Book Review: The Canyon Of Souls

Rarely have I seen literary fiction combine with a pacy narrative as effectively as in Ronald Malfi’s thriller set in the Himalayas.

After the death of his wife in an accident, sculptor Timothy Overleigh’s life is thrown into disarray. He finds it difficult to sculpt anymore, and is haunted by the ghost of his wife. Frustrated by his inability to sculpt, he takes to extreme adventure sports and in one of his caving expeditions, has a near-fatal accident which leaves him homebound for months. While he struggles to come to terms with his wife’s ghost’s recurring appearances and his guilt for her death, he receives an invitation from an old acquaintance, Andrew Trumbaer, to seek the Canyon of Souls, a valley across the Godesh Ridge in Nepal.

A team of seven men (including Timothy) handpicked by Andrew undertake the expedition. During their journey, they have to face the challenges that the mountains throw at them and also overcome the friction due to their individual backgrounds. Soon the adventurous expedition turns into a battle against the elements, against the adventurers and subsequently against death itself.

The plot and pace of the book reminded me of a slew of thriller movies most notably The Final Destination. Nevertheless Malfi holds the reader glued with his narrative style. Even though he confesses never having attempted to climb a mountain, Malfi’s description of the mountains is good enough to transport you into the icy Himalayas. The characters are etched well with most of them having a distinct personality. The plot is well structured except for the climax which does seem a bit cliched and farfetched.

Malfi’s best however is seen in the way he juxtaposes Tim’s struggle to overcome the death of his wife with the battles the expedition has to fight in its quest. Both are woven together with ease, and it never appears to stutter the plot.

I’d recommend The Canyon Of Souls to those who want a breezy read. If you’ve loved reading thrilling page-turners, this book is right up your alley.

Book Review: Only Men Please

One would think the short story is on its way to extinction, what with most short story collections in book stores these days bearing the name of the usual suspects – RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Kafka, etal. And then one comes across Only Men Please, and thinks all is not yet lost.

The book is a collection of 35 short stories by male authors of different nationalities. The writers’ diverse cultures makes the book an eclectic mix. Dingbang Wingbang is about a teenaged Chinese worker in an arms factory and his infatuation like any other adolescent while Arima blends fact and fiction in the tale of a Spanish attack on El Dorado.

Some stories deal with wistfulness and yearning. Beyond the Rainbow sensitively portrays a life lived in strife, yet not devoid of hope. In Thottho, a young man learns to cope with loss through the comforting touch of a stranger. Ghosts of Guilt, one of my favourites, deals with the guilt a man feels after the death of his mother. 

Other stories depict the dark side of human nature. Our Friendly Neighbourhood shows how an oppressed society might resort to diabolical measures. The Enlistment is disturbingly gruesome; perhaps also a sign of our times of terrorism and militant rebellions. Co-opted delves into the hazy mind of an urban youth caught between a sense of righteousness and his hedonistic pleasures. 

Off the mark with its several metaphors is a funny read while Death’s Door has a thrilling take on April Fools Day. 

My only grouse was about two stories, The Return of the Talkative Man and First Night. These do not quite match up to the rest of the stories which make up an interesting read. 

All in all though, Only Men Please is a good combined effort from the various authors; one that gives new scope to the short fiction format even when contemporary bestseller lists are occupied by full-length novels.