In Kafalas’ (Whale Pirates, 2003) second novel, a college kid matures in Rhode Island’s gritty projects and working-class homes.
Donald is a shallow, sexist college student who likes to carouse with his buddies, do drugs, visit strip clubs and commingle with prostitutes. He’s aimless, insecure and unable to connect with those around him. But gradually he begins to doubt where his life is headed. Bitter and cynical, he’s torn between a life of materialism and one of deeper meaning. When Carrie, an idealistic new landlord, buys his dilapidated apartment building, Donald decides to stay behind to help her renovate the place and create an arts center for children in the nearby housing projects. He also starts working as a history teacher at the local middle school. But their attempt to turn their lives around isn’t without violence and tragedy. The unvarnished portrayal of Donald is sometimes painfully realistic—readers will be horrified when he pays a young girl for sex—so it may be difficult to appreciate him as the narrator for the novel’s first half. CD, his childhood friend, exemplifies the toxic behavior that can result from an empty, corrupted culture of material success without compassion. It is CD’s influence that Donald struggles to break free from, as reflected in Donald’s journal entries, which range from defensive to sorrowful. Aside from the unrealistic resolution of Carrie’s challenging circumstances, the developing plot is refreshingly authentic and emotionally resonant, which makes Donald’s life decisions all the more believable.
A dark, sometimes harrowing novel that will surprise readers looking for easy answers and conventional endings.