Author: Charlie David
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 180 Pages
At a Glance: If you know Charlie David as an actor and audiobook narrator, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you introduce yourselves to him as an author too; at least if Shadowlands is anything to go by.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Shadowlands is a collection of heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking short stories from well-known actor and entrepreneur Charlie David that explore the passion and pain of gay sexuality. Ancient myths are re-imagined with an exciting queer twist, masterfully depicting the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
Story genres in this collection include romance, science fiction, fantasy/paranormal, horror, mystery/suspense, and poetry.
Review: Way back in November of 2010, I’d snatched up a book for review from Dreamspinner. That book was Charlie David’s Shadowlands, and I have to confess, I judged it—and ultimately, misjudged it—by its cover. I say misjudged because I couldn’t possibly have known the sort of depth and complexity the author would bring to the table based on the provocative cover art for his collection of short stories.
In the twelve stories in this anthology, the author explores myriad themes of the human condition, presented by characters who range from damaged to desperate to deadly. He even throws a touch of mythology into the realism along the way, all while touching the reader’s conscience and engaging our emotions, testing our boundaries, and oftentimes touching our hearts in grief and loneliness. David’s imagination and command of his subjects give gravitas to his talent as an author, taking his readers on a journey through tales that run from the melancholy to the macabre.
With a respectful nod to all of the stories in Shadowlands, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll touch on just a few I felt were particularly moving, beginning with its opening, Pygmalion Revisited. As I stated, grief and loss play a role in several of the tales in the book. David opens with them here in the story of a man who has lost his love, in a reimagining of Ovid’s Pygmalion. The twist here is that the sculptor, Marcus, is already deeply in love with his muse before his art comes alive. Nic has been gone a year, and in Marcus’s work, we see Love and Grief personified, and witness what may be a fracturing of his mind in the process. The story is a testament, in the end, to undying love.
October 13th introduces us to two men, best friends—one gay, one straight (or, perhaps not). These two boys have secrets they’re keeping from each other, thoughts and desires they can’t risk sharing at the expense of their bond. They are “the one on the left” and “the one on the right.” They remain nameless because they are any man who has ever carried a secret desire. The subtle and overt hints and innuendo add to the tension of the atmosphere in this story and gives way to a boys-will-be-boys sensuality that hints at something more happening between these two best friends.
Loss and grief resurface in GRINDR, the story of a man who’s taking baby steps back into the world of the living after losing his lover, with the help of the app and a touch of the paranormal. When James receives a notification that shouldn’t be possible, the author makes a distinct emotional connection between the reader and his story as James reminisces about Robbie and gets a reminder, in the end, that life is for the living.
Lucretia Undone is one of the most gut-wrenching bits of flash fiction I’ve ever read. Weighing in at a short four pages, I had a visceral response to this story about a sixteen-year-old girl whose attempts at self- and sexual discovery go wrong—wrong in a horrific and frightening way. This story is pervaded by an overwhelming sense of despair and anguish, and its ending is simply tragic and tragically final.
The Hiker indulged my imagination and played straight into the hands of my love of the paranormal—the kinds of stories shared in a blanket fort with all the lights turned out and a storm raging just outside the windows. The story follows two men on an excursion into the woods, on a camping trip where they connect with each other on a deeper level and discuss some things about their relationship. Things go bump in the night, of course, and then take a turn towards the interesting when they meet a stranger who’s living rough as a challenge to himself, becoming one with nature. While I knew something was coming, and had an inkling of what it would be, that did nothing to dampen my love of this story in particular, and its chilling revelation.
I could carry on pointing out something remarkable about each of the stories, the collection is just that good, and it was great to revisit it. But the overall picture David draws is haunting and memorable. Shadowlands is a discourse on sex and human sexuality, our obsession with youth and beauty, man’s inhumanity to man, and, of course, love. His ability to draw out a scene in detail without burdening the narrative with minutia is impressive, and there are moments the narrative turns toward the poetic.
If you know Charlie David as an actor and audiobook narrator, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you introduce yourselves to him as an author too; at least if Shadowlands is anything to go by.
You can buy Shadowlands here: