Thursday, April 2, 2015
Book Review: A Shelter of Others
4 Stars - Highly Recommended for the experience of the language alone
Can we talk about A Shelter of Others as a physical object first? And then get into the actual review? Is that cool? Because this thing is really gorgeous. The cover makes it look so old school, doesn't it? It's this grainy black and white photograph of a cemetery or burial ground, laid out against a solid black background, the only color a splash of green in the author's name. And the cover - I just can't stop touching it. It's incredibly soft, like smooth rubber. The book is short and squat, not your typical long and lanky paperback at all. Fitting perfectly in your hands, it all but begs to be held and read.
The cover design brilliantly compliments the story line. Within its pages, Charles Dodd White has penned a stark, gritty novel of love and longing, violence and protection, of things said but not spoken, of the ghosts from our past haunting our present. It's gothic in feel and raw in its language, every sentence like a sucker punch, felt in the stomach long after each page has been turned.
Set in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, our story begins with Lavada, a woman who has estranged herself from her husband Mason, during his two year stint in prison. Though she never visited him, Lavada has remained home caring for his ailing father, Sam, and working a job at the local diner to make ends meet. Mason, now released, knowing better than to return to the cabin, makes his way into the woods and takes up shelter in an abandoned old shack. He's become a drifter, unsettled by the lack of routine and predictability that he had grown accustomed to.
Lavada becomes entangled with her boss Dennis, Sam slowly becomes unhinged, and the local police are just biding their time, waiting for Mason to mess up. And though this is very much a character driven novel, White keeps our focus sharply tuned to the setting. As the emotional tension between our foursome grows, so does a pending storm outside. You can sense how it will all come to a head but White's unique voice pulls you in regardless, nearly suffocating us with its dark, heady prose.
A Shelter of Others was a refreshing break from my recent post-apocalyptic and experimental lit binge. It reminds you just how powerful literary fiction can be at its very core, at its most honest - stripped of gimmick and genre.