‘The Riverman’: a nostalgic piece on childhood autumns

By Hillary Donnell
Staff Writer

There are some books that seem to be written for the sole purpose of being read in the park on a cool autumn afternoon, with leaves swirling down all around and a thermos of hot chocolate by one’s side. One can almost feel the autumn chill brushing against their face as they page through Aaron Starmer’s “The Riverman.”

The Riverman book cover
“The Riverman” features a sweet story that revels in childhood. (Photo from Images.Macmillan.com)

The novel’s story centers around Alistair Cleary, a young boy who has been appointed to ghost write the autobiography of a local girl named Fiona Loomis.

Fiona claims to be older than she appears due to the time she has spent in a magical land of her own creation, called Aquavania. Her assertions that a mythic creature from this world is after her drive this exciting and imaginative tale.

There is something impressive about literature that awakens feelings of nostalgia for times and places one has never personally experienced. “The Riverman” takes place during the autumn of 1989 in a small town in rural New York.

This writer has not had this life experience but can relate the feelings in the story to their own small-town, childhood autumns. The references to technology and entertainment from that time period feel natural and add to the mood of the story.

The imaginary world that the novel reveals through Fiona’s talks with Alistair is very authentic. Her residence in Aquavania sounds like something a young child would manage to come up with.

There is a darkness in this world that feeds off of the fears and hidden needs of the people who have imagined their own spaces. This element adds direction to the story and speaks to the unresolved wants and tension adults tend to forget that children also experience.

The novel does suffer for the fact that it is not from the point of view of Fiona. Alistair is not a bad protagonist. His reflections on childhood are a highlight of the novel. However, the young adult sections in bookstores and libraries are stuffed with shelf upon shelf of novels from the perspective of a boy who likes a strange and wonderful girl.

The sections that are about Fiona’s perspective on her adventures in the world of Aquavania are written by Alistair from his memory of her conversations with him and are very much colored by his view of her and the narrative he projects onto her experiences.

For the most part, the novel does a fairly good job of making sure the reader understands that the way Alistair sees her is not the way she really is. The best way to do this would be to directly offer her perspective.

However, there is still a chance of this: “The Riverman” is the first book in a trilogy. One can only hope that the next two books will focus more on the imaginative, humorous, and introspective Fiona.

“The Riverman” and its sequel “The Whisper” can be found in bookstores anywhere in the young adult section. The third book has yet to be released.