The son of a drug-addicted prostitute with a tenuous relationship to reality, teenage Charlie lives in a home with a gang of other troubled youngsters. He’s not like them, though: intelligent and extremely well-read, he finds social skills difficult, but has hopes of doing bigger things.
Charlie opens up, slowly, and the best thing about him is his awkward refusal to be pigeonholed. Charlie is upset about his relationship with his mother, but he’s more engaged in a burgeoning, intense relationship with Margo, a slightly abrasive, slightly older love-interest who treats Charlie as something of a play-thing. They wonder the mountains at night when they should be sleeping, and slowly, Charlie finds his place in a complex social hierarchy.
There’s a philosophy behind Charlie’s actions, or at least he wants there to be. Hooked on the idea of Darwinian evolutionary theory and the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’, he nevertheless tends to keep his head down, and breaks the rules nervously and hesitantly. But break them he does. His hillside nights start to develop into something more, and his relationship with his caregivers is altered heavily by his ability, unknown to them, to listen to their meetings and casual remarks through a vent that routes into his bedroom. As Charlie’s relationship with his mother deteriorates, Charlie starts to long for freedom.
There’s a darkness to author Gary Santorella’s tone; this is certainly not a book for those affected by childhood abuse, or troubled by ruminating on pained upbringings. It’s brought to life by clever characterisation and a rapidly paced plot. As the conversations unravel, the sometimes oblique commentary has an air of philosophy to it, the complexities of Charlie’s life often peeking out from just below the surface. The plot takes some strange twists, but unwinds neatly in a stark explanation for all the darkness beneath the surface.
That said, this is not an entirely comfortably characterization. Charlie is challenging, likeable in the loosest of senses, but multifaceted and troubled. As a result, DYED SOULS is similarly stark: morose, something of a tough and uncomfortable read, but worth the bitter tones.
Author Gary Santorella explores the painful, disjointed upbringing of ‘Charlie’, in a harrowing and memorable tale that cuts to the core of the role of formative years experience in the lives of even the most intelligent young adults.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader