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 cat...at 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.