"Enthralling drama permeates this extraordinary sophomore novel." –Kirkus Reviews
He looks like an average guy. He’s fair-skinned. His eyes are blue. His smile appears to be sincere. He might even be your next-door neighbor.
Twenty-five years have passed since an incident at summer camp left Ricky Williamson deeply scarred. Now a seemingly well-adjusted adult and loyal corporate employee, Ricky works in a ten-by-ten cubicle—a mere breath away from executive row. Under the surface, though, he’s haunted by memories of that fateful night at Parson’s Pond. Consumed by rage and hell-bent on revenge, he’s ready to execute a deadly plan. Regular trips to the gun range have sharpened his skills. His arsenal is fully stocked. It’s just a matter of choosing the right moment.
But something extraordinary occurs when Ricky discovers the body of a young boy floating along the grassy shore of a neighborhood lake. The boy wakes, and their eyes meet. It’s impossible, yet he’s a spitting image of Ricky at the age of ten.
What happens when parallel universes collide? Are we inescapably bound by circumstance? Or do we have within us the power to rise above the past and choose a different path?
Plot: This is an engaging story about a man who has been full of rage, until he meets a younger version of himself who helps him come to peace with his past. The plot requires the reader to suspend disbelief quite often, though the message is well-intentioned.
Prose/Style: The prose is straightforward and accessible. This story is told in a dual timeline where readers learn the background for what is happening in the present.
Originality: The story of a man encountering a version of himself that causes him to change his behaviors goes back to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, this story is told with an additional layer of intrigue and suspense.
Character Development/Execution: The story is executed well, except for moments when David/young Ricky becomes overtly moralizing and sentimental.
Date Submitted: August 15, 2021
Ristau does a beautiful job of setting scenes and personalities from the very beginning–for example, the dichotomy of a seemingly bland midwestern suburban house that boasts a statue of the Buddha in a yoga studio. Ricky reflects back on his great teenage crush, and much convincing angst comes out (“Why would she go out with a nervous, insecure, skinny little dweeb like me?”) This contrasts nicely with a scene from his later years, as Ricky wakes up after a tawdry liaison and reflects on his life, "my mouth as dry as the windblown sands of the Atacama Desert." Although the plot itself gets a little convoluted, the entrancing writing will keep readers turning the pages to the end.
The main focus of the book, however, is the portrait of the narrator and his complex journey. There's a Babbitt-like thread that runs through his story of trying to fit into the business world: "a mainstream culture that shared little in common with my father’s high ideals." Generally a passive man, his explosion comes as a cathartic surprise. Ricky's story becomes a time-bending odyssey, where redemption takes on mystical properties. Readers will be left hoping the best for this engaging protagonist, and eager to read about his further adventures.
Takeaway: Fans of character-driven stories will cheer this literary thriller’s surprising turn toward redemption.
Great for fans of: JoAnne Tompkins’s What Comes After, Casey Gerald’s There Will Be No Miracles Here.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-
A lawyer’s sighting of a strangely familiar boy stirs up memories of his troubled past in Ristau’s metaphysical sequel novel, set in 2001.
By all appearances, Ricky Williamson has made a good life for himself as a single 35-year-old attorney living in the Midwest. However, he’s still recovering from the trauma of being beaten and raped at summer camp 25 years before. During a morning run, he finds a boy floating face-up in a lake, apparently in trouble. He pulls him to safety and sees that he looks a lot like he did when he was 10 years old. The lawyer’s mind keeps pulling him back to his days at camp; since that time, he’s suffered bouts of depression and has been prone to violent outbursts. He’s also having problems at his latest job, where he’s unearthed shady business practices. However, the amnesiac boy, whom Ricky takes in, helps him to reexamine the life he’s led and think about changing it for the better. Ristau’s follow-up to A Hero Dreams (2017), like its predecessor, is a painstaking character study. Ricky’s ever winding path from childhood to adulthood features bright moments and dark troubles. His hostility toward his enemies, such as a boss who bullies him, builds up through the years, and in 2001, he seems on the verge of exploding. The sharply written narrative gives Ricky a shot at making better choices; the latter half dives deep into his memories and fantasies, sparking an indelible dreamlike section as Ricky revisits the trauma that’s long weighed on him. Moreover, real-world history plays a significant role in the plot, including the looming 9/11 attacks. Although it’s not a necessity, readers should read the earlier book in the series first, as it further enriches this one, which may pave the way for a third installment.
Enthralling drama permeates this extraordinary sophomore novel.
The second book in the Hero's Path series, Beyond the Threshold, is in production and will be released this fall (2022).