Friday, June 18, 2010

BOOKS: "The Rest Is Illusion"

I am pleased to introduce the work of a talented writer and blogger colleague, Eric Arvin.  After recently finding his web journal, Daventry Blue, I offered to read and critique a book Arvin had recently published titled "The Rest is Illusion". Click on his web link to find this and other provocative titles in his repertoire.

It's important that writers also be good readers, for each other as well as for their own inspiration, and lend honest, candid support to their fellow artists.   One of the things I looked forward to in starting my own web journal was a community of writers eager to share their work and willing to talk openly about the writing of other authors in that community.

I hope you will have a look, and when you do, send some comments my way, and let's have a discussion. Perhaps other authors will allow me to highlight their work on these pages...and start a writer's circle here.

"The Rest is Illusion" is polished, focused, and glides smoothly like a skater on a crystal pond.  Arvin spins a tale of four collegians, each one brought to vivid life through stunning detail and painstaking inner monologue, that compel the reader to follow these characters as they confront their complicated loves and lusts, come to terms with their mortality, grapple with their demons, and find their own difficult paths to redemption.

Dash, the protagonist, has inherited a fatal malady, and tries to live an honest and uncomplicated life, finishing a thesis on religious studies, and navigating being gay within a fraternity of rowdy and shallow young men.  He forever changes the lives of Sarah, a level-headed, loving young woman in conflict with her super-religious father; Ashley, a likable and loyal friend whose strength of personality helps him overcome his albinism; and Tony, the handsome heartthrob, a stud-role-model who denies his attraction to other men.  Only Wilder, the snaky villain and son of a "politician", who finds the weakness of others to blackmail them to his own wiles, feels like a type, a catalyst, a purely evil force.

Arvin is a skilled storyteller who paces his chapters well, and knows his characters in intimate detail, orchestrating their thoughts and emotions like a chamber piece.  He knows extremely well the eroticism of a college environment when matters of the heart are sublimated and not directly discussed.

This is a book rich in sensual detail; it is surprisingly free of descriptions of physical sex, but Arvin engages our senses, especially touch and temperature, sight and the motifs of color and light (red and white dominate).  He is most successful re-creating the longing, romanticism, and mischief of his setting, and surrounding his reader with details of college life, which are recognizable to many.

The premise sometimes feels too slight to warrant such an adept literary treatment. The story stands on its merits and is entertaining and reminds readers of their own coming-of-age, yet Arvin strives for a network of meanings, sometimes inflating the work with patterns of religious symbolism, and the occasional prosaic phrasing that may jar one from full engagement in the story. The first half of the book is more lively and visual; I held my breath in the second half, hoping it would not get too metaphysical or preachy. 

On the other hand, the writing is terrific and the descriptions are often gorgeous, and some of the paragraph-ending sentences become fixed in the mind like Bergman's fades to red.  One favorite: "(he had a) blessed existence that did not require dealing with monetary fortunes or misfortunes."  Best of all, Arvin leaves behind the emotions of secret yearning, especially of shy and closeted gay students for their admired, handsome dorm-mates, and the sublime ecstasy of a shared, secret intimacy.

I look forward to Arvin tackling more mature material.  As an exercise in storytelling, he was smart to narrow his focus here and use what is no doubt the memory of his own growing up to infuse his tale with honesty.  I enjoyed "The Rest Is Illusion"; it is a worthwhile read.

Hope to hear from others!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Tom! Very nice review. I really appreciate it!