MIDWESTERN BOOK REVIEW
By Diane Donovan
A collection of tales that involve a quirky hodgepodge of comedy, romance, and satire from the author of A Shot of Malaria (2014).
A View from the Borderline gathers short stories that have appeared in such diverse places as The Saturday Evening Post Online and E-Magazine which run the gamut from love stories and slices-of-life vignettes to fairytales about mayhem and poker plays. The connection between them lies in a literary hand that deftly captures ironies and experiences with the fullest-body experiences in the shortest period of time.
Each short story excels in characters with a sense of place and purpose, even if those descriptions don't always lie in the human realm.
Take 'Attack of the Poker Face', for one example. Here, a rare and unexpected afternoon off leads the narrator to discover his that wife Camille is seeing another man. Confronted, she avidly denies his perception. The only "tell" that she is lying is the same twitches and tells from poker. Or, is it? Can his prowess in poker and his years of beating Camille at the game really translate to solving a relationship crisis?
Then there's 'The Durschlag Twins', who are the precocious scourges of their neighborhood. The protagonist in this tale "...nearly flattened the girls and their little rag toys." Again, an undertone of grotesque humor spices some of the descriptions and lends a tone of irony to the descriptions as a panicked mother accuses him of carelessness: "I was, in her words, driving at a madman's clip - in reality, almost fifteen miles per hour. Any slower and I might as well have pulled out a leash and walked my car home."
Or, take 'The Doberman Affair'. Freddy Haskin likes dogs, in general. His wife does not...and, again, the humor seeps out of even the serious experience of a dog bite: "Freddy knew the story well - a poor little girl reaches down to pet a pretty doggie on the top of its head, and it suddenly snaps at her like a whip. The next thing you know, she's got puncture marks and blood leaking out of her hand. "You don't get over a thing like that," Donna said many times. "No, you don't," Freddy would respond in kindness. But the truth was, there comes a point when a person has to rise up and transcend life's great injustices. Gandhi tried to teach the world that, and he was also a great animal lover."
Each story excels in a quiet, idiosyncratic slice-of-life presentation which comments on interpersonal relationships and small strifes, such as (in this case) the neighbor's new Doberman pinscher, which is "...now changing the layout of Fred-dy's happy campground."
Charles Souby's superpower lies in his descriptive hand and paradoxical satire as he creates close inspections of ordinary lives challenged and changed by small adversities.
Readers who enjoy succinct stories that linger in the mind long after their reading will find A View from the Borderline just the ticket for an engrossing literary pursuit.
A View From the Borderline
This eclectic short story collection by Souby (A Shot of Malaria) mixes the macabre and the sweetly romantic while considering the push and pull of relationships in flux. A man's attraction to a woman at the track leads him to drunkenly lose his money in “Silver Slumdog,” and a young woman revels in her burgeoning adulthood in “Godot Meets Guffman.” A couple navigate intellectual and sexual attraction during their second date in “Geese & Ganders.” A woman's desire to have children proves a breaking point for her boyfriend in “Thornchild.” Situations spin out of control and into absurd conflict in “Silencium,” in which a camp director forces two boys to resolve a dispute about nonviolence by fighting, and in “The Plaid Golf Pants,” in which a hostage negotiator is called in to parley with a woman holding a drycleaner’s clothes hostage. Souby’s narratives take a darker turn in several stories: in “Monkey Business,” monkeys in India bludgeon young baseball players to death, and in “Eloi Reduction,” young people are lured to a rave where they are brutally butchered and processed for cannibalistic consumption.
Souby’s characters are expertly drawn. All are driven by clear emotions and desires, motivating them to act out in ways that range from tender to violent. The storylines that focus on how people navigate relationships with one another are believable and intimate, especially in stories such as “Nymphs, Woods & Cottages,” in which a man meets his future wife while she’s camping out in the woods after leaving her abusive home.
The contrast between the study of relationships and the darkness in some of the stories adds depth to the collection. While the violence of “Monkey Business” examines the retribution of the monkeys against the minister who harmed them, the cannibalism of “Eloi Reduction” as perpetrated by Hollywood moguls is more darkly disturbing than anything else in the book. While some elements may shock some readers, literary audiences with wide-ranging tastes will be drawn to the collection’s variety and depth.
Takeaway: Fans of eclectic short stories will appreciate these intimate, tender, sometimes disturbing narratives.
Great for fans of Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Richard Russo’s Trajectory.
A Shot of Malaria
Judge - 23rd Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award
I’m not surprised to learn from his author’s bio that Charles Souby lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, because the sense of place is extremely strong in his novel A SHOT OF MALARIA. The book follows the misadventures of Daniel Martin, who is hooked on heroin (and lots of other things), and his struggle to get his life together. What’s most remarkable about the book is that Souby manages to make Martin, who, in the hands of another writer, might be quite revolting, completely appealing and sympathetic. This is not a bad man; this is a screwed-up man. Souby depicts the 1990s with a remarkable vividness—I remember these years quite well myself, though on the opposite coast. And while I think the book does tend to be a little bit longer than it should be and could use some tightening and editing, the pace held me, as did the writing itself. The novel’s grounding in specific details—details of drug use, of sex, of pop-culture references to films like THE GODFATHER, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, and DRUGSTORE COWBOY—give the book an immediacy and a vividness that many writers simply don’t know how to pull off. I feel, reading A SHOT OF MALARIA, that I’m in safe hands, that the writer knows precisely what he’s doing. I don’t know to what extent Souby is drawing from real-life experiences in the writing of this book, but if he is, he’s put those harrowing years to excellent, beautiful use. While I think some of its content might offend the squeamish, it’s a book that I believe will resonate with readers who stick with it. We might not all be heroin addicts, but we all have our stuff, whatever that stuff is."
A collection of tales that involve a quirky hodgepodge of comedy, romance, and satire from the author of A Shot of Malaria (2014).
In the opening story in this book, “Silver Slum Dog,” Leonard meets Hilda at a horse racetrack. The new acquaintances seem to connect, but Leonard may be too preoccupied with validating his betting system despite Hilda’s instinctual skill at picking winners—a situation described in a lighthearted tone, which all the tales herein showcase in some capacity but not every story maintains. In “Eloi Reduction,” Red Pupkin, a drunk well known to authorities, is determined to get into a popular Hollywood Boulevard club and simply dashes past the gatekeepers. That amusing setup turns horrifying when a police officer chases him—and encounters a scene of shockingly sadistic violence. Some of the author’s satire shows wit even when it’s bleak. In the case of “The Parable of the Nerd & the Antelope,” antelopes in Africa introduce human ideas into their midst but, like humanity, are soon in danger of spiraling into war and violence. Souby’s breezy prose eases readers into the assorted narratives, though it’s most effective with the handful of varied love stories. The titular tale, “Christa’s Case: A View From the Borderline,” is a romance between prep school students in 1973, one of whom a doctor has diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. This story is followed by one of love lost; in “Attack of the Poker Face,” Teddy is certain he understands how his wife tips her hand, a “little tell with her left nostril whenever she was bluffing,” and he uses this conviction to prove she’s having an affair. Souby periodically returns to a theme of warmongering humans versus the more peaceful animal kingdom; though the collection leans toward despondency, his final two stories end the book on positive notes.Motley stories that engage, provoke, and entertain.
Norm Goldman - Book Goodies
A moving and deeply affecting work...
"Set in the 1990's in the San Francisco Bay area where the author is an improv actor, Charles Souby's second novel A Shot of Malaria chronicles the tragic life of a drug and alcoholic dependent musician, Daniel Martin.
Admittedly, this is a moving and deeply affecting work containing a wealth of perceptual observation that exacts a huge emotional toll as it convincingly portrays an addict who is tragically adrift leaving readers wondering how our protagonist will be able to somehow hang on and survive with all of the bitterness, despair and loss he suffers.
Daniel is a very complicated and messed up character whose days are taken up with drinking in bars with other addicts and visits to a methadone clinic, where methadone is dispensed to those who abuse heroin and other narcotics. The primary goal of these clinics is to try and extinguish or reduce opioid usage by putting the patient on methadone. At times these treatments can prove to be successful, however, the use of these treatments is often viewed as controversial.
In the opening chapters we find Daniel being interviewed by one of the temporary counselors of the methadone clinic, and, as we discover, he has not come to terms with the seriousness of his fifteen years of addiction. He informs the counselor that he only needs a short term treatment to find work and put his life back together. Subsequently, Daniel is assigned to a permanent counselor, Elsie Schwartz, and upon meeting her for the first time, we learn that he makes a little money by playing banjo on the street and that he periodically receives US savings Bonds his grandmother left him that are administered by his aunt.
During the course of further counseling sessions Daniel recounts that all his friends are addicts whom he meets for social entertainment in neighborhood bars. We are also told that one of his closest friends, Cody is dying of cancer. Daniel becomes very much attracted to Elsie, whom he falls in love with knowing full well, however, that nothing will develop other than their professional relationship. He confesses to her that he has been very lonely for quite some time and he will not be able to clean up his mess unless he has a girlfriend. As the tale progresses Daniel meets up with a variety of women one of whom he does enter into a serious relationship, however, she likewise is on drugs and alcohol and to top it off is married to a drug dealer, who is insanely jealous to the point that Daniel's life is in danger.
Souby's detailed and emotionally honest portrayal of Daniel's desperation is right on the money and it takes the experience and knowledge of a recovering addict that makes an engrossing reading out of an entire novel focused on one character, which is precisely what Souby has accomplished with this novel. In addition, his deft touch with dialogue, feel for detail as well as his narrative pacing are all admirable, and when you combine this with his wisdom in understanding the depth of hopelessness of an addict, you have quite a memorable and insightful read. For many years Souby himself struggled with addiction and in an interview with Good News Planet Souby indicates that addiction and recovery have been the bedrock of his writing. He states that “in many ways it is the best metaphors for the human condition and he believes that all of our discontents in life are based on survival and the fear of not getting what we want.”
A powerful, empathetic study of place and character with great depth.
'A musician copes with addiction, mental illness, and dreams of recovery in this novel.
Daniel Martin at first appears to be an archetypal character. Living off the meager earnings of his street-corner banjo playing and the periodic release of savings bonds left to him by his grandmother, he believes his heroin habit isn’t a big deal. Despite his 15-year addiction, he explains to his counselor at the methadone clinic, Elsie Schwartz, that he just needs a little short-term help to get back on his feet. But while parts of Daniel’s life may seem like familiar tropes, the depth of his characterization should strike even the most jaded readers. Daniel’s story reveals his profound, driving need for connection and companionship. He yearns for a girlfriend and the comfort and closeness of a relationship, especially over the upcoming holidays. But his feelings for Elsie can’t go anywhere, and when he meets a woman named Caroline, she falls into a recognizable pattern for Daniel—most of his friends are addicts. With Caroline enabling him, her dealer husband breathing down their necks, and his best friend, Cody, suffering from terminal cancer, Daniel has plenty of reasons to keep using and to follow that instinct to his death. His abiding Aunt Teresa and his few clean friends and loved ones try to pull him out of his addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts, but it ultimately comes down to whether Daniel will allow intervention to succeed. Complexity and uncertainty fill the pages of Souby’s (Winifred, 2014) tale. The open, blunt first-person narration provides a thorough sense of Daniel’s character, and it’s difficult not to feel for him and to understand the bleak twists and turns his mind takes on a regular basis. But what makes the story stand out are its descriptive prose and sense of place. The highs and the shaking lows are palpable. (At one point, he muses about mixing cocaine and heroin: “A nice concentrated blast of coke rocketing my soul to the stars with the dope dropping me back down like parachutes guiding a space module.”) But even more tangible are the fog-swept San Francisco streets and the sights and smells of dead-end bars and vomit-streaked clothes. While Daniel’s world is not for the faint of heart, it delivers a rich, revealing darkness unlike what readers encounter in most books.
A powerful, empathetic study of place and character with great depth."
Cyrus Webb - Conversations Live
Charles Souby's gift as a storyteller shines...
"In A SHOT OF MALARIA author Charles Souby introduces us to Daniel Martin, a man that is not just battling his own demons but trying to figure out the world in which he lives. Thanks to people that he meets along the way he is taught some valuable lessons, but will he be able to learn from them and become the man he wants to be? That is just one of the questions he must confront.
What the author does so well in this book is showcases how even in fiction readers are able to see the truth of the world and our own lives. What Daniel is trying to figure out in his life is not so different from what so many of us are trying to discover. the main question is are we willing to do the work necessary to get the answers.
Definitely a book that will make you smile and think, Charles Souby has given readers a thoughtful experience with A SHOT OF MALARIA."