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South of Charm: A Novel by Elliot Grace

South of Charm: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Elliot Grace

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Title:South of Charm: A Novel
Authors:Elliot Grace
Info:The Wooster Book Company (2011), Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Tags:dysfunctional family, mental illness

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South of Charm: A Novel by Elliot Grace

Recently added byLAWonder10, JudyCroome



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Wayne, Sheryl, Danny and Katie Kaufman lived a life of struggling financially, yet seemed close. At least Danny thought so. He and his mom were a lot alike and shared walks after dinner...snuggled and talked together often. Four year old Katie and her dad spent hours together playing with her toys, laughing and cuddling. Mom loved both of them but it was always her daddy who Katie clung to. Whereas, Danny wasn't certain his father really loved him or just tolerated him.
He never seemed pleased with Danny nor hugged him.

In a short while, all their lives suddenly seemed to be falling apart. Sheryl began violent accusations against Wayne and eventually he began losing control. Danny and Katie were terrified and lived the next year in a living "Hell". Nine year old Danny felt protective over Katie and would try to soothe her fears and sobs the best he could. Was the things Mamma was saying about Daddy true? At times it seemed like it.

Wayne had driven truck for a short while when he was given the opportunity to drive long distance, which meant more money. It was more time away from Sheryl and the kids but he kept in frequent contact by phone until he could return. He felt this is what he needed to do in order to pay the bills. "Out of the blue" one day, Sheryl violently approached him with an object she discovered in his Diesel truck. Never before would she go into it for any reason. Why now? What provoked her?

From this point forth, each day he was home was either a violent battle or "the cold treatment". Every effort he made for peace "blew up in his face".

After a couple of very embarrassing occasions Danny no longer invited any friends to visit his house. He didn't know what or who to believe. He just wanted it to stop!

Danny discovered, quite accidentally, he was a good baseball pitcher. Through this medium he was able to vent a lot of pent up anxiety, which helped him to deal with "home life" for the next year. Katie, alone at home with Mamma, was a constant worry. Would Dad arrive before Danny returned home? What would happen this time? What could he do about anything, being only nine years old?

The author takes the reader through a suspenseful, emotional, nightmare journey for the next year couple of years in the lives of the Kaufman family. It involves a few of Danny's friends and a couple of mentors, Grandma's and Grandpas, aunts and uncles, but mostly their immediate family. Then toward the end of the book, the story, briefly, goes beyond those two years.

This is very well written and the mystery and suspense is kept alive to the very end.

The reader's interest is held except for a few places where the main point is beleaguered a little too long. It is still a very compelling story and worth the reader's time. However, I am not excited over the title. Although I understand where it arose from, I do not feel it does the story justice in catching the reader's attention. I feel there ought to have been a more "eye-catching" title and cover.

*Spoiler: do not read Key Points if you do not want to have the plot exposed.

Key points: childhood trauma, dysfunctional families, mental illness (schizophrenia), Amish/Christian beliefs, forgiveness, acceptance.

This was donated by the author for an honest review of which I have given. ( )
  LAWonder10 | Sep 10, 2013 |
I read this book a few months ago, but needed time to process the harsh reality of young Danny’s life. I bought it because my Mom had a traumatic childhood and because my late Dad played provisional baseball for Rhodesia, and this book combines those two factors.

Although the prose style is easy to read, and could be aimed at children, there is a depth to this novel that at times makes it seem more adult in tone, with a subject matter that’s difficult to read: no child should have to go through what Danny and Katie Kaufman did. But, of course, as this novel so tragically reminds us, some children do have parents who can’t cope when private disaster strikes and some children do have to grow up too fast.

Although unflinching, Grace’s excellent story-telling style doesn’t rely on gratuitous violence to create emotional impact; despite the topic, the depth of his characters and the tension in the story lies in the surprisingly gentle tone. It’s in the spaces in between the words that we’re most affected by Danny’s courage, Sheryl’s descent into an, at times, violent mental illness and Wayne’s abdication of the responsibilities of a father and husband.

Throughout the novel there are little gems of insight, which reveal a deep knowledge of human nature tempered with compassion for our very human frailty (“I found that interesting, the same mouths that couldn’t stop from speaking about my family’s demise … suddenly clamped shut when the authorities arrived … maybe the people … knew when to keep quiet after all. When to stand guard in front of a closet, hindering a skeleton from sneaking through.”)

As baseball offers Danny hope, the last chapter simply clutches at one’s emotions and offers hope that, even in a world where families fall apart because of inner and outer pressures, love can be salvaged.

Ultimately, SOUTH OF CHARM is a moving read, which raises some thought- provoking questions about parental responsibility. ( )
  JudyCroome | Dec 18, 2012 |
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