Dyed Souls by Gary Santorella
|Dyed Souls by Gary Santorella|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Or Catcher in the Cuckoo's Nest. Seems high-falutin' at the beginning, but proves to be just, er, falutin' – measured, intelligent and quite gripping.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: February 2018|
The USA, early 1980s. Charlie (or Charles, if he's feeling belligerent, and he often is) is being taken back to his home by his drop-out, slutty mother. The home is called a Cottage, and while the book doesn't guide us to understand it perfectly, it seems to mean he has a private room in a large self-contained bungalow, on a gated compound with round-the-clock adult supervision. There's a paddock with horses for the kids to ride, their own school – and all the adults are armed with Thorazine to calm the kids down. Charlie, despite his obvious bookish intelligence, is struggling to get to grips with why and how he's ended up where he is, but it must have something to do with his single parent mother being violent, and the fact he is no longer allowed to stay with his grandfather. This book is a slightly woozy look at his thoughts, as he tries to build a relationship with a girl in a different Cottage, and work out his lot. He certainly has a lot on his plate for a thirteen-year-old.
The wooziness, to repeat, doesn't really let us fix the compound in our minds, nor does it really let us get a grip on all the other kids in Charlie's block, as they come and go without introduction, and get mentioned or not depending on the vagaries of the plot. That plot is the prime instance of the wooziness, though – while events in this rarefied children's home are linear, we start with several italicised and quite extended flashbacks to events with Charlie and his mother, or conversations between him and his grandfather as they discuss evolutionary behaviour.
So while we don't get the straightforward, more explanatory narration of a Twain book, or from Holden Caulfield, we do have some of that DNA on these pages. Sampling this to begin with I did find the voice of Charlie's narration to be very high-falutin', and nothing like a normal thirteen-year-old. But I fell into the swing of things quite easily, and while he may be conveying his thoughts in this way partly because the author can't convince as a junior, I didn't mind the erudition and classy language on display. Charlie being so bookish allows his character to come across as distinct to many we read about in similar books, and also to add some very mature themes to the volume at hand – behavioural determinism, evolution vs god, and many I don't even know the right terms for.
But it's the plot that will make this book stand out, and it's a very good one – perfectly pitched, as is most of Charlie's voice once you're used to it, for a teenaged audience. The reader of Charlie's actual age may not see all that is going on – and there are some certainly certificate-15 scenes and language here and there they should not see – but the teen will be well on board with Charlie's ultimate dilemma. The plot has us hoping he will survive the insults and punches thrown in this hothouse atmosphere, and find the redemption he innocently seeks in the arms of the cute girl he loves. All the while the theme circles back to that evolutionary, Darwinian mindset, though – with all this testosterone around, will falling in love with the fittest still allow for survival?
And even such philosophical questioning is dropped for act three here, as big switches lead us on a different kind of narrative, one that is much more action-based and suitably dramatic. I say that in the full knowledge this book's British publishers are saying this is for teen as well as general, adult readerships, and bizarrely this book is just that. With it being 'suitably dramatic' for both it almost demands and/or deserves two entirely different reviews for the different audiences. That was but one reason why I really liked it. For the teen it has a galling coming-of-age, redemption quest. For the adult it has that, as well as a literary look at a singular fictional life. A lesser book would, for any one audience, heighten the fact the walls of the compound surrounding the Cottages could be keeping badness both in and out; this read doesn't belabour that trope but also applies it to the family unit as well, and sees both worth and woe in building walls there too. I'm sure its eloquence and drama will long remain in my mind.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer also focuses on heightened relationships within a modern family.
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