Friday, October 7, 2011

On The Grille -- Book Review South of Charm

On Today's Menu -- SOUTH OF CHARM by Elliot Grace

I thought this book was about baseball. It wasn't. It was about human frailty, a ten-year-old's dreams, and unfathomable courage.

Danny Kaufman is a normal kid, with a baby sister, and a loving relationship with his parents until the day his mother finds a Playboy air freshener in his father's truck. On that day his whole life changes.

Watching this boy's life spiral out of control as his family negotiates the unfamiliar and terrifying waters of mental illness got to me. Stuck me right in the heart with an eight inch blade and twisted it until I couldn't stand it anymore. Truthfully, half-way through this book, I had to set it down. (And I never do that.) Danny's pain, along with his father's confusion over his wife's actions, and the stubborness of his mother's religious family tore me apart.

I found myself screaming at Danny's father to take his wife to a doctor. I wanted to slap his mother for torturing her children and husband and for not realizing and accepting that she needed help. I so wanted to take Danny and his sister Katie home with me and keep them safe, hug them and feed them, and just love on 'em enough to make the pain go away.

Of course, this is a book, so I couldn't. But such is the profundity of Elliot's writing. Beautiful, compact, and precise, it leaves no room for misinterpretation. My emotional response to these characters was such that I felt completely helpless. Tears coursed down my cheeks on more than one occasion. I cursed Elliot for writing this. (Sorry El. I really didn't mean it.)

SOUTH OF CHARM is an uncommon read, revealing facets of human endurance beyond the scope of my reality; that a child (children) would have to live in constant fear, that a family would have to live this way is beyond my ken. But such was the period that the book was set. Back then, diagnosis for the mentally ill were almost non-existant. And I must add that some of the actions in this book are hideous to read, and scary to contemplate. It's not for the faint of heart (even if you do read Stephen King on a regular basis.)

When all is finally revealed in the end, you do get a sense of closure for Danny and his family, yet the images Elliot penned will haunt me for a good many years to come. I felt for the characters, as if they were real people. Such is the gift of a master story-teller.

Questions for Elliot --

I have to ask if this is autobiographical in nature? Not to get you to tell any family secrets, but you write Danny's experiences with such first hand knowledge, it's hard to tell what's fact and fiction.

In every book we read, every dysfunctional plot or life altering mishap, the inspiration for that moment was borrowed from memory, an experience that eventually led to a story. Perhaps it was something simple, an oriole fluttering overhead, or the way your next door neighbor limps to the end of his drive in order to fetch the morning paper at the same time every day. Or maybe it was something that changed how we felt about this world we live in. In this case, I was able to hold young Danny's hand and guide him along his journey, having already experienced much of the same during my childhood. As a boy, I saw firsthand the debilitating affects of mental illness, and what it means to perhaps not forget, but to at least forgive. As for those baseball scenes in the story...the trophy still sits atop a shelf in my basement ;)

I know you have foster kids as well, did any of their experiences end up in the book?

Every child whom my wife and I have accepted into our home, brings with them a best-seller, their very own family trauma. Some have been open about their lives, expressing a need to share some of the horrors they've experienced. Others keep it bottled up, releasing snippets of pain through their grimaces at the dinner table, the remains of tear streaks, long dried, upon their cheeks every morning. For the most part, I'm forbidden to speak on their behalf, many of their cases still hinging on a judge's whim, and therefore was unable to include any of their stories in the book. I'll be closing out my tour with a blog post of one child in particular, however. The one I call The Girl. A young lady whose story will bring the perfect ending to this Charming Endeavor.

Lastly, is the cat real? Or is he simply metaphor?

As for that my first ever book signing, I found myself enjoying the many interpretations surrounding its occasional presence throughout the story. If memory serves, the majority of readers felt that this mystical feline was indeed a metaphor, representing the boy's guardian angel, or simply his imaginary friend, called upon when needed. Emails have been sent my way, not stating whether they enjoyed the book or not, but demanding more information about the tabby. I think it best to say that perhaps the cat represents something different to each of us. And to each of us, the cat's quite content being exactly that ;)

Thanks so much, Elliot, for the honor and privilege of reading SOUTH OF CHARM.

And what's a tour without prizes along the way...from Elliot...

At month's end, I'll be giving away signed copies of my book, "South of Charm," two $25.00 gift cards from Barnes & Noble, and upon it's highly anticipated release, Stephen King's new thriller, "11/22/63," due out on November 8th.

and to win...

-All my current followers have already earned themselves 1 point.
-Any new followers I meet along the way will be awarded 1 point.
-All who comment on any of my blog stops in October will earn 2 points.
-Anyone who leaves reviews for "South of Charm" on either Amazon or GoodReads will earn 5 points.
-At months end, my most behaved foster child for that particular day will be choosing the winners, (trust me, that's a win/win for the entire family ;)

So good luck and thanks for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

Reading your review and Elliot's comments have caused my heart to feel haunted for this boy. Great writing! But more than that, I now yearn to read South of Charm so I know the(and may I say hopeful)resolution.

Anne Gallagher said...

Lynn -- It's an impressive book and written with great love and care. Truly a phenomenol read. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Linda G. said...

Wow. South of Charm has been getting a lot of buzz on the blogs I regularly visit. The more I hear about it, the better it sounds. It must be a powerful book.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

An emotional response to the characters is what we all strive to achieve!

Liza said...

Amazing review, and interview! Anne, your reaction to the book says it all.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

This book must pack a powerhouse emotional punch for you to react like that. And thanks to your review, a lot more people will want to read it. Sounds like a winner.

Bish Denham said...

Oh my, this book sounds wonderfully emotionally intense. Excellent review and interview Anne.

Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you everyone. SOUTH OF CHARM is a powerful book, not only that, a powerful testament to what the human spirit can endure.
If you get a chance, put this on your TBR list. You won't be sorry.

Elliot Grace said... can taste the aroma off that Grille from across the Piedmont, the scent of hickory reminding one of love's first kiss.

Miss Gallagher, you've outdone yourself ;)

Lynn, thanks so much for your interest in my story. We've all heard of many writers who pen novels based around a particular genre, hoping to lure that one special agent. I wrote "South of Charm" without a genre influencing the story. The end result is a novel capable of luring both young and old, male or female, romantic or sports enthusiast. I pray you enjoy it ;)

Linda G, you've been loyally following my tour across the lands, to which I'm forever grateful. Thanks so much!

Alex, perhaps one day we'll seek each other out while on tour, maybe call in my buddy Roland Yeomans from the Bayou and make it a signing to remember. Thanks for following along ;)

Liza, Anne's review is reminiscent of something that many would pay a hefty sum to have written. Needless to say, I owe her one! Thanks so much for your interest in "Charm."

Susan, It took me three years to hammer the thing out, along with another eighteen months spent slicing and dicing with my editor. Whether it's packed with emotion or not, by release day, I was emotionally spent ;)

Bish, "Charm" brings with it a certain small town flavor, a little magic, and the power of healing age old wounds. I pray that its as much a joy to read, as it was to write.

Anne...well, obviously I owe you one. You're a sweetheart to which I can't find the words. And whatever you've got sizzling on The Grille has my gut tied up in knots ;)

Thanks so much!


Donna Hole said...

I cried through most of the last half of the book; and you made me cry again here Anne. A beautiful writeup of how the novel made you feel.

The mark of a good writer, El, is to evoke emotional response in the reader. You did that very well. I hope all goes well with The Girl and your family. I'll send encouraging thoughts your way.


Angela Ackerman said...

Books like this can be difficult to read, but what an amazing accomplishment for the author to elicit such a response in you. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Anne Gallagher said...

Donna -- I dare ANYONE who reads this book NOT to cry, or at least have an upset stomach. Elliot is such a powerful writer.

Angela -- Oh so difficult to read, but I'm glad I did finish it. Thanks for stopping by.

Anne Gallagher said...

Elliot -- It has been my absolute pleasure to have you here. I hope there'll be more books and reviews to come, and when you head down to the bayou, I might like to tag along. I haven't seen Roland in a mighty long time.

KarenG said...

This is my kind of book. (once I found out it wasn't about baseball too) I ordered the print copy and can't wait to read it.

Thanks for the great review and interview, Anne and Elliot.

Anonymous said...

Anne, this is one of the most beautiful reviews I have ever read!

I had already heard about this book. I'm so broke this month--a friend owes me a lot of money. When I get, or maybe before if things perk up, I want to buy this book.

And I love the cover of Remembering You. It's awesome, as I know the book will be!!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Anne Gallagher said...

Karen -- You won't be disappointed.

Ann -- Thank you. It was one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. And thanks for noticing Remembering You. I hope to get it out soon.

The Golden Eagle said...

Thank you for the review! :) And excellent interview.

Anne Gallagher said...

Golden Eagle -- You're very welcome.

Talli Roland said...

I've heard so many excellent things about this book. Thanks so much for the interview, Anne and Elliot!

Anne, hope you're having a great weekend.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Wow, Anne,

That was some review. I knew that El's book was an emotional read, but since I haven't read it yet, I had no idea how intense a read it is.

EL, judging from your blog excerpts and you comments I realize you write deeply. Many writers avoid such truism in their works.

I never realized HOW much we have in common. My latest novel is also highly emotional and deals with an abused seventeen your old boy. His father, psychotic and a alcoholic is his tormentor.

I must read you book soon.

Elliot Grace said...

...Michael, once your work is ready, I'd be honored to read your story and post my thoughts if you're interested.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and support!