A Julia Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Magical realism meets coming of age as four Verona College students are thrown together by choice as well as circumstance. When their lives and loves are threatened by blackmail and violence, they respond by using all the means at their disposal—including some they aren’t even aware they possess. But will that be enough to prevent tragedy or even death?

The Rest Is Illusion was first published in 2006 and a second time in 2016. This new third edition allows readers once more to enjoy the incredible story behind Eric Arvin’s first novel. And incredible it is indeed.

The fact that this is the author’s very first novel makes it all the more impressive how refined and confident his writing style already felt by then. Every phrase and sentence seems to be placed precisely and deliberately contributing to the unfolding of the plot and reading experience as a whole. The author upholds this style unbroken throughout the entirety of the book, nothing ever seems out of place. At this point, I usually talk about how location was handled, but since the environment plays such a pivotal role in this novel, I decided to dedicate a whole paragraph to it further down. Let’s take a look at the characters first.

The novel is written in third-person and the perspective, from which the story is told, switches frequently between five students: Dashel, Ashley, Sarah, Tony and Wilder. The author makes very good use of this technique by, for example, hinting at what one character is about to do through the eyes of another or presenting the consequences of the same event from different points of view. The transitions between characters feel fluid and unobtrusive. What’s best, each character is given a very distinct voice befitting his or her unique personality. They all have their own strings of story to tell that frequently intertwine and part ways. I never found myself not getting into a line of narrative or wishing that it would switch back to another. Every single one felt meaningful and worthy of attention.

It would be difficult to pick a favourite character since they are all interesting, likeable or hateable in their own right. But I would say that Ashley, the albino agnostic (as he has been described), and Dashel, who is stricken with a terminal illness, are probably the ones I felt the strongest sympathy for. They both look at other people free of prejudices and strive to embrace life (and death) on their own terms. I loved their free and creative spirits and how they imagined the world around them. Sarah, the Baptist minister’s daughter who struggles to come to terms with the relationship to her father, completes the trio of close friends (and maybe more). They complement each other very well and their interactions were heart-warming to witness.

Tony and Wilder feel very much like outsiders in contrast to the above group and yet they all come to play a significant part in each other’s lives. Tony, who despite first impressions turns out to be a considerate and caring person, tries to suppress his homosexual orientation in fear of losing his current way of life. Wilder’s horrible schemes to assert dominance over his fellow students, on the other hand, present a thoroughly hateable as well as deeply pathetic and wounded character. Seeing how these five people – each one with their own specific set of values and worldviews – interact and clash with each other was a thrilling and fascinating experience.

As mentioned above, the environment in this novel plays a role unlike any I have ever seen before. The deep forests, hidden vales, steep cliffs and hillsides that surround Verona College are alive and teeming with an ancient magic of their own. Being a fan of Magical Realism myself, I was in love with the way the author teases, hints and opens the possibility to a secret otherworld that lies beyond our common field of perception and understanding. But at the same time it is not painted as unreachable for us but closer than we think as long as one approaches it with an open mind free of preconceived opinions. Through his descriptions of the natural world Eric Arvin creates a truly enchanting and deeply mysterious atmosphere that had me hooked immediately and unable to stop reading. The landscape felt so full of personality and life as if it was a character (or many, in fact) on their own.

The story deals with a number of fundamental and timeless issues: the fear of dealing with one’s own mortality, the struggle for recognition and acceptance from others, finding and learning to embrace your true self in a world that tries to dictate who you should be. The subject of sexuality (as well as sexual violence) is breached too but if you’re looking for some light-hearted, steamy tussles beneath the sheets, you will not find them here. This is definitely not a quick read to just kill some time with a bit of superficial distraction.

I loved and enjoyed every aspect of this novel – from the characters to the plot to the world it took place in. I can only highly recommend this to anyone really who is looking (or not) for a profound narrative about the way people interact with one another and the world – or rather, worlds – around them. I know that I will certainly pick up more from this author in the future.

I very much liked the effect of smoothly changing colours and light patterns for the cover art by Wilde City Press. It gives the whole design an almost ominous, eerie feeling that is befitting of the story. The photos of the students looking directly at the reader lend support to that impression as well.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press  | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages, also available in paperback where if you buy paperback you get the ebook free

Published April 3, 2017

by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13 978-1-63533-825-6

Edition Language: English

A MelanieM Review Wave Goodbye to Charlie by Eric Arvin

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

2nd Edition

My name’s Charlie. I’m many things, though none of them having to do with any real talent. I’m a runaway, a hustler when I need to be, a ghost when I have to scare hoodlums away from my home, and a loner who maybe reads too much. But most of all, I’m the keeper of the carnival. That’s how I see myself. I look after the place ’cause even dying things need to be cared for. Maybe it’s illegal. Maybe that rusty metal fence around the carnival is supposed to keep me out too. Or maybe me and this place were meant to find each other. Truth is, I never felt at home anywhere but here, not even in all the foster families and orphanages I was placed in as a young shit. They don’t look for me no more, those places. I suspect I ran away so much they finally just said, “Fuck! Let him go.” I am a hangnail on society’s manicured middle finger. I’m older. One year past the age anyone gives a shit.

And this is my adventure…

I’d read Eric Arvin’s other incredible stories, including The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men, and Azrael and the Light Bringer but I had never gotten around to Wave Goodbye to Charlie.  With the passing of Eric Arvin, Dreamspinner Press is re-releaseing his novels, and it was the perfect time to pick it up and revisit the mind and imagination of a truly gifted man and author.

Once again the beauty and wild earthiness of Eric Arvin’s writing astounds me.  From the moment we meet Charlie, ambling along the road, voicing his thoughts about the trees and the dusty, grit of the surface, we know this character.  It’s in his speech and thought patterns.  It’s where he’s where’s he’s been, tricking himself out, and it’s in his final destination, the place he calls home, an abandoned carnival that just may not be all that empty.   Arvin brings us life lived at the margin of society in all it rawness and yes, tawdriness.  Yet, there’s something about Charlie so determined to live his life on his own terms, even if that means that his bed is a canoe from a rusted out ride, and his home does some peculiar things in the night. Charlie’s a hustler, a loner, and content to be on his own as a runaway.yet unusual enough to calmly accept the strange goings on around him.  That’s a whole lot of intriguing to start off with and Charlie just continues to pull you into his messy and strange life.

Wave Goodbye to Charlie becomes a journey for Charlie and the reader, an examination into the supernatural and the afterlife.  Reading through the story and passages, Charlie and the reader can pass from the mundane everyday occurrences to striking moments of terror and in Eric Arvin’s writing, it’s both beautiful and horrific,  illuminating and heartbreaking.  I find it hard to describe the moments of gut wrenching terror without having spoilers, just know there are some, not graphic but the feelings they engender will linger, until towards the end….when all start to be, not erased but transformed.

Leroy and Jimmy, Trent, Alfie, and  Nessa, all characters that are central to Charlie and his journey here.  Potential lovers, friends, a gay couple who consider him “their boy” and much more.  You will find yourself weeping with and for these people here, for tragedy and heartache is a commonality in this small misbegotten place and yet, together love binds them and moves them all forward, although not in a way you might expect.  Everyone you meet here feels incredibly real, both good and bad, as does the small town they all inhabit.  I expect this was a world Eric Arvin knew well because it lives and breathes here on these pages as do these people.  As to the rest?  Its anyone’s guess.  Again that mind of Arvin’s must have been a labyrinth of mythology, imagination and more, and unreal to navigate through if his stories are any indication.

I admit to being incredibly moved and needing to grab up tissues throughout this story.   So much of Wave Goodbye to Charlie still has me thinking, moved by the characters, their condition and their journey together.  This isn’t a romance, not in the traditional sense.   Maybe between Leroy and Jimmy, that’s true love at its finest, but for Charlie?  Well, you see….he was loved by more than he knew.   It took him a while to find that out.  Us too.  Pick up this book and take that journey.  Its an unforgettable one.

Cover Artist: John Coulthart.  This is  a perfect cover for this story in every way.  Read the book and find out why.

Sales Links

 

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd Edition, 200 pages
Published April 3rd 2017 by Dreamspinner Press (first published October 8th 2014)
ISBN 1635338212 (ISBN13: 9781635338218)
Edition Language English

Scary Review Redux: A MelanieM Review of The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (Valley Books) by Eric Arvin

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5    ★★★★★

Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men coverWinifred Walterhouse lived in the mansion on the top of Black Hill.  She was aware of the secrets the river and the valley held.   She knew of the river sprites, and of the forest passions, small beings becoming fewer and fewer in number.  She had helped hold off the outdwellers, those who would steal the valley’s magic and destroy the old ways.  But now she is dying, unable to take care of herself let alone a young girl of a certain stubborn temperament.

When her parents died, little Calpurnia Covington was sent to live with her eccentric aunt in the mysterious River Valley. And by her arrival changed everything.  With her aunt, Winifred Walterhouse, dying and confined to her room, Calpurnia is free to roam throughout the estate and nearby woods.  Missing the outside world, Calpurnia is frightened by the beings and things she sees in the Valley and resolutely turns her back on the magic all around her, thus setting her path away from the light and those coming after her.

Minerva True is a mystic who lives deep in the Valley, aware of the magic and light all around her.  She is also aware of The Prophecy and the coming darkness.  Although Minerva tries to warn the river valley’s inhabitants, she is ignored and the darkness is allowed to grow and thrive.  In the future, it will be the mingled destinies of Minerva, the young hero Leith, his lover Aubrey, and the mute boy, Deverell that will tilt the fate of the valley and perhaps the world towards the light or darkness.  Who will succeed and who will fail in the ultimate of all battles?

The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin has to be one of the most memorable and complex books that I have read recently.  It is an extraordinary and sometimes confounding mixture of gothic horror, Grimm’s fairy tale, and dark fantasy.  Arvin pulls from a number of sources, from elementals and the Industrial Revolution to the Bible and uses them to help him create a lost river valley where magic still exists along side the human and the mundane.  Inside the valley, power flows through the woods and into the river. Here river dwellers and passions live but no longer flourish.  The Outsiders and Industry test the borders  and darkness has come to claim the valley and its souls for its own.

With this novel and the books to follow, Eric Arvin conceived his version of the eternal war between good and evil, the battle between the light and the darkness.  This story has a language so lyrical that it will remind you of sonnets and characters so beautifully defined and textured that their loss will haunt you for days.  Arvin’s story feels so old and timeless that the aroma of old leather bindings and yellowed pages of text will commingle in your mind along with the title, an effortless interface of ideas both ancient, fantastical and still somehow quite new.  All of which makes The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men a book of emotional heft and extraordinary value.

In keeping with the epic scope of his story,  Arvin’s novel encompasses a rather large time span that starts from Calpurnia’s arrival in the valley as a young girl through her marriage and birth of her child and further still as that child, Leith, grows up and becomes a featured player in this timeless spiritual war between good and evil. Circling around Calpurnia is a convoluted and intertwining group of relationships that will include beings of power to Leith, her son.   Arvin has created a large and incredible cast for his story and series, including Azriel, a angel and the fundamental Mother True.  These characters live and breath and love with an realness that will grab you.  Some love with a lightness of being and others, well,  others are weighed down with such a darkness of spirit that it seeps right off the page.  Some of Arvin’s creations just exude such a presence of evil that they carry a stench of corruption that threatens to flow off the page.  And with any tale of good and evil, there are so many losses that will cut to the heart as the story and the fight progress.

Its that unrelenting parade of death as the story proceeds with its inexorable march towards that final battle between good and evil that might turn away readers looking for a warm tale of love and romance.  This is a true fantasy, horror story.  An epic tale that must, by its very nature, come with the deaths of characters the reader has come to love. I think it is those character deaths here will cause not only consternation but pain as the losses add up.  Not only because we didn’t see these deaths coming but because we had come to care for these people in the short amount of time we knew them, a required ingredient of great characters.   It is this aspect of the story that most readers will shy away from, especially those looking for a strictly m/m romance.  This is not that book.   Yes, there is a m/m romance, but there is also heterosexual love, familial love and so much more.  This story has great heart to go along with great loss.

One of the real revelations here is Arvin’s ability to reveal a true contamination of the soul, a slow defilement of character so extraordinary that you almost weep for the promise of the child that was thrown away, seduced by her own needs and a greater evil.  The author’s prose and descriptions delivering both a story of great emotional impact but also of spiritual warnings that go unheeded to the sorrow of all involved.   The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is easily one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013.  Consider this tale highly recommended and a must read for all.

Cover photography by Amy Morrison.  This book needs an extraordinary cover to measure up to the greatness of the story within and it gets it with this great cover by Amy Morrison.  Also one of the best covers of 2013.

Sales Links:   Wilde City Press |  Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 286 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Wilde City Press
ISBN13 9781925031065
edition language English
series Valley