Book Review: ‘The Affliction’ by C. Dale Young
C. Dale Young’s fictional debut is a novel in stories that explores seemingly ordinary lives as they intersect with the truly extraordinary. Our guide to these non-linear, interlinked stories, Diego, is a somewhat unreliable narrator who has collected an oral history of the characters that spans several generations.
In “Inside the Old House,” we meet Old Cassie. Once a nun, she is now the subject of rumors: Some say she’s seen the face of the devil, while others believe she has the power to heal. Neighbors warn one another not to look up toward her estate high up in the hills where she watches them down in the town below. “What mattered,” though, Young writes, “was that we all feared Cassie, and Cassie probably liked it that way, or so we liked to believe.” But when it seems certain that this is the story of unchecked mental health, Young reminds us how frequently legends can be twisted: “[Her] story changed all the time. How could it not?”
“The Affliction,” the title story, follows Ricardo Blanco, a man who “did not believe in Christmas, angels or miracles. He barely believed in magic.” Ricardo is married, with two boys and two jobs. But in spite of all this, he finds himself charmed and seduced by Old Cassie’s nephew, Javier Castillo. Javier has the gift of disappearance: he can make himself vanish, and transport himself to any location at any time, be it the Caribbean, the racetrack, even a psychiatric hospital. To Ricardo, Javier is a messianic figure, and he abandons his life to be with him: “He didn’t even worry about the wife and sons he left in the small neighborhood on the edge of nowhere.” But, Young asks, is Javier truly so powerful? He writes, “Anyone can disappear. Even you can disappear.”
“Desaparecido” introduces us to the sons Ricardo has abandoned. Carlitos, an adolescent, is trying to cope with the loss of his father. He’s young enough to still play tin can telephone, but mature enough to have masturbatory adventures, which he details during his weekly confession. His only touchstone during this desperate period is his older brother Pedro. Young writes, “Carlitos usually hung on his every word…he found it more and more difficult to disobey his brother.” But Pedro merely enjoys his own disobedience, saying things like “This place sucks hole.” Carlitos holds on to the hope that his father might return someday; when Pedro scoffs at this, Carlitos’s wild rage is freed.
As The Affliction unfolds, Diego connects the history of three families. But blood isn’t the only link: Young’s characters, haunted by trauma, scarred by heartbreak, are connected through their common afflictions. This is a bond that transcends kindred, culture, even time. Is it true, then? Are we all connected? According to Young, “…there are threads between everyone, even when you cannot see them.”
An equally important theme in the book is preservation: both of our past, and our storytelling. These family histories will only survive if they continue to be shared. Young shows us that by revealing a story, one becomes part of that story.
The Affliction is a haunting book, one that is rooted in a binding beautiful magic. Quite like Young’s characters, we are left charting their connections to the beauty and loss found on each page.
By C. Dale Young
Four Way Books
Paperback, 9781945588068, 154 pp.