Thursday, March 21, 2013

Re-Kindling Interest: Via Dolorosa by Ronald Malfi (literary psychological horror)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, he knew. But he also knew that whatever doesn't kill you sometimes only maims you and weakens you and makes you angrier and colder than you ever thought possible. Not for the first time, he acknowledged that, sometimes, it was probably better just to have it kill you." —from Via Dolorosa

Nick D'Nofrio was a lieutenant in the Iraq war, where he saved the life of one of his men. Now he's a newly married man, paying for his honeymoon at a resort hotel on Hilton Head Island by painting a mural on their wall.

But Nick can't get away from his past, especially not with the father of the man whose life Nick saved working as the hotel's bell captain — he got him the painting gig — and his injured right hand acting up whenever he tries to do any painting.

Nick is on a downward spiral, and he won't let his wife be a support. He chooses instead to spend inordinate amounts of time in the company of a Spanish photographer who only wants details on his war experiences and any photos he has or knows about. This shakes up Nick's marriage at a time when what he most needs is stability.

I'm quite pleased to see that author Ronald Malfi has allowed Via Dolorosa to be rereleased as an e-book. I read it when it first came out in hardcover in 2007, and I was very impressed by Malfi's examination of humanity's darkness, the horrors that we inflict upon each other, most often without intending to.

Malfi's first novel, the gothic horror tale The Fall of Never, was about the negative effects of family. Its followup, The Nature of Monsters, was a departure from the genre, a sort of modernized Great Gatsby that focused on how much we'll take from the people we believe are our friends. Via Dolorosa combines elements of both styles, with Malfi turning his keen eye on marriage and how one person's emotional baggage (specifically the horrors of war) can sour the experience for both parties.

This is a dark, sad, and depressing novel but a very rewarding one. The often dreamlike quality of the prose suits this novel told from the perspective of a troubled protagonist who spends the majority of his time deep inside his own head.

But Via Dolorosa retains a modicum of hope through Nick's constant struggle for escape, in whatever form it avails itself. Whether through the guise of a Spanish photographer or in the shadows of the pointedly named Club Potemkin, or even just at the bottom of a bottle of Red Truck, Nick's continual pursuit of a way out rescues his story from utter bleakness.

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