FLAME VINE by Charles Porter


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Porter’s prequel to Shallcross (2015) explores the first 42 years of a South Florida man living with hallucinations.

Although the author says in a foreword that his two books may be read in any order, readers of the first might have been glad to have this one to guide them through protagonist Aubrey Shallcross’ allusive, surreal, and word-drunk world. In first- and third-person narration, Porter tells the story of Aubrey’s early years, beginning with his upbringing in Stuart, Florida. After he’s born in 1944, he seems to live a comfortable life. He goes to school and graduates from college, marries, works in and later takes over his father’s Chrysler dealership, rides in rodeos, goes surfing, takes drugs, plays in a rock band, builds a house, and develops a circle of close friends called the Blue Goose bunch after their favorite bar. Everyone knows that Aubrey talks to himself, but few know about his “drifties” (extended fantasies) or his “slippers,” hallucinatory figures whom he can speak with and sometimes see. One of the latter is Triple Suiter, nicknamed “Trip,” who’s three inches tall and originates in a mole on Aubrey’s skin. The book shows how Aubrey’s relationship with his “slippers” develops; he’s shaken at first, but then Trip becomes a kind of guardian angel, helping him through crises of loneliness, guilt, and fear. Porter also devotes several chapters to Aubrey’s friends, giving them back stories and showing how they develop the tight bonds and rich patois seen in Shallcross; they also effectively display the author’s gifts for characterization and dialogue. Porter has a fine sense of the sublime, and even when he describes horrors, such as the Vietnam War or the actions of a serial murderer, he always offers readers something more complicated than mere repulsion. As with the previous book, the most impressive thing about Aubrey’s hallucinatory world isn’t its strangeness but how it all fits together, poetically, as a creative response to suffering. For example, Triple Suiter gets his name because Aubrey’s much-loved father always wore a three-piece suit to Mass; the suit is an image of love, protection, and certainty.

Another beautifully original, striking, and poetic novel.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2017


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