learned most of what I needed to know to write THE CURE through those experiences, and the rest I’ve learned through association with alcoholic friends and family members, and by volunteering over the years at shelters.
Although it has been years since I considered myself a drug addict, I’ve been to AA meetings and I spend several hours at a shelter near my home a couple of days every month, helping people put together resumes, preparing meals for them, and just hanging out to spread the love. They say an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, but for me at least, the meth addiction has been healed. I do, however, remain addicted to sin, and while that may not sound like the same thing, in fact it really is.